The impact of giving back

Aug 28, 2022

Giving back can be a valuable tool for attracting and retaining talent – and it gives employees a good reason to be proud of where they work.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, as some things return to normal and some other things don’t, many workers are opting to leave unhappy workplaces for greener pastures. This “great resignation” is a concern for many firms, but it can also be an opportunity to gain new talent. The question is, how can your firm become a greener pasture? And what makes employees stay?

If your pay and benefits are competitive, but your firm is still suffering from resignations or staff shortages, it may be time to look at your culture. One of the main reasons employees leave is because of burnout, which even well-meaning companies struggle to treat. Often firms focus too much on what individual employees can do about burnout, rather than addressing the cultural or organizational issues causing it. Encouraging self-care is good, but a lunchtime walk or daily meditation won’t make deadlines disappear. It won’t make your boss easier to work with or make you feel valued. If you truly want to transform your firm into a burnout-free environment that no employee wants to leave, you need to look at it from a firm-level.

Of the main causes of burnout, some have relatively straightforward fixes. An overworked and overloaded employee is more susceptible to burnout than an employee with fewer projects or deliverables, so you need to make sure you hire enough staff and say no to new projects if folks are frequently overloaded. Employees who aren’t recognized or rewarded for their efforts are at risk too, so make sure you acknowledge good work beyond the annual review. But what about more complex issues? Burnout can also creep in when employees feel their work is meaningless, when they feel their values don’t align with the firm’s, or when they feel no sense of community among their coworkers. More complex issues require more complex solutions, but at BL we’ve found that giving back is one simple tool that creates meaning and builds a sense of community.

Overall, giving back is good for mental health; it reduces stress, anxiety, and depression and helps create a sense of fulfillment on an individual level. But firm-sponsored giving back initiatives or pro bono projects can help employees feel their work matters and can bolster a sense of community. There’s a lot of different ways to give back, so how your firm approaches giving back is less important than the impact it has on employees. For large firms, offering paid time off for volunteering may make more sense than trying to organize volunteering events internally, whereas the opposite may be true for smaller firms. As a multi-state firm, BL has better success with firm-wide virtual drives and donation matching and keeping in-person volunteering opportunities local to each office. The important thing is that our initiatives build a sense of community and meaning.

One of our most popular giving back events each year is our Pet Photo Contest which raises funds and supplies for animal shelters around the country. It’s a fully virtual event, but it still creates a great sense of community and camaraderie because it lets employees connect while sharing something they love. Our employees would still donate to animal shelters if we asked. However, going beyond just asking for donations and making it into a fun contest has proven more impactful in terms of our culture. Another successful program is our “Giving Back Spotlight,” which is a mini newsletter highlighting one employee and a cause they are passionate about. Your firm can’t support every worthy cause, but giving employees a platform to share their personal causes can foster a sense that their firm shares their values.

Giving back isn’t a magic wand, but it can be a valuable tool for attracting and retaining talent or combating burnout. A giving back program won’t increase pay or lighten workloads, but it will give employees a sense of meaning and belonging. And perhaps most importantly, it gives employees a good reason to be proud of where they work. 

Julia DeFrances is a senior marketing coordinator at BL Companies, Inc. She can be reached at

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.