From team building to retention

Corporate social responsibility projects make all the difference

Saratoga uncovers the hidden value of community projects; they’re about more than just social impact.

By Rebecca Maserow

It’s commonly accepted that the majority of people want to work for companies who commit to social and community concerns (71% according to a 2000 Canada survey).

Since 2012, Saratoga has been involved with the Khayelitsha Christian Academy (KCA), a community run care centre for preschoolers. Whether helping spring clean the property, building a jungle gym, supplying stationery or painting colourful murals, Saratoga employees have been eagerly involved with supporting the KCA. This is one way that Saratoga has tried to weave a social mindset into the company’s fabric.

Lived corporate values

An extensive University of Illinois/California study reveals that CSR provides employees with more than a deeper sense of purpose at work. Companyies love to talk about their corporate values but many fall short of actually living them. Social good aside, community initiatives are a tangible way to “shape individual behavior and expectations about how people work and interact together”. They strengthen “feelings of belongingness” and are a social validation of company values. Furthermore they build on individual self-esteem stemming from a “positive social identity” (McKinsey.

The benefits of working collaboratively

At a recent event, painting SeeSawDo‘s designs onto the KCA school walls, it was very clear that a different type of team planning and project execution was taking place. After some observation and research, Saratoga conducted an anonymous poll to feel out how activities like this made staff feel about their work life. The results were unanimous. 94% felt that experiences like this boost job satisfaction.

KCA mural project, survey results, 2015
* Survey of Saratoga staff, November 2015

Leadership was organic rather than by authority – the painting project levelled the playing field. Mark Gebhardt, Saratoga’s CEO, noted the different styles of working: “Some folks owned a section of wall and focused on that; others chose a colour and worked across the walls; others filled gaps and supported the painters by passing brushes, paint and words of encouragement”.

Individuals focused on their strengths and let the others do the rest. A great moment was watching a Saratoga learner gently easing aside a senior manager to take over a more detailed design. Being able to connect and collaborate with team members in a company where staff are often placed at clients, meant it was a great way to interact with colleagues too.

A little Googling into the internal effects of similar community-based projects from global polls confirms what Saratoga observed: most people place a lot of value on the enjoyment of working in unstructured teams. Natural leaders tend to shine through regardless of their position back in the office, and people are able to work in a fashion that suits them best.

Saratoga has proven that social responsibility projects have a positive impact on the employees as well as the community. They encourage others to take on CSR projects, to integrate them into how the company operates, learns and grows.

About the Khayelitsha Christian Academy: The Khayelitsha Christian Academy is an informal, community run care centre that looks after the pre-school needs of Mandela Park children in Khayelitsha, who are unable to afford state education. In November, the school community joined the Saratoga team to brighten up the courtyard walls with mural designs by SeeSawDo. The colourful artwork has dawn attention to the school and has helped to increase admissions for 2016. Click to view photos of the day.

Bauman, C. & Skitka, L. 2012. ScienceDirect. Corporate social responsibility as a source of employee satisfaction.
Blake, R. 2006. WebProNews. Employee Retention: What Employee Turnover Really Costs Your Company.
Hensley, L. 2014. Entrepreneur. Corporate social responsibility done right.
Keys, T. 2009. McKinsey & Company. Making the most of corporate social responsibility.

Michelle van Kesteren