Employee Centered Corporate Social Responsibility

I’ve always been a big believer in the power of people. Call me optimistic, but I think people naturally want to make the world a better place. They want to help those around them achieve success. As business leaders, it’s our job to harness that optimism and passion, and focus it on serving our customers and communities. Unfortunately, most businesses miss the mark. Employees are historically disengaged at work and that lack of engagement costs companies billions annually.  In fact, according to the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy’s 2018 Giving in Numbers report, the average participation rate in employee volunteer programs is just 30%.

To overcome those low levels of engagement, Berkshire Bank put our employees at the center of our corporate social responsibility strategy, connecting them to our core purpose of helping everyone, everywhere realize life’s exciting moments. Our commitment to being a socially responsible company extends to every aspect of our business, ensuring we use natural resources effectively, offer a dynamic, ethical and inclusive workplace, and use the power of our core business to support under resourced populations.  While that work is at the heart of our brand, harnessing the power of our human capital is what has made our corporate social responsibility efforts so impactful. Our strategy empowers our employees to use their time, skills and expertise to contribute meaningfully to the communities where we live and work.

The XTEAM®, our corporate employee volunteer program, provides employees with paid time off to volunteer during regular business hours at a series of company-supported projects. Offering paid time off to volunteer is hardly a revolutionary concept, nor is it what makes our program unique or so successful. It’s our people. By empowering them to be local change agents, giving them choice and providing them with the framework and resources to make it all happen, they’ve been able to achieve some incredible results, including a 100% participation rate in each of the last three years.

The true measure of our success is the impact we’ve had on our community and business. In 2018, we proudly achieved our goal of impacting one million individuals with our volunteer work. That’s one million lives changed because our employees took the opportunity to contribute their time, skills and expertise in our communities. Our success extends to our business, with data showing that our volunteer efforts enhance reputation, increase brand affinity, mitigate risk, develop talent, and generate new business. A strong volunteer program not only helps create a more engaged workforce, it builds a stronger more inclusive business.

So why am I sharing our story?  To encourage and support other businesses in launching their own efforts. There are dozens of free resources and experts willing to help you on your own journey. My tips? Put your employees at the center of your strategy, align their work with your core purpose and empower them to be local change agents.  Starting is simple:

  • Get a plan in place
  • Build support and buy-in
  • Empower and engage your workforce at all levels by providing choice, incentives and recognition to encourage participation
  • Measure your success beyond outputs and communicate with your internal and external stakeholders using a combination of stories and data

And remember, it takes time to build a successful employee volunteer or corporate social responsibility program. It won’t happen overnight. You’ll have setbacks and successes but always keep in mind the end goal: the student who can read better, the family with the new home, the young adult who can finally go to college and the business that achieves success by being a responsible corporate citizen.

Gary R. Levante is Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility at Berkshire Bank, America’s Most Exciting Bank®, and leads corporate responsibility and sustainability for the company and its’ subsidiaries. Under Gary’s leadership, Berkshire has earned more than two dozen awards including the 2018 Gold Halo Award for the top corporate community engagement program in North America, PR Daily’s 2018 Corporate Social Responsibility Award and a 2017 International Communitas Award for leadership in Corporate Social Responsibility. A leading expert on human capital investment and community engagement, he has been featured at conferences throughout North America, on social media and in national publications. He contributes his talents to his community serving on the boards of local non-profit organizations and on the national board of America’s Charities. In addition, Gary acts as the Regional Voice Lead for IMPACT2030, a United Nations and private sector collaborative. Gary holds a B.A. in History and Political Science from St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont.