Why workplace giving and volunteering drives employee engagement


Workplace giving and volunteering can have a profound impact on employee engagement. A recent blog post from our friends at Realized Worth  provides some scientific insight into why this works and challenges some of the traditional approaches to employee engagement and retention.

It turns out that increases in salary may not be the carrots employers think they are for retaining strong employees. Realized Worth’s article points out that it is human nature to define ourselves within the broader context of our communities. Providing employees with opportunities to connect with the community and give back through workplace activities supports their need to feel like an active community participant and strengthens their commitment to the organization.

The Science Behind Giving

The Realized Worth article calls attention to two works that explain the science behind why giving back drives engagement. The first one is Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, a book by acclaimed Wharton School professor Adam Grant. This book asserts that corporate giving helps employees see themselves and where they fit into a corporation more positively. Grant’s work includes research into activities at a Fortune 500 retail corporation that showed that offering employees the opportunity to give in the workplace strengthened their commitment to the organization. The act of giving back also helped employees to develop a more caring personal identity, which contributed to overall productivity and profitability within the company.

The other work cited by Realized Worth looks at the neurology of donating and volunteering. The Neuroevolution of Empathy was authored by Jean Decety of the University of Chicago and was published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. This study found that our brains release the same neurotransmitter (dopamine) when we receive a monetary award and when we freely donate money to a charitable organization. Dopamine plays a major role in reward-driven learning and acts directly on some of the pleasure centers of the brain. In other words, giving literally makes us feel good.

Finding a Place in the Community

Both studies directly relate to the concept of prosocial behavior, or voluntary actions taken by an individual intended to benefit another. We engage in this when we share, donate time, or volunteer. Prosocial behavior is also how we have managed to survive as a species throughout evolution. Helping one another and caring for a broader community is one of the ways that civilizations have thrived. People have developed an evolutionary need to know who they are within their communities and what they can do to help their community improve.

Workplace giving and volunteering activities help employees to make sense of their place within the organization in a positive manner. This reinforces that they aren't just part of the faceless masses toiling away for a corporate mission. Instead, they are part of a larger, altruistic movement based on values, social justice, and giving.

These feelings brought on by workplace philanthropy help employees see their company in a new light. When they recognize that they are working for a company with a broader mission to help the community at large, it strengthens their commitment to the organization and nurtures feelings of company pride and loyalty.

Driving Employee Engagement

Philanthropic activities help build employee engagement by strengthening four key areas:

  1. Productivity: An engaged worker is a more productive worker. Employees become more engaged with their team as they all work toward a common goal. This drives down absenteeism and apathy while driving up productivity and employee satisfaction.
  2. Ethical Behavior: As employees engage in altruistic endeavors, they develop a personal identity that leads to more ethical decision making. Working ethically becomes a part of the corporate culture.
  3. Gratitude: When companies give employees the opportunity to give back to the community, they feel a sense of gratitude to the organization for giving them this chance, and this strengthens their emotional connection with their employer.
  4. Pride: When employees feel proud about the work they do with giving back to the community, this sense of pride is transferred back to the company. Corporate pride ties in directly with the employee engagement equation.

Turning Science Into Action

Your company can take the research presented by Realized Worth and turn it into actions that will to lead to greater levels of employee engagement. If you don’t already have a workplace giving or volunteering program, the first step is to implement one. FrontStream can help you get started with setting up a new program or reinvigorating your existing program. Contact us today for a free consultation with our experts to talk about best practices for managing a corporate philanthropy program. We’ve helped hundreds of companies implement industry-leading philanthropy programs, and we would be happy to share our valuable experience with your team.

Learn More about FrontStream's Workplace Philanthropy Platform


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