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Leadership Lab

Why workplace volunteering is a win-win Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

Standing at the Daily Bread Food Bank in Toronto with a number of colleagues, I looked around at the massive boxes of food that our group of volunteers was tasked to package – all destined for families in need. The scope of work to be done was overwhelming, and I was concerned that we would barely make a dent in the rows and rows of boxes set aside for us to tackle. It would take days to get through.

We rolled up our sleeves, arranged ourselves in assembly line formations, and got to work. A flurry of activity was set in motion.

Since 2008, Richter has dedicated an entire work day each year for our team members to volunteer their time with a variety of special causes in our local communities. We call it Community Day. The initiative has grown, along with our firm, which surpasses 500 team members in two cities. We’ve collectively, and proudly, volunteered thousands of hours over the last eight years.

In a world of billable hours, it’s hard not to consider what financial impact this sort of resourcing translates into from a spreadsheet’s point of view. Indeed, as a financial advisory firm, it’s a thought that most everyone at Richter would gravitate toward. The truth is though, if it really was only about revenue, it would still make a world of sense to dedicate the company’s time and resources in this way, for a number of reasons.

Chief among those is the fact that working together as a team, side by side in a volunteer capacity, can forge stronger relationships between employers and employees than can ever be created in a boardroom or office setting. The rapport and morale generated from such activity is invaluable.

At the Daily Bread Food Bank, I saw a real sense of contribution and collaboration from my colleagues on the line; a tangible positive. I saw senior partners, some of whom have worked at the company for 25 years, bonding with new employees, some who hadn’t yet worked for 25 days. And the same was true for our other groups of volunteers who were off planting trees, preparing hot meals for those in need, or spending time with the elderly at retirement homes throughout the Toronto and Montreal areas during Richter’s Community Day.

This type of initiative has a snowball effect. A number of our team members have continued their volunteer efforts outside of work, on their own time. And we all stand to benefit from that kind of generosity. Employees who are engaged in their communities and careers are happier employees. And happiness generally equates to greater productivity and loyalty in the work force. It’s a win-win for all involved.

Corporate volunteer efforts also have a positive impact on a company’s visibility, reputation, and image in the marketplace. While certainly not the motivation for getting involved, they are very real benefits. Generating good PR and creating positive touch points through corporate social responsibility is an effective way to stay top of mind with clients, while enhancing how your company is perceived.

The fact is, people do business with people they like – and with whom they share similar values. A number of the charities we have supported over the years have been causes that are also close to the hearts of our clients. It’s inspiring to learn of true commonalities in these instances that may not have been discovered otherwise. I know our client relationships have become stronger every time I receive an e-mail or a note, describing how much they appreciate our Community Day efforts.

This, coupled with the ability to attract new talent and retain existing team members has a cumulative effect on a company’s financial results and balance sheet. Social responsibility is simply good business.

The business case for giving back to communities has become stronger and stronger with each passing year. According to the latest numbers from the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), businesses are increasingly seeing community investment as a core part of their business plan. In its 2014 annual survey, the CECP found that more than half – six out of 10 companies – offer paid release time for volunteer programs.

It’s proof positive that giving back shouldn’t simply be an option for businesses any more – it should be an inextricable part of any business operation.

Thinking back to that flurry of hands working on the assembly line earlier this summer, the job I thought might take us a few days was instead completed within a few short hours. Seems like giving back has yet another benefit: it has the power to make time fly.

Cary Selby, CPA, CA, is the Toronto managing partner of Richter LLP

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