By Ashley Kenley, Senior Client Strategy Manager, Strategic Communications
Since quarantine began, it’s been easy to look around and see the worst in a bad situation. Constant uncertainty has put people on edge – with many ignoring social distancing protocols and hoarding, or even trying to resell toilet paper and Lysol wipes for a profit. Sure, we’ve all been privy to some unacceptable actions during this time but if you take a step back and look a little closer, you’ll soon realize that all of these cases of bad behaviour are the exception rather than the rule.
What we have actually seen over the course of the last 9 weeks is a remarkable surge in goodwill, volunteerism, and acts of kindness. Regardless of their own situations, people have stepped up during this time to lend a helping hand to friends and strangers alike.
Struggling restaurant owners have put their own hardship aside and have served free meals to those in desperate need. Children who are out of school are dedicating their free time to delivering supplies to hospitals, creating innovations to help healthcare workers, undertaking fundraising initiatives and raising the spirits of isolated seniors. And numerous charitable endeavours and Facebook groups have been created by good samaritans in order to pool community resources and help others.
Looking inside our own organization, most of our employees have undertaken an act of kindness during quarantine that they would have not engaged in otherwise. These acts have ranged from donating to local businesses, to delivering groceries to an elderly family member or neighbour, to making homemade masks for friends and family.
In search of purpose
This is not an unusual phenomenon, either. Time and time again, we see that the worst situations bring out the best in people. As author Rebecca Solnit so eloquently put it in her book A Paradise Built in Hell, “the history of disaster demonstrates that most of us are social animals, hungry for connection, as well as purpose and meaning.” What we see in times of crisis, such as this, is that people “improvise the conditions of survival beautifully” and we are able to act altruistically towards one another regardless of political orientation, geography, socioeconomic status, religion, or cultural background.
Our desire to help is not only gratified through finding a deeper sense of connection or meaning. “Helper’s High”, as some call it, scientifically shows that volunteering, donating, or even thinking about performing acts of kindness can release endorphins that make you feel good naturally and can even lower your cortisol levels, i.e. reduce stress. All in all, generosity is the “best anti-anxiety medication available”, quips organizational psychologist Adam Grant.
Where do we go from here?
If doing good deeds is indeed good for both the giver and the receiver, then why then do we only turn to acts of kindness during times of crisis? Why shouldn’t we carry our good deeds forward into our everyday lives? The current disaster has given us an opportunity to express the best in ourselves and we have seen that so many have risen to the occasion.
As we look forward to the next stages of recovery, there has been a lot of talk about how we can rebuild in more sustainable and supportive ways. Continuing a culture of giving back could be part of this solution. Not to mention that encouraging volunteerism helps to boost morale and contributes to employee pride in their places of work, which ultimately has positive impacts on retention and productivity.
Here are a few tips on how employers can nourish and encourage giving back within their organizations to keep this newly built momentum going:
- Dedicate space for volunteering. Finding time is one of the most significant barriers we face. Provide your team dedicated volunteer time and eliminate their need to choose. We at Public, for example, each get one week of additional paid vacation per year to dedicate to a volunteer activity of our choosing.
- Make it easy. Not knowing where to start can sometimes overwhelm those that would otherwise like to volunteer. Support or partner with charitable organizations to provide your staff with built-in volunteer opportunities throughout the year – even better if they align with your purpose. A great example of this can be seen with the TD Bank’s Ready Commitment initiative where employees are engaged in tree planting as part of the TD Tree Day.
- Take on pro bono work. Include giving back directly into your day-to-day business. This is a great way to engage your employees and help them feel good about the work they are doing, without requiring a change of pace or paid leave.
- Engage in important discussions. Engage your employee base in a-political discussions around pressing social issues and circulate opportunities where they can be of assistance via internal communications channels. Recognize that there are mini-crises taking place constantly and there will always be people that need our help.