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Employees will stay longer if you involve them in social causes

AP Photo/Julio Cortez
A Deloitte survey that found  that “millennials who frequently participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be proud, loyal and satisfied.”
  • Kathleen Kelly Janus
By Kathleen Kelly Janus


Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Employee turnover is bad for team morale and expensive for businesses, with the cost of losing an employee ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to two times the employee’s annual salary. Rapid job-hopping is most prevalent with millennials, though the pace has picked up with Generation Xers and Boomers as well, particularly in the Silicon Valley, where new research shows the average tenure for employees at ten major technology companies is just one to two years.

The good news is that there’s an easy way to hold onto people: get them involved in social causes.

I’ve seen first-hand the intense hunger among millennials for contributing to the social good in classes I teach on social entrepreneurship at Stanford University. But beyond my personal experiences, the largest annual survey of millennials about their engagement in social causes, The Millennial Impact Report, provides powerful evidence. In a recent survey, 55% of respondents said that a company’s support for social causes was an important factor in accepting a job offer. The appeal comes not only from the desire to contribute to causes, but from the sense that a company that’s involved in doing social good is likely to be a better place to work. As one respondent explained, “If a company cares that much about outside causes, then I know they are invested in treating me right as an employee.”

One innovative study showed powerful positive results specifically on retention as well. Analyzing the retention of employees at a major global consulting firm who volunteered for a social impact consulting assignment, which involved a temporary reduction in salary that could be as much as 50%, the researchers found that the participants were a third less likely to leave the firm. The conclusion was that the chance to apply their talents to a social good project increased loyalty to the firm, which many of the participates explicitly expressed, such as one who told the researchers “I feel very loyal toward [the firm] for providing me this opportunity.”  More evidence comes from a Deloitte survey that found  that “millennials who frequently participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be proud, loyal and satisfied” and that they are also twice as likely to be very satisfied with the progression of their career.

But not all social volunteering opportunities are equally rewarding. There are several ways to optimize corporate social responsibility programs.

  1. Offer opportunities to work in groups. The Millennial Impact Project has found that 78% of Millennials prefer doing cause work in groups, such as on company-wide volunteer days or in team or department-wide projects. Such approaches have the added benefits of teambuilding and strengthening the whole corporate culture, helping employees to not only get to know one another better but to see that the company has a serious commitment to social engagement.
  2. Design programs that draw on employees’ work expertise. Another finding of the Millennial Project is that a whopping 97% of respondents said that they would prefer to apply their specific work skills to volunteering. Too many companies treat volunteering opportunities as side projects rather than developing programs that are related to the larger corporate strategy and allow employees to apply their work expertise. The global consulting firm that inspired so much loyalty through its social impact program sends consultants to the developing world to apply their consulting skills to projects run by NGOs or government agencies. At Twilio, a cloud communications company, their Impact Corps program connects their tech-savvy employees with organizations that need technical assistance. LinkedIn recently brought together a team of their employees to provide career advice for military veterans, helping them develop their LinkedIn profiles and make them more marketable job candidates. This project also offered the group experience employees prefer, as the participants all traveled together to a military base to work with the veterans.
  3. Stoke Competitive Spirit. Millennials love both competition and recognition, so building incentives around it can increase participation. What’s key here is to create the incentives without making people feel forced or pressured to give, which can create a negative feeling. For example, after the recent fires in the Napa and Sonoma regions of California, challenged its employees to help raise $2 million to support rebuilding and relief in the affected areas. In addition to founder Marc Benioff’s contribution of $500,000, the company pledged $500,000 and also requested that employees help to raise an additional $500,000, incentivizing them by committing to contribute yet another $500,000 of matching funds if they met the goal.

So much of the attention to how distinctive the millennials are as employees has focused on difficulties in managing them and how fleet-footed they are. Their strong desire to contribute to the social good should be seen as a golden opportunity not only to cater to their interests and build their job satisfaction but also to genuinely further a company’s strategic mission.

Kathleen Kelly Janus is the author of Social Startup Success (Da Capo Lifelong Books, January 2017). 

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