When a company incorporates volunteering into its organization, it doesn’t just make the community better — it actually makes employees and companies better, too.
One way RelationEdge prioritizes service is by giving employees volunteer days they can use to do work for any cause they care about. Recently, our own VP of Service Delivery Juel Hood gained a unique perspective on community engagement during her volunteer work with the 2019 Special Olympics Illinois Winter Games. I sat down to talk with her about her experience and what we can all learn from engaging in the community a bit more.
The Benefits of Volunteering
Like consulting, volunteering begins with seeing a need. “Follow the passion and needs of your local communities,” Juel says. “For me, it began with Taylor and my family and all their needs.”
Taylor Schaar, Juel’s 23-year-old niece, has Apraxia, a neurological condition caused by damage to the brain’s cerebral hemispheres. After turning 21 and graduating from a special education program, she became more active in their local Special Rec Park District’s community to stay active and socially involved; the Special Olympics became a large part of Taylor’s — and her family’s — annual routine.
“At first I felt like all I had the energy to do was to attend the events, cheer on the athletes, and donate some money,” Juel explains. “But then I thought, ‘What more can I do?’” She decided to sign up as a volunteer, adding that she’s extremely grateful to work for a company that offers employees volunteer days. In her time working to keep the athletes organized as they prepared for the Snowshoe 100 Meter race, she saw the benefits of community engagement first-hand.
Here are some of the ways Juel finds volunteering in our communities makes employees and their companies better.
It Promotes A Collaborative Environment
Juel says that one of the first things she noticed at the Illinois Special Olympics was an inspiring team mentality displayed by athletes and volunteers, despite the competitive nature of the games. “Everybody was cheering for everyone. Everyone was so focused on helping each other and encouraging everyone to be their best. It really made me think, ‘how are we encouraging each other to be our best selves and do our best job?’”
If there’s ever a time where teamwork is necessary, it’s in the workplace. Employees must come together to develop solutions and companies have to find ways to encourage such collaboration. Volunteering to help others is a tangible way of bringing out people’s collaborative side — whether you volunteer with fellow coworkers as a group, or on your own, serving the community requires strong teamwork and can help remind those serving of the importance and value of a collaborative environment.
The feelings of support, cooperation, and service that are so strongly linked to volunteering are likely to seep into other areas of a person’s life, including their professional mindset.
It Reflects a Company’s Values
Community engagement directly reflects a company’s values. At RelationEdge, our core values are service, innovation, teamwork, integrity and creativity.
These values represent more than catchy phrases turned into hashtags. These words define who we aim to be, and how we go about staying true to our culture. This must be reflected not only in our work but in the communities we work in, as well.
Becoming involved in our communities through volunteer opportunities exemplifies RelationEdge’s core values of service and integrity, and allows employees to demonstrate these values in a very tangible way. When volunteering as a group or joining an existing volunteer organization, we also get to practice the core value of teamwork. A company’s support and involvement in community service shows a lot about the company culture — to current and future employees, clients, partners, and the general public. Engaging in our communities brings our company values to life.
“Every company can and should engage a little bit. When you do, you enrich your community and its families,” Juel says. “If we don’t have companies that help support their communities with their services, it’s a missed opportunity to represent purpose and value. It’s our social responsibility.”
It Inspires Employees to Put Their Skills to Work
Even the best companies sometimes struggle to inspire employees to put the full range of their skills to use. Volunteering allows employees to step out of their comfort zones in a safe, non-threatening way that’s also fun. Juel explains how this is especially important for technology companies who act as consultants, like RelationEdge.
“We’re process and operations oriented. It’s what we do. We think efficiently, sometimes even five steps ahead, and just have a way of bringing people together.” While volunteering, it’s very common for companies to see employees use skills they don’t generally use in the workplace. This helps employees and companies think outside of the box and generate more creativity.
Juel’s family gets together every year and creates and sells t-shirts for Taylor, and she hopes to see more companies get creative in how they engage with their communities. “As a company, we can come together and say, ‘this year, let’s focus our time and energy to address hunger [or another cause].’ Everyone can work toward that corporately and then see in numbers how the organization affects each respective community — locally, regionally and even globally,” she says. “I hope we can form lasting relationships so that it’s more than just an annual event; it becomes part of our identity.”
It Encourages Work Life Balance
Happy employees make for happier customers and more productive organizations; and happy employees are often those with a healthy work life balance. While vacation time and flexible working hours are effective ways to give employees time to step away from work, enabling community engagement is a great way to connect with how employees spend their time outside of work. By providing employees with volunteer days, RelationEdge shows each employee that the company cares about the organizations, nonprofits and causes that its team members care about.
“It’s not just about serving our customers. We’re here to serve in and out of the office. We’re here to serve our customers, our team, our communities. It really should be part of who we are.”
Many studies have shown that volunteering can make people feel happier. It’s a rewarding and inspiring way to spend your time. Finding the time in our busy schedules can be one of the biggest barriers to getting involved, so when your company not only encourages but enables time for service, it’s worth taking advantage of this benefit. Speaking directly to her fellow RelationEdge employees, Juel says, “You have a company that gives you volunteer days. You are given the time and you will get so much energy out of volunteering. You just have to remove that mental block telling you that you don’t have the time to get involved.”
It Renews Perspective
Companies and employees that are diligent about volunteering get constant opportunities to expand their views of the world. “Watching the athletes participate in the Special Olympics reminded me not to take things so seriously. Our jobs can get really stressful. Sometimes we need to be reminded to take it slow and just keep plugging on — and sometimes we just need to laugh,” Juel remarks.
When projects get overwhelming and deadlines are tight, it can be hard to keep your mind on the bigger picture, to feel grateful for the things that are going well, and to look for silver linings. Through helping others and actively participating in the local community, you can promote emotional balance; and it’s this kind of perspective that keeps employees encouraged and motivated.
At RelationEdge, we pride ourselves in being able to provide our clients with the solutions they need. We take time to discuss their difficulties, understand their issues, and develop creative and innovative solutions to their business challenges. Why not use this same process to engage with and in our communities?
Community engagement works the same way as consulting with clients — it’s all about seeing a need, understanding it, and working to help solve it.
Juel encourages her colleagues to find their own ways to get involved. “Find your part [in the community] — whatever that is and whatever time and energy you can give. Make it part of your year. Whether it’s donating money, time, or participating in an activity, determine to make it part of your year.” You’ll be a better person and employee and your company will be a better organization because of it.
As for Juel’s niece Taylor, she went on to win the Gold Medal for the 100-meter Snowshoe race this year, and you can bet to see her in the Winter Games again next year.