Happiness is good. Actually it’s found in the pursuit of three goods: good for others, good at it, good for me. Even better, a study by the University of Vermont on Citizen Schools‘ impact has shown that this is not an either/or situation. You can pursue what is good for others, what you’re good at, and what is good for you all at the same time.
Citizen Schools focuses on bridging the gap between low-income and higher-income students in middle schools by expanding the learning day for low-income students. In pursuit of that goal, Google, Cisco, Cognizant, and Fidelity partner with them as a way to help their own employees give back to their communities.
This was a hot topic at the last mid-market CEO Convention. Where mid-market CEOs agreed:
“We need to let the educational system know that we, as employers, are unhappy customers. We need to intervene and get involved (at the local and national level) to help our suppliers (universities, colleges, etc.) give us the workforce we really need. There are best practices and cases out there. We need to apply those to the system and we need to hold them accountable to ROI.”
Eric Schwarz, the CEO of Citizen Schools, related how the Citizen Schools program has already made a meaningful impact. He told me they have:
- Halved the gap in test scores
- Doubled the interest in Science and Technology
- Closed the gap with middle class kids in high school completion and college-going rates
This is good stuff.
Good at it
An additional benefit of the program is that its volunteers get a chance to build their own skills—skills that transfer to their paid employment roles. Staff members train volunteers before they enter the classrooms where the volunteers got to practice skills in a safe context that encourage skill development for three reasons. As University of Vermont Professor David A. Jones explained, these volunteers are applying skills to accomplish something “meaningful” in a “novel and challenging” context while having “social support” from an on-site staff member and, often, other volunteers.
Not surprisingly, many volunteers believe they improve their skills through this experience. According to Jones’ research findings, 1/3 to half of the volunteers reported improvements in 10 critical skills: teamwork, project management, time management, mentoring, motivating others, communicating performance expectations, providing performance feedback, speaking clearly, public speaking and presenting, and leadership.
Good for me
The benefits accrue to the sponsoring companies as well, and not just through employee skill enhancement. In Jones’ study, 92% of the volunteers reported feeling proud of their employer’s support of Citizen Schools. And they were also thankful for being supported in their volunteering experience, with 59% reporting being more committed to their employer as a result.
Moreover, other findings showed that feeling proud and supported by their employer translated into outcomes back at work that matter: higher job satisfaction, feeling more obligated to help their employer, improved mood at work, and helping their coworkers more often. They also had stronger intentions to stay with their companies, suggesting that companies can enhance employee retention through supporting their volunteerism.
Jones then related what the sponsors had told him:
- Fidelity’s Sean Belka thinks partnering with Citizen Schools is not about charity or philanthropy, but an opportunity to meet a pressing front-burner need
- When he was at Cognizant, Mark Greenlaw told Jones how the program was helping with attraction, retention, and giving Cognizant a “seat at the table” to influence public policy on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) to help fill Cognizant’s and other U.S. companies’ future labor needs by inspiring STEM education and careers in America’s youth.
Don’t accept false tradeoffs. Don’t do good for others just because you think you should. Break the constraints. Build your programs so they do good for others, help your people do and build what they are good at, and deliver good for you. That’s the road to happiness.