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Natural disasters occurring one after another can often leave employees feeling helpless. However, your organization can empower its employees to give back to the world around them in small but meaningful ways. The American Psychological Association realizes the importance of supporting employees in this way, and also acknowledges that giving back is good for their physical and mental health. Emotions and behaviors that are others-focused are associated with better well-being, health and longevity. Yes, being altruistic could help you live longer!
So how does APA encourage its employees to help the world around them? First of all, we have a Go Casual Day every two months during which employees can wear denim to work if they donate to one of two designated charities. The organizations are chosen and vetted by a staff committee, the Neighborhood Opportunities for Volunteer Activities (NOVA) group, made up of representatives from across the organization. While NOVA is in charge of the vetting process, any employee can make charity recommendations to the group at any time. Not only are employees happy to be wearing jeans, but they feel good knowing that they are helping a cause.
The Go Casual Days are planned well in advance, but sometimes there's a last-minute cause that deserves the attention of the organization. For example, recently the Staff Initiatives Office received many requests from staff asking how we could help those affected by the hurricanes. We quickly organized a Go Casual for Harvey Victims fundraiser, and we raised $2,910 for Direct Relief and Houston Food Bank. This was an easy way for employees to give back without having to spend time researching on their own or traveling somewhere else to donate.
Other hurricanes followed Harvey, so we needed a more long-term solution to support disaster relief. We devised a system so employees could donate on their own to whichever organization they choose, email the amount to us or drop it into a jar anonymously in the building lobby, and we have been tracking it on a large thermometer in the lobby. Employees could support the charity of their choice and feel that they are helping build momentum for a bigger effort.
Our Executive Management Group donated some of their contribution funds to hurricane relief as well, and in the course of a month we have already donated nearly $20,000 toward hurricane relief in various states and countries. This is incredible for those affected by the hurricanes, but It also has effects on the employee, as research shows that giving, and even just thinking about giving, is linked to improved health and well-being.
Your employees may not be able to travel to another country to give direct aid in times of disaster, but there are plenty of other ways they can help, and it's even better if your organization can be supportive and remove barriers in this process. It's important to think about what your staff truly need at a specific moment in time when deciding which programs to implement. Though giving $5 to wear jeans may seem small, its effects are far-reaching, both to the communities that need help, to your organization, and to your employees.
Tara Davis is director of APA's Staff Initiatives Office.