Editor’s Note: The latest edition of the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature asks the question: “How can we make the most out of the American workplace tradition that is the office holiday party?” Greg Baldwin, President of VolunteerMatch, was asked to contribute his thoughts, republished below. Check out the rest of the experts’ opinions and share your viewpoint on the Room for Debate site.
Even at the most dynamic of companies, office holiday parties can feel like forced affairs. Who hasn’t experienced standing flatfooted with a drink trying to make small talk with colleagues? It’s just not easy to encourage the interactions and real connection that can help your team build stronger bonds and a sense of community.
If you are looking for something more this year, consider organizing a volunteer event for your team beforehand. When it’s time to party everyone will be more likely to embrace the season of giving in style.
Working together on a volunteer project gives teams new perspective on how to work together back in the office.
Serving the community with coworkers is more powerful than it seems. It creates new opportunities for learning, cooperation and leadership, and it also helps to break down boundaries and silos. Put simply: Working together on a volunteer project gives teams new perspective on how to work together back in the office.
It also makes business sense. From an employer’s perspective, supporting group community service is smart any time of year because employees who volunteer usually feel better about themselves and their jobs. This is why so many of today’s most successful businesses support this kind of engagement. They know that volunteering isn’t just about being nice; encouraging a culture of giving strengthens employee engagement, team cohesion and community health.
So what’s a recipe for a great volunteer outing? Start by researching the needs of your own community. If you still need ideas, use a company like VolunteerMatch to find out what is going on and which organizations need help and have projects that are good for groups.
That said, group activities can fill up fast, but give it a try anyhow. You may need to be patient. New traditions of volunteering – whether they happen at home or in the workplace – sometimes take time to really settle in. Even if you don’t find the perfect fit this year, you’ll have a head start on 2014.