The Rise of Employees as Agents of Change: Engaging Your People with Purpose

The notion that employees are the most valuable asset to a company has never been truer than it is today. Your people are often the creators of, consumers of, and advocates for your product. It’s important to connect with them on a meaningful level that speaks to your shared values and beliefs. Just look at the data: Edelman’s latest Trust Barometer tells us that 67% of employees expect their prospective employers to join them in taking action on societal issues, and their Earned Brand report says that 1 in 2 people are belief-driven buyers. So, how can today’s for-purpose economy also help drive employee engagement?

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While Gallup’s annual workplace trends show small increases in worker satisfaction related to traditional benefits, the research firm notes that “benefits and perks alone won’t improve engagement in the long term.” Last year, the Benevity Engagement Study provided insight into something that does: “Goodness.” This analysis—which looked at the link between participation in corporate social impact programs and employee retention at Fortune 1000 companies—showed that turnover dropped by an average of 57% within employee groups that were actively participating in their companies’ giving and volunteering efforts. The data proved what we had long suspected: People care about doing good all the time, both in their personal lives and at work.

Coming from a company that powers corporate “Goodness” for over 550 enterprise companies, I can let you in on an industry secret: If you haven’t mastered the art of engaging your people through a shared sense of purpose, you’re not alone. It’s something that most companies are still figuring out one step at a time. To help you along the journey, here are five ways to empower your people to pursue purpose at work:

  1. “Democratize” workplace giving. People are more likely to give when the cause they’re supporting is near and dear to their hearts. Instead of preselecting one or two charities for your corporate giving initiatives, consider giving employees more say in how, where, and when they can donate. “Open choice” giving—where employees can choose from millions of potential organizations and get their donations matched—is proving to be a powerful way to engage people in Goodness. According to the latest Giving in Numbers report, 55% of companies analyzed offer an open matching-gift program. LinkedIn is one of them, matching its people’s charitable donations 1:1 up to $1,000 per year. It also enables employees to set up fundraising campaigns that support the causes its people care about the most, which builds a deeper connection between employer and employee, promotes purpose-driven engagement, and helps make the world a better place.
  2. Make employee volunteerism easy, inclusive, and rewarding. Volunteerism is another great way to embed purpose into the employee experience and simultaneously help your people develop new skills. But again, giving your people choice is the key. While some people will be interested in engaging deeply with a specific nonprofit organization, others might have constraints around time, location, or skills. Companies like Microsoft that support a range of volunteer activities see greater participation—to the tune of 74%! Support can include everything from offering paid time off for people who commit to long-term volunteer roles, sports coaching, or mentoring with kids’ teams and schools to organizing a full day of off-site team volunteering, or even “micro” volunteer opportunities where people can pack care kits for homeless shelters or write holiday cards to seniors in centers. These activities naturally lend to cross-functional collaboration and teambuilding that leave everyone feeling more connected and purpose-driven at the end of the day. It also helps to have technology in place so people can easily learn about volunteer opportunities, track their participation, and earn rewards.
  3. Encourage employees to take positive action. Many people are looking to be more inclusive, socially conscious, and environmentally sustainable. Since these types of actions can also contribute to a better workplace environment and culture (and ladder up to corporate goals), companies are supporting their people’s efforts by providing them with a platform where they can track positive actions, compete with other employees, and be rewarded. The range of activities is truly limitless and can be personalized to the company’s industry or focus area. For example, a healthcare company might want to engage their people in challenges that promote wellness as well as sustainability, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator or biking to work. Another bonus is that these challenges can be implemented across international offices, promoting inclusivity and helping people feel more connected to their distant colleagues. PayPal ran a sustainability challenge over a 3-week period, with over 64% of participants from outside of their California headquarters, located across Europe, Asia, Australia, the Middle East, and South America.
  4. Involve employees in your corporate giving decisions. Does your company have a community investment program? Most do. But only a select few have thought of it as a way to engage employees. Some companies, like HPE, will award large grants to charities and nonprofits based on a set of criteria that includes whether or not their people volunteer or contribute smaller donations to the cause. This sends a message to employees that their individual efforts can have a really big impact, which encourages them do more. Other companies, like MUFG Union Bank, will pair their people with incoming grant applications and empower them to review, provide feedback and, if approved, share the good news with the recipient organization.
  5. Take part in #GivingTuesday. Originally a counterpoint to the consumerism of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, #GivingTuesday continues to gain popularity and is now poised to become a permanent fixture of the holiday season for individuals and companies alike. This growing movement engages people across nearly every country and territory—from celebrities like Steve Nash and Tyra Banks to CEOs like Bill Gates and your average Joe—in giving back to their community. It presents an opportunity for companies to show their people that participating in purpose-driven activities is supported and valued. Last year, we saw that 270 client companies got involved, logging more than 80,000 volunteer hours and donating $24.7 million to worthy causes in just 1 day. That’s a powerful way to engage people in purpose!

Today’s socially driven workforce is interested in something far more meaningful than personal benefits. They want their jobs to be guided by passion and purpose and to know that they’re leaving the world a little better than they found it. Many of today’s progressive companies are now harnessing the passion and power of their employees to drive both engagement and change. When people have opportunities to make a positive impact at work in a personal way, everyone gets to benefit from “doing well by doing good.”

Vivian Farris is VP People at Benevity, the leading global provider of corporate social responsibility and employee engagement software for some of the world’s most iconic brands.