Here at Work Psychology Group we’ve been learning, from practical experience, all about the value of Employee Supported Volunteering (ESV), aka community enrichment – a key aspect of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). We recently spent a sunny Thursday digging, weeding, planting, painting (and more!) in the Long Eaton Community Garden, not far from our Derby offices.
It really is extraordinary what a determined group of people can achieve in one day – the installation of a water tank, the creation of a sensory path for the pre-school area, freshly painted fences and a creatively constructed display using recycled materials to host colourful climbing plants around the cobb oven. We have also donated a bench for the future benefit of visitors to the garden.
Why the Long Eaton Community Garden?
The garden is run by volunteers and funding bids are co-ordinated via a steering group. It’s used by local people of all ages, from pre-schoolers to the elderly, although volunteers include nearby companies, community groups, schools, mental health groups and so on. The garden has a long to-do list but is slowly and surely being transformed. It fitted our criteria for a community enrichment project: an outdoor activity that’s sufficiently local for the team to retain links and visit regularly. It helps that our values – innovation, participation, trust and integrity, learning, results focus and quality – are shared by the garden too.
So, what is Community Enrichment?
Buzzwords and initials aside, it’s a simple and highly effective way for organisations to help improve and ‘give back to’ the community. It forms an important part of CSR, which is the umbrella term for how companies play a positive role in the community, from minimising their carbon footprint to making charitable donations.
Companies donate time and skills, working in teams to complete community projects. Most companies select activities that align with their vision, values or core business. It’s also firmly on the political agenda, with the UK government committed to introducing three volunteering days per year for employees of larger organisations.
For the Community:
|·Improved communication & engagement with their employees|
·Stronger, better functioning teams with a greater breadth of soft skills
·Improved staff morale and pride
·A deeper understanding of the local community
·Enhanced brand awareness and reputation through visible social responsibility Integrating ESV into learning & development strategies is a cheaper and potentially more effective form of employee development
|·Greater engagement with their employer|
·A sense of personal pride and satisfaction from making a difference
·Better connections with local communities
·An opportunity to gain or practise skills, including communication and problem solving
|·Advice, skills, expertise and time from enthusiastic volunteers|
·The outputs of the combined efforts of a group of volunteers could have a huge impact on achieving community objectives for local projects in a shorter space of time
·Access to valuable resources that many communities may not be able to afford or to undertake projects that could add value in their local areas
The benefits for WPG:
This was a rare opportunity for us to get together in a less formal setting and do something valuable for the community. We also enjoyed taking time to reflect on our work outside the workplace and learn or practise new skills. Our team is geographically dispersed around our core office locations in London and Derby, and the opportunity to get together as a team largely only happens during the monthly ‘core day’ at our Head Office.
However, the time is often very business-focused and filled with meetings as we try to make the most of having colleagues all together in one place! It’s therefore important to us to find time for some less formal teambuilding activities which can help us bond as a team. This potentially offers several knock-on advantages: boosted innovation and problem-solving ability, closer team cohesion, improved output and greater overall organisational effectiveness. If we can help others in the process then there’s an added bonus.
…and the challenges
Such events can be demanding, especially for new employees or where teams are not used to operating in the same location and at the same time. Some of our team were also less confident as to how their existing skills and expertise would translate into something more green-fingered at the Long Eaton Community Garden (although they needn’t have worried)! Additionally, the intense heat that day made the work particularly difficult, and some struggled with the donated (and well-worn) tools and equipment.
Building a strong CSR programme
So, what do organisations need to consider if they are going to dedicate time to such activities and build a corporate strategy that reflects CSR?
Companies that are well-known for successful community enrichment programmes – Nationwide Building Society, Experian or Sage – share certain common characteristics: a robust organisational culture, focus on personal development and progression, a strong sense of diversity and inclusion, well-being programmes, a clear “employee voice” and a healthy work-life balance. It also helps to:
- Forge an open, mutually beneficial and respectful relationship with the organisation being supported.
- Ensure the organisation understands exactly what’s required of them so they spend time on worthwhile activities for the community.
- Identify a cause that aligns with company values; this helps forge stronger connections with the community.
- Decide whether volunteering will be implemented as part of learning and development plans and, if so, how many days per employee.
- Probe what employees are passionate about and which activities will engage them.
Organisations that fail to consider these factors (or simply do not understand how it all works) may benefit less from community enrichment activities, as will the community, sadly.
The final word goes to WPG staff who participated:
Jess (Former Associate Psychologist Intern): “As someone who was fairly new to WPG this was a great opportunity for me to spend time with my colleagues in a less formal setting. I loved doing something that was worthwhile for the community – it really felt like a few hours of our work made a difference to the garden which was really nice to see. I felt a real sense of achievement at the end of the day.”
Sam (Consultant): “The day was a fantastic opportunity to learn to work as a team in a different environment. It was pleasing to see that our work helped the community garden.”