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Turning employees into sustainable assets

<p>EarthShare describes how companies can leverage volunteer programs into a win for impacted communities, their employees and their own balance sheets.</p>

What would profit and loss statements look like if they included factors like employee happiness, retention, job referrals and volunteerism?

In 1999, management guru Peter Drucker predicted the shift in the importance of a company's most valuable resources.

"The most valuable assets of a 20th-century company was its production equipment," Drucker wrote. "The most valuable asset of a 21st-century institution, whether business or non-business, will be its knowledge workers and their productivity."

Drucker's theory might have been aimed at accountants and investors, but I believe that it applies as effectively to a corporation's human resources department as well as its volunteer program managers, community relations officers and workplace giving executives.

At EarthShare we take pride in working with our partner companies on prioritizing employee happiness and satisfaction. We reach them through creative volunteerism opportunities and innovative ways to keep them informed and educated about the causes and issues that touch them most closely.

Here's what we've learned about how volunteer programs can boost the bottom line.

Connecting Volunteerism with the Balance Sheet

The success of a corporate volunteer program is typically measured through the number of hours contributed, the number of participants,  how many nonprofit organizations benefited and the amount of money raised.

In essence,  though,  companies are measuring how many employees the program appealed to and how those employees chose to participate. Most importantly, they're also trying to assess whether the importance of community engagement is resonating with its employees as well as the impact  of the program.

It's basically about quantifying success. A company can declare a volunteer program a success, for example, if employees were able to raise a certain amount of money to assist nonprofits in the Amazon or contribute a certain amount of time to plant trees, build playgrounds or rehabilitate a decimated forest. This makes the program an asset to the impacted community, as well as the company. For the company, it helps enhance its reputation, brand recognition and employee satisfaction.

Photo of man at computer provided by Dmitriy Shironosov via Shutterstock

Green Teams: Shifting Mindsets, Crowdsourcing Solutions

To help executives shift their mindset about how to characterize assets and liabilities -- and establish where workplace giving, volunteerism, community involvement and sustainability fall in the profit-and-loss spectrum -- EarthShare convenes Green Team meetings in several major markets.

The focus of these meetings is to allow change leaders to meet in a safe zone to discuss challenges (such as lack of buy-in from executive leadership, low employee engagement, budget cuts, lack of information, too much conflicting information, etc.), crowdsource solutions to those challenges and discuss emerging issues in sustainability and the environment.

"Without these metrics to measure ourselves against, we’d only have donors and dollars, and no context," Wells Fargo's Peter Dudley wrote in March on CSRwire's Talkback.

"Ultimately, we would fall into the all-too-common trap of managing to the available measurements," Dudley continued. "While presenting successful results in the short run, [that] could be very detrimental to the powerful culture of involvement we’re trying to foster over the long term."

Often, however, these meetings evolve into discussions about how sustainability managers can engage their employees in understanding these causes and taking action. As the meetings strive to provide more tools to participants, they’ve also evolved as a venue for dissecting employee engagement. With many of these managers wearing multiple hats, employee engagement becomes one of many responsibilities -- which can prohibit the company from investing more time in developing such programs.

Making Connections

"We got involved in the EarthShare Green Team Network because of the access they provide to peers and other sustainability professionals across industries. What makes the meetings truly valuable is that the attendees decide the agenda," said Tyler Daluz, vice president for sustainability communications at Citi.

"That makes it easy for us to talk about our challenges and share different approaches with the objective of learning from each other's experiences," Daluz added.

What emerges time and again is for the need for information that educates employees and makes it easy for them to identify with the volunteer program.

"These meetings are time well spent for us. EarthShare is a crucial connector and facilitator for our team in understanding environmental issues and giving us the right information to bring to our employees," Daluz said.

Engagement at Work

Research backs up what Daluz and other attendees of our Green Team meetings often indicate. According to a recent survey by consulting firm Aon and Orenda Connecting, two out of every three employees feel more engaged at work because of their company's giving program. A similar study by Cone Inc. echoed these findings: Twenty-eight percent of employees involved in their company's cause program are more likely to be proud of their company's values and 36 percent were found to be more likely to feel a strong sense of company loyalty compared to employees who are not involved.

And the No. 1 reason (cited by twenty-nine percent) for not getting involved? Lack of adequate or relevant opportunities.

Where, then, is the disconnect? Why are companies failing to connect their employees with opportunities that will truly leverage their motivations, energy and creativity to create positive change -- as well as shifting their mindsets to counting employee happiness, retention, job referrals and volunteerism as assets?

As we facilitate these Green Team meetings, one thing is clear: While we can help companies connect with a variety of causes and nonprofit organizations, management's real fulfillment comes when they see employee engagement increasing through these programs as well as witnessing the impact of that engagement firsthand.

Once that engagement is integrated into corporate culture, it will be become impossible for companies to account for their employees as anything less than prized assets.

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