Rethinking Employee Engagement
Using corporate social responsibility to engage and connect remote employees
Over the past several years, building a positive corporate culture has become increasingly important for companies around the globe, however, the shift to remote work in 2020 posed a threat to those efforts. As employees began working from home and communications shifted online, maintaining employee engagement became even more complex. “We all feel disconnected, and that leads to disengagement, but engagement increases when you feel part of something; part of a community,” says CyberGrants CEO, Mark Layden.
Why Employee Engagement Matters
The benefits of employee engagement run deep. According to the Human Capital Institute (HCI), making engagement a core component of corporate culture leads to greater employee happiness, productivity, retention, better customer service, and better business outcomes. While this may seem easy enough, maintaining employee engagement is easier said than done—especially in the midst of a global pandemic. The past year brought on additional stressors and responsibilities—both personally and professionally— making employee engagement more crucial than ever before. “As we’ve gone through 2020, organizations realize that engagement is a necessity and not a nice-to-have,” says Sherrie Niedermeier, chief learning design officer at HCI.
So how can your organization drive employee engagement? According to a recent report from Glassdoor, the answer is shared values with an employer. “But there’s a big difference between saying what our core values are and actually living them,” says Niedermeier. Therefore, corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts including philanthropy, activism, and charitable donations, can help organizations align their words with their actions. “If employees are part of a volunteering opportunity, it integrates what we say with what we do,'' Niedermeier adds.
Benefits of Volunteerism
Beyond charitable donations, providing employees with the opportunity to volunteer has multiple benefits including increased job performance, giving employees a chance to invest in their passions, and gaining valuable skills. A survey by market research firm Kantar TNS shows it can also improve physical and mental health—benefiting employees both personally and professionally. “So much has happened in the last year, employees have felt completely out of control of the world around them,” says CyberGrants CMO, Jeff Summers. “The ability to engage, whether through volunteerism or giving, is a way for employees to feel like they’re doing something in response to the situation,” adds Summers.
While volunteerism has become an integral part of corporate culture over the past year, it looks vastly different from the volunteer opportunities of a pre-pandemic world. While corporations shifted to virtual and remote work in 2020, so did volunteerism. The rise in virtual volunteering has allowed employees to connect with causes they care about safely and with greater flexibility. Through virtual volunteerism opportunities, employees can share technical skills from creating content and translating documents to providing coaching or advice online. Beyond skill-based volunteering, additional opportunities include making fundraising calls, checking on seniors online or by phone, and making PPE kits at home for frontline workers. The possibilities for virtual volunteerism are truly endless!
Although in-person volunteering has advantages, volunteering virtually does too, by opening up opportunities to more people. “Employees who can’t leave their computer during the day, busy executives, or people who are heads-down with childcare may not be able to carve out time to participate in traditional volunteering,” Layden says. “But they can virtually volunteer from their house, working in 15-minute increments, and still make a real impact.” Not only does virtual volunteering offer employees more flexibility and make corporate offerings more inclusive, but companies that support virtual volunteer programs help employees feel connected and invested as well. In turn, this benefits the employees, the company, and the volunteer organization—a win-win for everyone!
While providing your employees with the opportunity to make donations and take time to volunteer is crucial, the causes they have the opportunity to support can’t be arbitrary. The most meaningful contributions are the ones made in response to issues employees care most about. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, many donations focused on homelessness and food insecurity—two causes that were exacerbated by the pandemic. As 2020 progressed, employees, customers, and community members alike called on corporations to place an emphasis on social justice and racial equity within their CSR efforts. As a result, employees donated to additional causes such as the NAACP legal defense fund. The multifaceted focus of their volunteering and giving efforts demonstrates that employees wanted to tackle a broad spectrum of issues and not just one cause, says Layden.
“We’re all compelled to contribute,” Layden says. “But a company’s commitment to providing employees with opportunities to drive meaningful purpose is how the world’s most generous companies truly engage their employees.”
*Article originally published in Fortune