Employee Engagement

5 ways workplace giving builds employee connection

Create a sense of belonging by establishing shared values and an impact-infused culture

Employee engagement has become a top priority for senior executives. In this ever evolving business environment, leaders know that having high performing workers is essential for a thriving company. They know that engaged employees are more motivated, loyal, absorbed and improve bottomline performance. But are current engagement strategies working?

While many executives see a clear need for employee engagement, a lot are missing the mark. A recent HBS study reported, “only 24% of senior executives surveyed through their employees were highly engaged.” A subsequent study reported “40% of employees feel isolated at work.” That number will have skyrocketed with the recent shift of many employees to remote work. Why are so many of these efforts missing the mark? To understand, we must turn our attention to the heart of engagement — human connection. 

1. Human connection

Human connection is understood as a core human need and the desire to connect as a fundamental drive. It’s an essential factor for whether an employee chooses to engage or not. Connection in the workplace is the feeling of being part of a community committed to something bigger than any one person. A sense of belonging to the organization and the people around you is established through shared cultures, values, customers and missions.

Connection with others is a core human need, yet at work we are terrible at it. While it might seem like a daunting task, it doesn't need to take a lot of extra time or budget. Build connections in your company culture by making small, powerful changes. Corporate philanthropy, used artfully, can be used to build employee connection even on a budget.

Philanthropy is a clear expression of what your company values. Both the causes a company gives to and who decides where the money is allocated, shapes whether an employee identifies with that company. If an employee identifies with the way their company gives back, then the employee is impacted by their employer’s philanthropic actions. Therefore, they feel as if they had performed the philanthropy themselves. To positively impact employee engagement through corporate philanthropy, companies should choose philanthropic activities that employees are most likely to self identify.

For employees to feel connected, these gifts must reflect their values. Listen carefully to the causes they care about or better still, put your philanthropy in their hands. Enable them to give in a way that builds a sense of connection between colleagues, direct reports and the company.

2. Stakeholder centered philanthropy 

There is a method of strategic corporate philanthropy, that drives exponential employee engagement (and customer engagement if you decide to include them). How? Because it moves past normal engagement. It makes employees feel connected. It’s also cost effective and simple to put in place. All companies need to do is turn their philanthropy on its head. To put employees in the driver's seat by encouraging them to define your corporate philanthropy in a safe and measured way.

3. Connection between employees and company

Work with your team to shape a game plan. Brainstorm which causes your company will support and how the money will be distributed. Use a series of interviews rather than pulse surveys as you don't want to miss the nuances and details.  Include employees of all races, genders and other demographics as well. Most companies are more aligned than you’d think. This is a big step to helping your team feel ownership over your philanthropy. 

Once you’ve identified the sweet spot between what the company and employees are passionate about, determine the mechanisms for giving. There are so many powerful mechanisms from matching donations, to payroll deductions, to special cause focused campaigns. Set up an employee assistance fund that employees can apply to receive funds privately if they are facing hard times. However, the key here is to make sure the funds are distributed fairly between employees so everyone can participate if they want to.

4. Connection between employees and managers 

Managers rewarding and recognizing their team is a proven way to create higher levels of employee engagement and productivity. Call out their great performance with GiveCards. Managers can use them to reward employees in a way that makes an impact. Offering volunteer time off (VTO) is also a great way for employees to power their cause. Celebrate these achievements by reporting back to the entire company on why these rewards were given and the causes that were supported in the process.

5. Employee connection

To build connections between employees, enable them to support each other through philanthropy. Set up an internal peer-to-peer donation platform where employees can support each other at a time of crisis and the company can chip in. Allow them to give kudos through eCards.

Now is the time that so many industry leaders are moving from employee engagement to connection. As every human resources manager knows, it's impossible to be highly engaged and feel like you don’t belong at the same time. It shouldn’t take a social justice movement to remind us that to feel a sense of belonging each individual must see their own unique identity and what they value reflected in the company. Connect with your employees by showing them what they value is what the company values. Let them see themselves in your philanthropy. Your company's bottom line will thank you for it.