In a previous post, I described three elements that motivate fully engaged employees: (1) a sense of purpose, (2) the opportunity to make a difference, and (3) recognition that they matter as human beings.
In addition to their work, many employees find engagement in their communities. One way to develop engaged relationships with your employees is to discover what is meaningful to them. For example, I recently learned that my longtime friend, Jonathan Segal—who is also a writer and speaker at numerous Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) annual conferences—has a passion for community work. Although he devotes well over 40 hours per week to his professional commitments, he found that with an even busier schedule, his life took a decided turn for the better.
JATHAN JANOVE: What community volunteer work do you do?
JONATHAN SEGAL: I volunteer for the Montgomery County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Pennsylvania. Every weekend, and sometimes during the week, I go to the local animal shelter. I try to soothe distressed cats and dogs and show them to people who are considering animal adoption. I focus my efforts especially on older animals because they are typically perceived as less desirable to adopt. I want them to have a second chance.
For the past year, I’ve also served on the board of directors, getting involved in strategic issues including working with law enforcement to prevent and respond to animal abuse and other wrongs such as animal hoarding.
JJ: How did you become involved with the SPCA?
JS: Serendipity. I had wanted to give back to the community but had no particular plan or focus. I happened to be in a section of a pet store I usually avoid because I don’t like seeing animals in cages. I watched an amazing 30-year volunteer of the SPCA, Eileen Chamberlain, interact with a family that was considering adopting a brown cat from the animal shelter. They decided to do so and I still recall they named him “Chestnut.”
To me it was like witnessing a miracle. On the spot, I volunteered to help. I figured I would do a couple of adoptions but as animals kept coming in, I couldn’t quit. It’s been 8.5 years and counting.
JJ: Your volunteer work benefits your community. How does it benefit you?
JS: Lots of ways! When you help the downtrodden or suffering in your community, whether they’re animals or people, you increase the world’s supply of something it could use more of—empathy. Volunteering gives you a healthier perspective, reminding you of the good in your own life and what you should be grateful for. Applying a skill you possess for something other than monetary gain has meaning and value in itself. It feels great to use my advocacy skills for “purrfect” clients who literally cannot speak for themselves!
Another benefit concerns my mom’s favorite saying: “If it stays in your head, it grows.” By the way, my mom is a therapist. Too often we obsess over things we don’t like about our jobs or our personal lives. But when I’m caressing a distressed animal or describing it to a prospective adopting family, my personal and professional obsessions are out of my head. I’m totally focused on giving. There’s even physiological evidence to support the value of giving.
When I had a very painful experience in my own life, I spent extra time at the shelter. Soothing those cats and dogs soothed me. There’s a great expression in the animal rescue world: “Who rescued whom?”
Volunteering can also make you better at your day job. What I’ve learned from my work with the SPCA and from our phenomenal executive director, Carmen Ronio, makes me more effective in the professional services I provide.
Finally, community volunteering makes getting older less scary. I’m in my 50s and feel sad whenever I hear someone say, “What would I do if I didn’t work?” When the time comes for me to cut back professionally, I intend to do even more volunteer work. Volunteering helps prepare you for the next phase of your life when it’s no longer dominated by your career.
JJ: For readers inspired by your story, what advice do you have for getting started?
JS: Identify something you feel passionate about and is close to your heart. In my case, it was abandoned or abused animals. Yours might be different .It might involve education, the environment, health, or other causes.
When trying something, don’t make the mistake of expecting immediate results. As with anything of importance, you need to make an investment. Also, approach volunteering with humility. Volunteering is a privilege, not a grand gesture on your part. With a humble spirit, you’ll go much farther, do more good, and get more in return. It’s not about feeding your pocketbook or your ego; it’s about feeding your soul.
Do you have a passion involving community volunteer work? Do your employees? If you don’t know the answer to the latter question, I encourage you to find out. It’s a great way to invest in your workplace relationships while perhaps inspiring you, as Jonathan says, “to feed your soul.”
Jonathan Segal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jathan Janove, a former Ogletree Deakins shareholder and Director of Employee Engagement Solutions, is the Principal of Janove Organization Solutions (www.jathanjanove.com). Through consulting, executive coaching, and training, he helps organizations maximize the human potential within. He can be reached at email@example.com.