Doesn’t HR give back enough?

I have heard my HR peers on many occasions say “it seems all I do is give”. These days, I think those HR Pro’s need to retire, or go into a field that doesn’t encounter people. Ever.

In all my years, the one thing I have found that brings people together is a volunteer project that has measurable results, utilizes employee talents, and where the beneficiaries are participants and witnesses to the efforts.

One of the best employee volunteer programs I’ve seen in action was the program designed and administered by the Big Orange Home Improvement Box. Some of the efforts were driven by individual stores, while others were driven and organized by the corporate office. While I was amazed and invigorated by the corporate programs, (I got to build a playground for a Habitat for Humanity community with the Joe Gibbs Racing group) the ones that touched my heart and soul were the programs that were born from the ideas of the employees, raised by their sweat and skills, and set free to flourish because the company we worked for provided the budget we needed to make it happen.

Now, I’m not saying they just threw money at something, because for any given project I was a part of, the budget didn’t exceed $2000, and sometimes it was much less. So, this isn’t about the money. Its about the lesson I learned about how to encourage employees, who are barely surviving themselves on some occasions, to give back to their community, and thereby encourage employee involvement and improve morale.

Find something your employees are passionate about. We worked in home improvement, so we were passionate about fixing things.

Recruit the talent. Enlist employees because they are good at something. Massage the ego just a bit. Give them room to feel that they need to contribute because they can add value to the project. I recruited my Paint department to paint, the millwork guys to replace doors, and of course, the Garden department did landscaping. My cashiers took charge of organizing volunteers, because well, no one could keep a crowd under control and moving like my cashiers.
Execute. Give employees the option to donate time, or do this with pay. That’s between you and them. (some would love to volunteer, but need days off for other obligations, or simply to pay the bills) Keep the budget reasonable for the project. The company is getting a payoff – all that good press!!

When it’s over, celebrate! Thank your employees. As leadership, you need to be involved, and get sweaty with them. You shouldn’t just be signing the check. This is your opportunity to prove you care, in a tangible way.

I’ve never met an employee that wasn’t engaged, energized and motivated for weeks after, and then we’d have another project that started it all over again. We talk a lot about employee engagement. It is time to make it real. And hey, I swear you’ll get warm fuzzies when you are done. That’s what giving back does for people.

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