Using Volunteerism to Drive Employee Engagement
As a communicator with new eyes to the complexity of reaching international employee audiences, one fact has been drilled into me: when considering the best program or channel, leave nothing off the table. Anything that employees touch (or that touches employees) is an opportunity to reinforce messages, encourage dialogue, or to inspire.
The topic of volunteerism as a communications tool is an excellent example. We often leave volunteer programs to Human Resources or Community Affairs. But they’re actually great opportunities to create dialogue with and among employees.
I have noted a few characteristics of how volunteerism can be used effectively.
1) Find a cause/organization appropriate to your Vision/Mission. One of Wordwright’s clients, a successful biotech company, researches, develops, and markets HIV and hepatitis drugs. Their annual participation in AIDS walks and blood drives is a perfect fit—clearly aligned with the company’s mission to provide lifesaving drugs for the patients who need them. The relationship, however, does not have to be so direct. Financial institutions, for example, distribute capital within the communities they serve. Picking a non-profit community arts program or sporting association makes good sense because they too unite a community and strengthen its cultural capital.
2) Make the connection visible, and then report back on the experience. The link between the activity and our company’s mission should be stated clearly (even obviously) in related communications: memos, press releases, intranets, etc.
And as a follow-up to the activity, be sure to have someone capture the event in photographs or video and include the stories in future company-wide employee communications. It’s particularly effective to capture first-person narratives or testimonials. Ask employees how they felt during their volunteering experience. Who did they meet? What did they learn? What did they contribute?
3) Select an activity that can deliver multiple benefits. Another Wordwright client has an employee-run Science Day on their campus in Fremont, California. They invite local high school students to present their projects to company scientists. Not only do the client’s employees derive huge satisfaction from interacting with students, they’re also indirectly boosting potential future recruits and generating goodwill with the local community. And parents love it.
4) Use volunteer activities to deepen co-worker relationships. Often the attention falls on the volunteer work itself without addressing the need for participants to socialize before and after the event. A kick-off gathering with drinks and food puts everyone at ease. If employees are socially introverted, incorporate an ice-breaker. If the event is particularly intense or long, perhaps a closing celebration is appropriate. Encourage employees to stay together during break times instead of letting them run away to check their Blackberries.
A Curious Characteristic Noted
As I learn more about the practice of employee communications in Hong Kong and across Asia, I am struck by the frequency with which incentives are offered to encourage participation (weekends in Macau or digital cameras). I would love to discuss this with other Hong Kong communicators. I am struck by the inherent assumption that people won’t give their time and talents without a tangible reward. If our goal is enhanced teamwork, higher employee engagement, and stronger relationships between employees, what are we saying if we keep holding out other carrots?
I’m eager to hear your thoughts.
*accredited business communicator