2020 was a transformative year at work. Employees worked at home, while historic Black Lives Matter protests, economic volatility and climate disasters inspired a heightened commitment to social and environmental causes in people of all ages.
Today’s workers don’t just want to contribute to these causes on their own. They increasingly want to work for a company that is invested in both its employees and the greater public good.
So what does that investment look like in practice?
HR executives and managers are poised to offer programs and redesign workplace policies that uphold their employees’ values and demonstrate care for employees’ well-being.
Here are seven ways you can serve the new purpose-driven workforce this year.
1: Matching donations
Many employers have been matching employee donations for years, but this offering gained new popularity in 2020 as a need for COVID-19 relief arose. Match programs are meaningful for employees because they get to see their contributions go twice as far, and it shows their employers have their backs.
Consider making donation matching a regular part of your benefits, either year-round or during an annual company-wide giving event. Typically, employers offer anywhere from a 1:1 to a 4:1 match up, or a fixed amount for an employee’s donation to a non-profit organization or philanthropy of choice.
If you already offer a matching program, make sure all your employees know about it. Promote it in benefits summaries, on your company website, and in other relevant employee communications. Some might be surprised to learn that such a program already exists.
Pro tip: Encourage employees to share organizations they’ve supported during team meetings. It’s a way for employees to get to know the causes their co-workers care about — and to learn about new ways of getting involved.
2: Time to volunteer/protest
While many volunteer and activist engagements happen on weekends, some employees might feel compelled to participate in events that occur during the workday, such as a sit-in at a state capital building or a volunteer shift with a local mutual aid group.
Companies can communicate shared values by supporting their employees’ civic engagement. When Trump announced a travel ban in early 2017, Comcast gave its employees the ability to take time off of work to protest. Patagonia, a company with a noted history of environmental activism (and just 4 percent employee turnover), pays bail for employees who are arrested while protesting environmental and related issues.
Even if you don’t go as far as these major corporations do, offering “social justice paid time off (PTO)” is a way to give employees license to engage with the causes they care about. It shows you care about their passions outside of work.
3: Holidays of their choosing
Companies should be thoughtful about creating official holidays that symbolize events and traditions that have ongoing social and personal resonance.
With a diverse workforce, it can be difficult to include every single cultural, religious and historical holiday on the calendar. Instead, you can give your employees the flexibility to observe the holidays that are most important to them, whether it’s Eid al-Fitr, Passover or Easter.
Go a step further and invite your employees to share their traditions with your workplace. This will foster a deeper sense of community and appreciation for fellow employees’ heritages.
4: Purposeful gifts
Your employee gifting strategy is another area where you can thoughtfully integrate support for social and environmental causes that your employees care about.
Instead of the standard holiday basket or one-year anniversary gift card, show appreciation for your employees with gifts that personally resonate and also do good. This might look like…
A donation to your employee’s organization of choice in their name
A mousepad or notebook made from recycled materials for an employee who cares deeply about the environment
A food basket from a company that provides employment to people with disabilities for an employee who’s involved with a disability advocacy group
5: Be empathetic
It’s important to create and sustain a company culture of respect and compassion for your employees. Publicly visible purpose-oriented initiatives are superficial if you don’t extend the same commitment and care to your own employees.
The pandemic has been a deep strain on workers’ all-around health and well-being. Millions of employees are balancing child care on top of work, recovering from ongoing illnesses (COVID-19 or otherwise) and dealing with grief.
When employees are facing hardships of any kind, give them the opportunity to heal or tend to personal obligations on their own time. Encourage employees to take mental health days, necessary sick leave and flexible schedules for child care responsibilities.
6: Expanded parental leave
In addition to giving your employees the flexibility to manage the demands of child care, revisit your parental leave policy. Commitment to your employees’ families is commitment to your employees, plain and simple.
A new study reveals that extending PTO for families of new children can actually help more women stay in the workplace long-term. Too often, women without access to adequate PTO after childbirth or adoption drop out of the workforce entirely within a year—almost 30%, according to the study.
Here are several family benefit expansions to consider that will demonstrate your company’s support for new parents:
- Offer paid paternity leave
- Support new parents who aren’t birthparents
- Extend paid medical leave to 12 or more weeks after childbirth
- Cover pregnancy leave as short-term disability for birth mothers
- Allow new parents to work a part-time schedule at full pay upon returning from leave
7: Ask what they want
Creating and redesigning company initiatives is always a work in progress. To ensure you’re serving your employees’ preferences and needs, ask them for continuous feedback.
If you’re expanding parental leave, for instance, talk to your employee when they return about how it went and what they might have done differently. Or send out a survey asking your employees if they have any ideas for company-sponsored fundraising initiatives or volunteer opportunities.
In the same way that your employees will share what gives them a sense of purpose, they’ll also tell you what they need. All you have to do is ask, then listen.
Lead with purpose now to attract tomorrow’s purpose-driven employees
Embedding purpose into your company’s culture serves your current employees first and foremost. But it can also be a boon to recruitment.
Now that many workers have found themselves in between jobs or considering a career transition during the pandemic, HR leaders have an opportunity to attract the next generation of purpose-driven talent to their companies.
Investing in purpose creates a virtuous cycle: it benefits your current employees, your future employees and the greater good, all while encouraging the people who make your company special to come to work excited and engaged every day.