Staffing community engagement reaps multiple rewards

United Way of the OzarksUncategorized

image of volunteers

The Talent Puzzle is a three-part series focusing on employee talent recruitment and retention. It was originally published in the Springfield Business Journal.

In concert with the new podcast Citizen Inc., co-hosted by Greg Burris and Eric Olson of the Springfield Business Journal, we are sharing the series which:

  • Explores a new generation of employees.
  • Includes research that backs the need for change.
  • Stories from area employers.

Citizen Inc. launched this month and explores how corporate citizenship is key to talent attraction and retention.


By: Greg Burris, president and CEO of United Way of the Ozarks

In my first column, I shared how my daughter’s job search criteria was different than mine as a Baby Boomer. In second installment, I shared research results and survey statistics that supported the idea we need to be thinking differently about talent attraction and retention during the next few decades.

In the job search today, search criteria are different. So as hiring leaders, we need to be thinking differently about talent attraction and retention.

For the third column in my series on The Talent Puzzle, I want to share some insights from leaders at local organizations. These leaders are already flexing a muscle many of us have not exercised in a while – and maybe never will. We are all for a workout over the next 20-plus years if we want to compete for talent.

Let’s take a look at how engaging your employees in the community can:

  • Enhance their skill sets.
  • Increase their loyalty to their employer and feelings of pride.
  • Increase their engagement on the job.
  • Grow their connection to the community and their co-workers.
  • Become your best talent recruiters.

Employees return from volunteer engagements with new skills and – in some cases – even a new attitude.

“They come back as better leaders, hone their presentation skills, have greater compassion and empathy, and gain more knowledge about the things happening just a few blocks away.”

– Andrea Brady, community outreach and development manager at Great Southern Bank

The pros know

So, with all the other pressures on organizations these days, why would these organizations prioritize employee community engagement?

Here are a few I asked:

Andrea Brady, community outreach and development manager at Great Southern Bank says her employer has embraced employee community engagement for years and indicates it is the foundation for the company. “It may sound like a cliche, but we really do believe in our communities. Our communities reflect who we are,” she says. “We have a sense of ownership to make things better, and we support the initiatives that our employees support.”

“Across all of our four locations, we partner with four United Way agencies,” says Olivia Smith, vice president of culture strategy and execution at American National Insurance Co. “Volunteerism links so strongly to our company’s core values of respect, teamwork and service.”

“We encourage our employees to give back to our community. They have skills that are valuable to others and they want to serve with sincerity with both their time and their talents. Those we serve give our employees a sense of purpose and develop them in wonderful ways for their careers.”

– Jena Holtberg-Benge, general manager of John Deer Reman

Expanding skill sets

These business managers say volunteering together allows employees to make connections and acquire new skills – specifically, leadership, technical and soft skills.

Stephanie Johnson, senior human resources business partner for Paddio, sees employees return from volunteering with new, non-tangible skill sets, such as compassionate communication and a new understanding of their community. “They become a more well-rounded employee,” she notes.

What about impacting an employee’s work on the job?

Gary Gibson, president and CEO of City Utilities of Springfield, observed, “Employees return from volunteerism with a change in attitude – they have more pride in what they do every day and more pride in their employer. They also return with a new appreciation for how their skill set can be used in other ways to benefit the community.”

Helping employees stick around

But can community engagement impact employee retention by making them “sticky”? What I mean is, can it impact employee loyalty and pride? It appears so.

“I’ve lived that,” says Brady. “Having the ability to get involved helps develop who we are as individuals. It’s so rewarding.” She says her experience is that volunteerism and community engagement improves employee loyalty.

“When employees feel engaged,” adds Johnson, “they are more committed to their work and their employer.”

Jena Holtberg-Benge, general manager of John Deer Reman, says employees who participate in community volunteerism “are so much more engaged at work. In fact, participation in our community is driving a heightened level of engagement at work.”

“We try to balance culture and work; to take care of the human. We ask ourselves, ‘How can I live my life values while having a rewarding career?’ It’s just who we are. It’s the values we hold to our heart, and we want people who hold these same values.”

– Stephanie Johnson, senior human resources business partner for Paddio

Improving workplace culture

All five leaders confirmed that group volunteer projects provide opportunities for employees to meet each other and get to know employees from other parts of the organization.

According to Gibson, “Group volunteer projects are a good way to get all levels of the organization engaged and involved in the community.”

In addition to supporting the United Way Day of Caring, John Deere Reman is coordinating a monthly project that involves five employees volunteering together. Employees often work side-by-side with other employees they don’t yet know. Holtberg-Benge recounts staff who met and became friends while volunteering together during the United Way Day of Caring. “It makes for a different work environment. It generates a different level of caring. People understand the needs better and are more likely to help each other.”

Realizing your best recruiters

During a time when talent attraction is critical, how can community engagement effect the ability to recruit talent?

“Our employees are our best recruiters,” says Holtberg-Benge. “Roughly 50% of our new hires are the result of employee referrals.”

Largely, the onus is on the employer to facilitate these opportunities. Employees are looking for that – whether that’s through incentives, like paid-time off to volunteer and support programs, such as John Deere Foundation’s Dollars for Doers.

Paddio’s employees become talent recruiters. “Living these values inside and outside of work, our people represent who Paddio is,” said Johnson. “They become our natural recruiters.”

Overall, these employers say the investment is worth it.

Says Brady, “Community engagement changes people. It opens your eyes and your heart to what is around you.”