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6 ways to give employees purpose without sacrificing profits


Business leaders understand that long-term corporate success is achieved through a balance of generating profits and inspiring a sense of purpose in employees. Nonetheless, it’s easy to lose sight of the latter in pursuit of hitting growth targets, hiring staff and the daily rigors of operating a business.

It’s natural and common for people to seek meaning in their life – by positively impacting their coworkers, their company or their community. When a business fails to offer employees more than their standard salary and benefits, it misses an opportunity to fully engage its workforce, which may lead to turnover and flat growth.

Corporate philanthropy and volunteerism are now a common aspect to many company cultures.

At minimum, a business can match donations or offer paid volunteer time. But to enact lasting change, a company should identify core values that permeate the work culture and workforce, whether an employee is making a sale or ladling soup to those in need.

Here are six tips to strike a balance between profitability and contributing to the greater good:

1. Tie your public service to your company’s mission

Most companies identify a handful of core values that underpin their corporate culture and drive business. Piggyback on those ideals to develop a program that leverages your expertise to address societal issues.

Consider this example: A construction company partners with Habitat for Humanity, and each employee receives full pay to work on a Habitat house one day per quarter.

By tying the company’s mission (building excellent facilities) with Habitat’s goal of providing affordable housing, the construction business offers employees a chance to give back to their community. In return, the company gains the opportunity to let employees try new skills and demonstrate leadership in ways that might not be available in their usual role on a company work site.

It’s a win-win for the company and employees alike.

In a similar vein, a wastewater treatment company might support a clean river project, while a nurse placement business might pay staff to work at a medical clinic each month.

2. Make it fun, challenging and engaging

Incorporate an element of fun or competition to unify your workforce and increase employee engagement.

Say you want to minimize your environmental footprint by decreasing your company’s paper usage (which, in turn, lowers expenditures on paper and printer ink). Employees may be more inclined to participate if you create a contest that distributes prizes and recognition for the department or individual that reduces their use by the largest percentage.

Other contests might reduce energy use, decrease offsite storage needs, collect canned foods, find a greener alternative for packing materials or make deliveries more efficient.

While you probably don’t want to mandate participation, offering incentives, such as recognition for service hours completed or comp time, can serve as a powerful motivator. To do this, consider adding community involvement as one avenue toward achieving higher marks on departmental and individual performance goals.

3. Measure success

Set goals and a budget, as you would with annual growth targets. By taking a metrics-based approach, you can implement goals that make financial sense for your business.

For example, a chain of auto body shops created an employee team tasked with reducing the use of toxic chemicals and exceeding federal, state and local mandates for chemical waste disposal.

As the team sifted through the available options, they found that newer, green chemicals aren’t cost-effective but recommended the adoption of a more advanced method of disposal that still saves the company money.

4. Recruit talent

Highlight your company’s efforts to affect change when recruiting new employees.

If your accounting firm gives 1,000 hours each year by helping senior citizens with their taxes through an AARP program, it could be a powerful tool for recruiting candidates. Knowing that your company cares about more than the bottom line can go a long way.

Workers today are drawn to companies that give back. While millennials are most frequently cited for tying purpose to their work lives, an interest in making a difference cuts across generations.

5. Mix it up

It’s important to create a variety of ways for employees to give back to their community. Not every worker will be able to participate in every activity. By creating several opportunities throughout the year, employees have options to participate when their schedule allows.

Combine off-site or weekend events with in-office activities. You might alternate hosting a holiday toy drive, a fundraiser and an afternoon working at a local food bank, for instance.

Your mix of community involvement activities should also balance various employees’ physical abilities, interests, time and money. Make sure all shifts and categories of employees can participate in at least a couple of the company’s community efforts.

Also, be careful of asking for donations of items or money too frequently. Most employees have budget limitations. Remember, it may not be a big deal for the CEO to peel off a $20 bill for a fundraiser, but it might be more burdensome for the average employee.

6. Communicate, communicate, communicate

 Not only is a company’s public service beneficial to the world, but it’s also a powerful marketing and motivational tool.

Broadcast your benevolent endeavors to clients, employees and the broader world, and consistently tie your efforts to the health of your business. This helps keep the troops motivated and the business flowing.

If your law firm donated 500 hours of pro bono work, quantify the value of that effort in dollars and publicize your involvement on social media, in employee newsletters and in press releases.

You can also increase awareness of the program by forming a group of employee ambassadors. These team members can help amplify your communication efforts in a multitude of ways and act as a conduit between workers and management about what’s working (or not) with the program.

A PEO can help your company balance employee needs with the business’s need for growth and profit. Learn how when you download our free e-book: HR outsourcing: A step-by-step guide to professional employer organizations (PEOs).