Even with the virtual touch of social media, one very human element remains: the need for community. We search online and in our neighborhoods for people who share our same interests. No matter where our work or daily activities take us, we return to the community. The community has a strong influence on culture and behavior patterns. If your clients want a successful corporate wellness program, they should open the door to the community outside the workplace walls. The far-reaching benefits of community volunteer work may surprise everyone.
The feel-good effect. Psychologists define six aspects of well-being as happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression. The health benefit of volunteer work is not just a theory. Numerous studies support the positive effect that it has on a person's well-being.
Community work generates a two-way benefit found inside and outside the workplace. People want to work for an employer that gives back to the community. It provides a platform for team building and recognizes both the employer and individual employees. For the community, it unites neighbors and finds support in their own backyard.
The sense of community enhances the culture and relationships within the workplace. As the focus shifts to creating a healthier workforce, employees share their experiences with families and friends. That has a domino effect on family members and the community as they make healthier food choices, join exercise programs and become more active in the community. Ideally, the community becomes healthier, creating an employer's dream hiring pool.
Employer support. Many of your clients may already support community projects. That's a good starting point, but check on the level of interest and involvement of employees. While charities certainly welcome financial donations, clients that simply write a check are not engaging employees or the community. As an alternative, suggest that employees be responsible for raising money or other donations. The greatest reward comes from the gift of time and employees working together to achieve common goals.
It is important to tap into the community interests of employees. Some may currently participate in community work; however, caution your clients about staying neutral. Any perception of employee favoritism or focusing on an executive's "pet project" destroys the sense of community. The best way to find out what matters to employees is to ask - conduct surveys, initiate meetings.
To encourage participation, your clients need positive incentives, such as: authorized time off for volunteer work; incorporating volunteer activity in performance reviews; reimbursement for personal expenditures on community projects; or other forms of recognition, such as awards or features in company communication.
Creating healthy competition can jump-start volunteer projects by recognizing or rewarding teams that volunteer the most time or raise the greatest amount of donations. Whatever the incentive, your clients should be consistent for all employees and review incentives regularly for their effectiveness.
One approach for community work is developing a theme for volunteering, such as environmental projects, helping children or working with senior citizens. Also stay away from projects that are too similar to the company's business. For example, if your client is a daycare facility, have employees work with senior citizens. Typically, there is better engagement when employees try something outside their day-to-day routine.
Community support. Even the smallest of employers can make a difference by using available resources. Your clients can join forces or use community resources like the local business park to work collectively on projects, fund-raise, or grow a community garden.
Encourage employees to include family members in volunteer projects. Being able to bring family members increases the likelihood of employee participation and has a side benefit of adding to the pool of volunteers.
Community volunteer work should become an integral part of the corporate wellness program. Success requires a commitment from the top down and constant monitoring to keep employees fully engaged. When your clients and their employees invest in the community, there is a shared sense of commitment. Opening the door to the community opens the door to an enhanced quality of life.
Taylor is a consultant and certified wellness program manager for Intercare Insurance Solutions in San Diego.
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