Recognizing good deeds provides its own rewards

Rewarding employees for community involvement increases their engagement at work and makes the company look good
By Andy Mercy and Andrew Dailey
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 04/10/2006

Embracing corporate social responsibility is not only good for a company’s image, it’s also good for its bottom line. That’s because adopting corporate social responsibility can raise the organization’s profile in the community and boost employee loyalty and engagement.

The 2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship study of 1,033 employees in the United States showed that 87 per cent felt a strong sense of loyalty to their companies when they actively support social causes. There’s no reason to think the numbers would look any different in Canada.

However, there’s more to the strategy than simply instituting a program and hoping employees get behind it. By identifying the issues and causes employees are already involved in, an organization can mould its strategy to encourage workers to invest themselves in the program and the company. A recognition program that rewards employees for their involvement in the community transforms that involvement into the foundation of a socially responsible strategy.

Driving corporate social responsibility through a well-conceived recognition program creates a virtuous loop that starts and ends with employee engagement. A company can use current employee community involvement to refine its corporate social responsibility strategy and align it more closely with employee concerns, key brand attributes and corporate values. When Benton Harbor, Mich.-based Whirlpool decided to donate appliances to Habitat for Humanity homes, it was partly in response to a widespread concern among employees about issues relating to homelessness and building stronger communities.

Once the corporate social responsibility strategy has been identified, the next step is to recognize employees for their activities. Employees generally respond well to recognition, and a recognition program tied to corporate social responsibility goals can spur staff to participate more and help propel the strategy to new heights. And so the loop goes.

Linking incentives to social responsibility

An important element to successfully linking a recognition program to corporate social responsibility is ensuring the rewards and incentives actually reinforce social responsibility. Some companies have launched “dollars-for-doers” recognition programs that allow employees to make grants on behalf of the company to non-profit organizations in lieu of an award for themselves.

Aligning the incentives and the overall strategy adds credibility. Some employees might feel uneasy about personally profiting from their charitable works, therefore traditional perks may not be appropriate.

San Francisco-based clothing retailer Gap Inc., which has worked hard to shed its sweatshop image and embrace social responsibility, created a “Founders’ Award,” which is given to an employee in honour of her volunteer activities. The award includes a financial donation of up to $50,000 US to a non-profit organization made on the winning employee’s behalf. The winner also receives up to 80 hours of paid time off to work with the organization.

But even lesser amounts can have a significant impact. With a $500 grant a company can increase employee satisfaction, drive employee participation in socially responsible activities, support a local non-profit organization, reinforce the company’s brand and expand the company’s goodwill in the community. There are few better ways for a company to achieve such a high return on investment.

Rewarding employees for serving on non-profit boards is another way to affect overall corporate social responsibility objectives. It recognizes the contribution of an individual in the community, builds her management skills and creates a halo effect around the activity that ultimately improves corporate standing in the community by association.

Corporate social responsibility should not be entirely driven from the top down. A top-down approach will feel too much like the proverbial stick, making employees feel like pawns in a game they have not initiated nor bought into. Other stakeholders, including consumers, shareholders and the media will hear this sentiment and the strategy will fall flat.

That’s where recognition comes in. Rewards can help drive a bottom-up approach that recognizes employees for their ingenuity and sense of corporate responsibility.

Andy Mercy is the founder and CEO of Sausalito, Calif.-based AngelPoints, a provider of volunteer management solutions. Andrew Dailey is the vice-president of marketing and business development for AngelPoints. Andy can be reached at and Andrew can be reached at, (415) 381-4881 and

How it’s done

Combining recognition, charity

Employees appreciate companies that are socially responsible and actively support and allow employees to participate in charitable activities. Recognizing employees for their public service work shows the company values them and the community.

Bob Nelson, author of

1001 Ways to Reward Employees

, highlights the following examples of how companies give back to the community and reward employees for their contributions.

•SaskTel in Regina holds employee and community raffles, with proceeds going to the “Help Our Own People” fund for employees who need special medical attention. The fund raised $23,000 in its first year.

•Atlantic Richfield Company in Los Angeles gives annual community service awards to employees who have made outstanding contributions in the community, plus the company matches on a two-for-one basis any employee or retiree donation to a social service organization or college.

•White Plains, N.Y.-based Westin Hotels presents the Thurston-Dupar Inspirational Award to employees who have not only excelled in their jobs but made important contributions in community service. A company-wide winner is then selected for a two-week, all expenses-paid vacation for two at a Westin hotel and $1,000 US in cash.

•Stratham, N.H.-based Timberland’s Passive Service Sabbatical Program pays an employee’s salary for six months while she volunteers with a non-profit organization of her choice. Some employees have gone overseas and one went to work in an orphanage in Peru.

•Stamford, Conn.-based Xerox has a sabbatical program that allows several employees every year to take paid leaves to work for charitable organizations. Customer service engineer William Lankford spent 10 months building homes for Habitat for Humanity.

•San Francisco-based Levi Strauss Foundation makes a $500 US donation to community organizations in which an employee actively participates for a year. If an employee serves on the board of a non-profit organization, the company will give that organization a grant of up to $1,500 US depending on the organization’s budget.

•Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm Insurance has an incentive program through which it donates money to the Special Olympics based on agents attaining certain sales levels.

•At Sparks, Md.-based food company McCormick, employees are paid to work one Saturday each year, designated as Charity Day. Employees then donate their pay for the day at time and a half to a charity, which the company matches dollar for dollar.

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