A Different way to Reward your Staff at Christmas

Remember that Charlie Brown cartoon about Christmas? Sally believes the true meaning of Christmas is: "getting all you can get while the getting is good." She ignores Charlie Brown's insistence that Christmas is all about the joy of giving, starting off her letter to Santa like this:“ Dear Santa, How is your wife? I have been extra good this year, so I have a long list of presents that I want……” In these days of austerity, you may be struggling to see what you can give your staff to reward them, even if they have been extra good. The “away day and corporate jolly budget” may be non-existent and even the budget for the Christmas party may be squeezed to one drink each at the local bar.   What can you do?

Lack of budget doesn’t have to mean that you can’t give your staff an opportunity to develop their skills, grow as a team and at the same time build links with the local community. As a study by CECP (an organisation promoting corporate philanthropy) shows, more and more companies are turning to volunteering. Lots of charities are desperate for volunteers in the build up to Christmas and this can provide something alternative, unusual and much more fun than the average Christmas office do.

So why not organise a day of corporate volunteering and you'll have a least five reasons to celebrate:

1. Improved collaboration

Many companies assume just having more meetings or providing groovy, open office space will improve collaboration. Evidence is emerging from companies who have tried these two approaches that collaboration does not accidentally improve as a result. Collaboration only improves when staff trust each other. Volunteering is a great way to do this.

Peter Muffett, CEO of film production company DTV says:

"We loved Christmas volunteering with TimeBank.  It's easy to forget about other people's lives when you work in an office all day, but it's been a fantastic experience spending time with people who are lonely and isolated and seeing how much they appreciate your help. The perfect way to celebrate Christmas - especially with a hot toddy in the pub afterwards!"

TimeBank describe their own Christmas celebration, where they pack crates to be sent to homeless shelters one year or serve lunch at an older people’s centre another.

One employee says: “It's great fun, a classic team-building exercise, and after our volunteering we all go out to the pub or a local restaurant to unwind and share our stories. We head home for Christmas feeling we’ve made a real difference to someone less fortunate than ourselves,”

2. Increased self-awareness and skills

Most volunteers report increased self awareness and understanding of others as a result of volunteering.

According to Linz Darlington, CEO and Founder of Benefacto, the skills learned from employee volunteering are the ones that should be honed and developed in every organisation. “I work with around 35 small charities in London and they are always absolutely thrilled with having small numbers of employee volunteers to support their service delivery,” says Linz. “The feedback from employees is improved confidence, teamwork, communication, patience and empathy. Aren’t these the same skills we want to be fostering our workforces?”

Greater self awareness also directly affects decision-making, coordination, and conflict management. In fact, this study  from Harvard Business Review shows significant improvements in all these areas when self-awareness is higher.

3. Impact on revenue

Employees who participate in these programs often become more engaged in their daily work, and increased engagement directly impacts the bottom line. A study done by SAP showed roughly $40 million revenue fluctuation when employee engagement rose or fell by by just 1%.

4. Important to millennials

In their survey focusing on millennials, Gallup discovered roughly half of this generation values things other than salary when searching for a new job, and that opportunities for growth and development are still top of the list. Volunteering programs help recruiters catch the attention of outstanding job candidates, says Deborah Holmes, America director of corporate responsibility for EY. EY runs a program called Earthwatch Global Ambassadors in which employees travel in groups of 10 to Brazil and Mexico to assist in environmental research and offer business advice to local entrepreneurs. But there are other effects as well.

"The brand reputational benefits are very real, very tangible and very much appreciated," Holmes said. "We do get press coverage, we do get asked to speak at conferences."

Brittany Lothe, the global head of corporate social responsibility for enterprise software company SAP offers a variety of volunteer opportunities. These range from working on hands-on projects in their communities to the Social Sabbatical Program, which sends teams of employees to four different countries to help non-profits, government agencies and universities.

"It is not only about recruiting, it is about retaining the best of the best," she said. "I fundamentally believe the investments we're making here will help differentiate us in what will become a very competitive market again."

5. It doesn’t have to cost the earth….

Of course we can’t all be SAP or EY. You don’t have to have a big corporate programme for volunteering to have an impact. There are plenty of organisations who help employers team up with small local charities, for example Time Bank, Benefacto or Hands On London.

Volunteering is something the younger generations have grown up with and they look for opportunities to continue it at work. So, make it part of the corporate culture that you expect to support staff with volunteering projects and draw on their experience for ideas about how to get others involved.

And it doesn’t just have to be at Christmas. The benefits last all year round.

Margaret Martin runs a number of bespoke training programmes to support corporate and individual development. Contact us to see how we can support your needs.

Margaret Cheng

Senior Consultant

Margaret Martin Associates Ltd

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