Doing good while doing your job: cause work in the workplace.

Doing good while doing your job: cause work in the workplace.

It’s probably old news at this point that Millennials have surpassed all other generations in the workforce, now making up the majority.  Just last month, an article in the New York Times Sunday magazine posited that the lines between work and play are becoming blurrier than ever.  Notably, Millennials rate the culture of their workplace to be just as important as the actual work their doing.  Part and parcel of the workplace culture?  The opportunity to participate in company “cause work,” a term the Millennial Impact Report uses to describe “any initiatives or programs that are charitable in nature.”

Cause work can look rather different depending on what a company can offer you.  Some companies may have a charitable giving match program that will match your contributions to an organization up to a certain dollar amount.  Others may allow employees to enroll in United Way or other similar programs, which offers volunteer opportunities and automatically deducts a portion of your paycheck on a regular basis, redistributing that money to an organization you’ve selected.  Some companies may even have company-wide community service days, or allow employees flex time to participate in community service activities.  Aside from a ping pong table and kegs (or, in other words, just a rough work week away from beer pong), these giving incentives and volunteer programs are starting to be billed as work perks as these companies heavily recruit Millennials.  And Millennials seem to respond well to these work perks: according to the study, 79% of Millennials reported feeling like their participation in company cause work made a difference.  

Employer-endorsed philanthropic activity in the workplace: how great is that?  Obviously, it really is great, and there are plenty of reasons why companies who have the capacity to support these programs in a meaningful way should offer them to their employees.  But there’s also a potential negative outcome.  The same report posits that “cause work in the workplace is often interpreted as team-building exercises.” Employees may see participating in company-wide giving competitions  or community service days as an obligation, which ultimately can, and probably does, affect the experience of the employees.  Furthermore, different genders express different motivations for getting involved in workplace cause work.  While female employees cite passion for the cause as a reason to participate in cause work, male employees cite incentive.  And how they give is different too: females are more likely to give to a cash collection bucket, while males are more likely than females to donate through paycheck deductions.  The report concludes in it’s key takeaways that “employers would do well to promote cause work as an opportunity to work with peers – to influence their female employees and managers – as well as offer cross-level opportunities that would engage males.”

What is specifically compelling about this particular report is the difference in how Millennial workers give by region.  As a self-described “lapsed Texan” living in Boston, I looked most closely at the behaviors of Millennials in the South and the Northeast, but the report offers insights for the West and the Midwest too.  The South, somewhat unsurprisingly, boasted the highest volunteer rates, and the region’s Millennials are also most likely to respond to incentives.  In the Northeast, Millennial employees participate in company cause initiatives the least of all four regions.  Respondents claim that they aren’t influenced by competition, incentives, or in their supervisors egging them on.  However, Northeastern Millennial managers respond more to incentives from senior staff for participating in company cause work more than any other region.  In short, the hustle is real, y’all.

An important detail of this survey not to be overlooked, though, is that a whopping 42% of Millennial employees in the Northeast report not being asked to give to or volunteer in company cause work at all, a full 10% behind Millennials in the West and the Midwest, and 24% behind Millennials in the South.  This brings up a real chicken and egg moment, and you have to wonder what came first…the lack of demand for a company culture of philanthropy among it’s Millennial employees, or a lack of someone simply asking Millennial employees to be part of a company culture of philanthropy?

As is the case with all of the iterations of the Millennial Impact Report, the research presents a fascinating picture of the behaviors and mindsets of Millennials throughout the U.S.  And for the most part, their findings align with their past reports, especially those that reveal how important skills-based volunteering and peer influence is to Millennials.  Companies who can create opportunities for their employees to use their skills will certainly find their employees have more positive experiences and want to come back for more.  Plus, the opportunity for team-building and healthy competition will appeal to both females and males, and incentives don’t hurt, either.  And as for companies in the Northeast, I think it’s safe to say that they could and should be presenting opportunities for more participation from their Millennial employees in company cause work.  So, Boston-area companies, take heed to the Golden Rule of Fundraising 101: it never hurts to ask.  

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