Thursday, July 14, 2011

Volunteerism: The Key to Recruiting Young Workers?

It's kind of interesting that I'm running this column I did for Gannett/USAToday on the heels of a post I did about getting annoyed that I am always getting hit up at work to contribute to someone's "cause." This is the flip side of that scenario, as a new study shows that if you want to recruit the best and brightest of young workers, all you need to do is tie their employment to a cause they care about....

Alarms are starting to sound in companies nationwide as the economy improves.

Employers are nervous that as the job market begins to recover, more workers will jump ship. And even if employees aren't looking for another job, recruiters are actively pursuing "passive" candidates — those not looking for work. And that also adds to the concern.

Some employers seem flummoxed about what to do.

Money concerns keep them from giving large pay raises to hang onto key workers. Offering benefits such as flextime or telework holds appeal for some workers, but others are so burned out and disillusioned with their current employers, who may have laid off employees during the downturn, that they yearn for something more meaningful.

Because staffs are already lean, the thought of workers wanting to leave is enough to keep many managers awake at night.

But one new survey may offer information that could help employers not only hang onto key talent but recruit new workers as well.

A Deloitte survey found that when young workers volunteer, they are twice as likely to say their corporate culture is very positive, are more likely to be proud of their work at their company, are more likely to feel loyal to their employer, and are more likely to recommend their organization to a friend.

Evan Hochberg, national leader of Deloitte's community-involvement initiative, says the survey specifically looked at younger workers since "they are our future work force and we wanted to note their expectations."

But these findings underscore what Hochberg says he sees in all age groups: Employees who volunteer often are more engaged and happy at work.

However, for millennials the need to volunteer is in their DNA, Hochberg says.

"These are kids that have grown up with school systems that required community participation," he says.

"They've grown up with 9/11 and (Hurricane) Katrina. They want to roll up their sleeves and make a difference."

Companies recognizing such a desire will not only be in a better position to retain key talent in the years to come but also to recruit those who have similar values, he says.

"To me, the biggest takeaway is that companies that don't appreciate the connection between volunteering and employee engagement are really leaving value on the table," Hochberg says. "A volunteer strategy must be a meaningful component of a recruitment and retention strategy."

But employers must pay more than lip service to employees volunteering in their communities and must set up policies and programs to support such efforts, he says. Companies can establish time-off policies for volunteer efforts or compensate employees while they're volunteering.

"These employees want to see the companies they work for believing in the things they believe in. It's a huge component of their satisfaction. It can't be just some do-gooder initiative on the side," he says.

One way Deloitte uses volunteerism to attract key talent is through an alternative spring-break program, where college students head to stressed areas of the country to offer their help.

Hochberg says that the program is run by the company's recruiting department because it's seen as a key way to not only attract future talent to Deloitte but also as a way for the company to see potential hires in action.

About 85 spots open each year for the program, but Hochberg says Deloitte gets about 1,400 applications annually from across the country.

At the same time, these millennials are savvy enough to know their volunteerism can pay off in other ways. In the Deloitte survey, millennials say that they're motivated by more than their passion to change the world; 51% report they also want to benefit professionally from their volunteer efforts.

Hochberg says the survey shows that employers who ignore young employees' desire for volunteerism may pay a heavy price.

"Look, it's clear that if companies want workers who are more satisfied, loyal and engaged, then they've got to offer them volunteer opportunities," he says. "Companies have got to integrate this whole area within an organization and connect it to what the company is all about."


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