Thursday, January 15, 2015

Volunteerism answers multiple employee engagement questions

According to the 2013 Gallup poll, engagement is the word that may overwhelm businesses.

Only 29 percent of the American and Canadian workforce claims to be “engaged” with their employer. Of the remaining 71 percent, 18 percent claim to be “actively disengaged,” costing the U.S. economy between $450 billion and $550 billion each year.

Although business experts disagree on causes, business leaders are struggling to retain employees, according to a 2014 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends study. It suggests that 78 percent of business leaders rate retention and engagement as an “urgent” or “important” need. Businesses and HR professionals are paying close attention to what their employees are saying.

The website offers some input on what employees are saying about their employers. The site has ranked the top 25 places to work based on culture and values.

Topping the list is Twitter. Last March, the company hired Caroline Barlerin to be the head of Twitter for Good. When Barlerin took the job, she wrote a column after the first week in her new post.

“It’s exciting to be embarking on this journey and see what positive impact we can have both locally and around the world,” said Barlerin. “I’m pleased to learn about all these brights spots and know there’s still a lot more the company can achieve in terms of outreach and giving.”

Later that year, Barlerin and her team led a company-wide effort in November called #FridayForGood. On November 7, more than 700 Twitter employees volunteered at more than 50 different projects across San Francisco and the surrounding area.

“Whether they donated blood at Twitter HQ or encouraged kids to read and write by acting out plays at 826 Valencia, our employees are passionate about making a difference in the lives of others,” said Barlerin.

It just so happens volunteerism ranks in the top 10 employee engagement best practices, according to hppy Enterprises, a consulting firm dedicated to employee happiness.
Experts in the philanthropy field agree, touting volunteerism and its ability to raise employee engagement while developing leaders.

“Most people want to be able to feel they’re doing something good with their time and their lives,” said volunteer activist and author Scott Huntington. “Volunteerism offers a great way for people to remember just how valuable their time is, especially when it is used for the benefit of others. It could translate to people being more willing to pitch in and go above and beyond what their job titles dictate they should do while on the clock at work.”

Huntington goes on to discuss the benefits of volunteerism and leadership development, something other workplace experts say is the true cause of poor employee engagement.

“Brick-and-mortar companies can’t love or hate people; so at the core, employees rarely have feelings of love or hate for corporate entities,” said Scott Carbonara, author of Manager’s Guide to Employee Engagement. “No, employees reserve that level of emotion for individuals - like their supervisors or managers. Disengaged employees act like they’ve been hurt - as if something has been done to them personally. In fact, the leading cause of attrition and disengagement is poor leadership.”

Huntington encourages businesses to volunteer in order to get managers leadership experience. He states, “Employees who volunteer are also willing to frequently lead others, even if they are not in supervisory positions.”

He provides three explanations for this development concept:

  • Volunteerism provides new perspectives and allows volunteers to become more in tune with things outside of the workspace
  • Volunteerism allows people to discover hidden talents
  • Those new skill sets build confidence that colleagues see and want to follow
Volunteerism promotes solutions to actively engage employees and build leaders who employees will choose to like or dislike. Either way, it answers Carbonara’s concern above and keeps employees feeling like they are making a contribution in and out of the office, driving happiness and innovation – two traits the Gallup poll states are not present in “actively disengaged” employees.

Businesses looking to engage employees and develop future leaders should contact local charities or visit the Twitter article above for more ideas.

Hope House is one Kansas City-based option. The domestic violence shelter is Missouri’s largest domestic violence advocate organization and assists survivors of abuse at two locations. For ways to get involved visit

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