Give Your Employees Meaning to Improve Turnover

At Zumasys, in addition to the typical corporate benefits, every employee gets three to four weeks of vacation, complementary access to the company’s two-bedroom Vegas loft, and the opportunity to qualify for a tenure-based international travel program that, each year, gives four to six employees a week off with pay and a $4,000 stipend to travel to the destination of their choice. The open-book financials are used as the foundation for a measurement-based reward program, with all employees eligible to participate, capped off annually with a trip for award winners.

It was a good start. These changes engendered additional goodwill by underscoring the company’s commitment to employees, but they didn’t have much impact on lowering turnover. Something was still missing. Committed to exploring and experimenting, co-founder and CEO Paul Giobbi attended a conference where Bert Jacobs, founder of Life Is Good, encouraged attendees to use their companies as a platform for social change. Reflecting on Jacobs’s message, Giobbi realized that what was missing from his company was meaning. People want more than fun, perks, or the bottom line — everyone strives to live, and work, for a greater purpose. Upon returning home, Giobbi pledged to donate 1 percent of the company’s annual revenue to nonprofit organizations nominated and selected by his employees. He called the program “Happyness Is a Choice.”

He believes that this single decision “has been more impactful than all of our other decisions combined.” But the change didn’t happen overnight. For the first couple of years after the program was established, it was hard to get employees’ attention, and a good chunk of the money remained unallocated. (“Faceless non-profits don’t feel good,” Giobbi said.) He found that the key to gaining traction was to involve employees personally. To do so, Zumasys implemented two changes. First, it partnered with the nonprofit accelerator OneOC to serve up carefully selected, company-wide volunteer opportunities for its employees. Second, and much more powerful, was the company’s decision to allocate 10 percent of that 1 percent of revenue to “people in need in our network,” including relatives, friends, neighbors, and coworkers who were facing hard times.

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