Giving Back–Good for You and Your Business

In a recent post kicking off the New Year I suggested several resolutions for business owners and executives to consider.  To my surprise, the one that triggered the most response  was the last on my list, namely, “get involved”.  Because that proposed resolution clearly struck a chord I thought I’d expand on that topic today.

Actually, the full sentence was “get involved in something bigger than your business”, and I think it’s an important message for a company of any size.  Look, most of us are in business to make a profit.  Making, selling, renting or distributing goods or services is what our organizations do and we should be spending our time doing the best, most effective job we can to achieve the goals we’ve set out. However, since any business is made up of people, without whom it doesn’t exist let alone run, it’s imperative for owners and managers to remember that the “machine” doesn’t operate in a vacuum.

There are a couple of ways to look at this.  The first is most often discussed in terms of, variously, good, positive work environments, nurturing employees, helping them to succeed,  being respectful or even encouraging of a healthy work-life balance.  There’s no doubt about how important all this is: I’ve personally worked for some horrifyingly “grindy” companies over the years, businesses that expected 24/7 engagement, even on vacations.  Places that put so much stress on employees they got worn down or behaved terribly to colleagues just to protect themselves.  They seem like caricatures you’d find in the movies if you hadn’t lived through them.  Those places are toxic and efforts to change workplaces to a more positive, more balanced environment are, thankfully, are moving along swiftly.  In what can cynically be called enlightened self-interest, the workplace is a better one now than it was 10 years ago for many, many people. For those companies which were not driven to make those changes, their employees took matters into their own hands and moved on.  There is still a long way to go but there has been much progress.

The second framing I’d like to offer up is, I think, a logical extension of the improved/enlightened workplace, and that’s where my exhortation to get involved has its genesis.  Just as companies do not exist in a vacuum, separate from their employees and their welfare, neither do businesses exist outside of the communities in which they make their offices.  I’m glad to say that it’s my sense that many have some funds set aside for charitable contributions, corporately sponsored actions like United Fund drives or some other financial donation pool.  That’s a good start for sure, but I think businesses can and should do more, especially at a local, more personal level. It’s not just about writing a check, but rather, I believe they should become more holistically engaged in their communities in ways that go beyond the monetary.

Before I go any further I should say that while I am speaking broadly on this topic, there are many companies in our area who are exemplars of this engagement and they should be recognized for those efforts—fortunately they often are spotlighted, which I hope serves as an encouragement to others.  But far too many other businesses don’t get involved.  Involvement takes time, it may take money, is certainly can be a distraction, but that’s not a reason to avoid participation.  Local Chambers of Commerce are always looking for community business members to participate in their many activities and committees.   Even better, countless non-profits serving every imaginable niche need not just cash, but thoughtful, caring, supportive people—you and your staff—to help them accomplish their missions.

Practically speaking this is simple to implement in your business.  Give your employees compensatory time for local volunteering, or at least make it acceptable for them to come in late or leave early once or twice a week—or a month.  Celebrate the organizations they are helping.

Alternatively, pick a local cause or two you feel strongly about.  Focus on children. Homelessness. The arts. Abandoned pets.  Just pick something to support and then rally the organization around that cause. I can’t think of a stronger win-win-win: the chosen recipient gets helping hands, maybe some expertise, perhaps some infusion of funds.  Your employees get to be involved in something beyond the day to day of their jobs and that refreshes and energizes them.  Your business wins by having happier, more engaged employees.  What could be better than that? Do it.  Get involved!

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