If we all tried to make other people´s paths easy, our own feet would have a smooth even place to walk on."
-Myrtle Reed, A Weaver of Dreams (1911)
Does volunteer work outside the office have any impact on motivation and job satisfaction? In other words, if your people have a means to do good work in the community will they want to do good work inside the company, too? Volunteer work is time-consuming, but when you enjoy any activity time is secondary to some extent. According to Crain´s Chicago Business, Bank of America employees do 650,000 hours of community service each year. I don´t know how many people the bank employs, but even without all the data it´s still a fairly impressive statistic.
Here are some reasons to consider making volunteer work a priority for your employees: First, it sounds a little hokey, but, truly, it´s the right thing to do. If we want to have solid communities in which to live, don´t we have some obligation to give of ourselves in those places? Clearly, volunteering is a personal choice and given our busy personal and professional lives it´s not easy to find the time. However, more and more people recognize this and are beginning to do something about it. A group called VolunteerMatch (http://www.volunteermatch.com) is a fabulous site that matches people who want to volunteer with organizations who want them! Please visit the site and you´ll agree that it´s one of most progressive solutions I´ve seen to the "I don´t have time and don´t know how to find a group" conundrum.
If you´re wondering how you can help your people figure out how they can volunteer, consider sharing these questions-they´re from my third book, Wish It, Dream It, Do It: Turn the Life You´re Living into the Life You Want (Simon & Schuster) [shameless plug . . . ] and may provide some insight:
1. What do I love doing that would benefit others?
2. How much time can I commit to volunteer work?
3. Can I give something back without expecting a reward or public recognition?
4. How does the community add to my quality of life?
5. Would I be comfortable spending time with strangers?
6. Is it important to me to make a difference in someone else´s life, someone I don´t know?
7. What kind of service can I provide that is aligned with my dreams?
In an article by Joe Phelps, CEO of The Phelps Groups (www.thephelpsgroup.com), volunteering makes an appearance as one the ten (it´s number three) things people want most in their jobs. Phelps writes, "Meaningful work – trading your time in life to help achieve something worthwhile. This can be something within the company, the community or even global. Reminding your team that everything they do touches other people adds meaning to their lives and work."
Look, I know you may get some eye-rolling and a little groaning though that could be a little impolitic, too, so I could be wrong. The point is this: whenever you introduce a program that is going to take some time (and what program doesn´t?) you may get some negative feedback. Also, occasionally when you bring up a do-good activity it may seem contrived. Recently, when my kids were off for spring break (no, we didn´t go to Mexico or Florida, because, you know, the weather in Chicago at the end of March is quite spectacular"?¦) I announced to them that one day we´d be visiting a nearby food pantry for underprivileged families. They sort of rolled their eyes, but nobody argued. My husband had to work that day, but otherwise it would´ve been a family deal. Anyway, we arrived and the kids did a fabulous job sorting foods. They threw packages at each other (in a good way) and I think truly got something out of it. Yes, they bickered about 20 minutes into it, but I think I got my message through. I´m not suggesting that your employees are like kids (well, maybe, sometimes), but I am suggesting that even if you meet a little resistance, that doesn´t mean for a second that you should give up.
If you have a formal/informal volunteer policy at your company, please let me know about it so that I can share that information with readers here. Be sure to include when you started the program and exactly how it works. Of course if you have questions about starting such a program, send those, too. I´ll get answers. I promise.