The secret to high moralePath 2

The secret to high morale

by Leslie Sweet

September 24, 2019

What if I told you that the best way to boost employee morale had nothing to do with unlimited snacks, foosball tables, or team outings? What if, instead of investing in nap pods, I told you that the best investment you can make is in your communities? That's right —I'm saying the best way to make your employees excited about their work is to give the profits they help earn away.

No, this isn't a tax scheme, or an out of season April Fool's joke. Instead it's something that we've learned over what you could call a 100-year study. You see, H-E-B has been giving to our neighbors for as long as we've been in business, and among our shoppers, we're just as known for what we give away as for what we sell. While this has earned us a reputation as a trusted neighbor to our customers, it has also become a point of pride for our employees.

Think about it. As an employee, does the idea of working hard to earn more profits for a group of far-flung stockholders you've never met get you out of bed in the morning? Or would working hard so that your neighbors could have something to eat be a more motivating proposition?

Though it's not quite this black and white in most companies, I would argue that every company can benefit from allocating some portion of their profits to charity, or at least dedicating some company time to their communities. Our founder, Florence Butt, taught her children that no matter how much you have, there is always enough to share. At H-E-B we fully embrace this ethos, and think your company should too.

That's not to say we're advocating giving indiscriminately, or irresponsibly. We're a cash-positive company, so every dollar is accounted for, but by making giving back to our communities a priority, we've been able to donate 5% of our pre-tax earnings for the last 80-plus years. And before you say you couldn't possibly contribute that much, we've found that the amount we give is important to us, but it's who we give to that's more important to our employees.

At H-E-B our primary business is grocery, so we make significant contributions to local food banks, but we also support schools, service members, natural disaster survivors, environmental causes, and local groups and events. These causes are not just theoretically important to our employees—they are causes that directly impact our employees and their families every day.

Through the H-E-B Excellence in Education Awards, we let our employees know that we support their children and their teachers. With H-E-B Operation Appreciation, we seek to honor local service members, and in turn, show reverence for the veterans on our teams. With the H-E-B Feast of Sharing, we acknowledge that 1 in 6 households in Texas are at risk of hunger, and provide a warm holiday meal served with dignity and respect to any Texan who wants it.

These programs are visible manifestations of our commitment to our communities, and, along with the countless other causes and groups we support, give our employees something to be proud of.

So how does this tie back to morale? Well, coming to work can be a true joy when you have a greater purpose. Our employees know that what they do today matters, not only in the immediate outcome of their projects, but for the overall profitability of the business, which informs what the business can do for their community. They know that their hard work can directly impact their next door neighbor's ability to feed their three children, or their own child's teacher's ability to buy books and supplies for class. 

Finding ways to give back to the community that are meaningful to your employees is easy —just ask them! There are almost certainly causes already near and dear to their hearts that your company could more closely support—just one person’s passion for the Special Olympics spurred what would become the H-E-B Tournament of Champions, a program that has raised over $108 million over the course of 34 years. And remember that support can be a donation of time—our employees that volunteer at firehouses, soup kitchens, and community events leave with the same pride as the employees that get to hand deserving charities a check.

So if you want to give your employees a reason to get out of bed, skip the nap pods—your community is waiting!

Leslie Lockett Sweet is the Director of Public Affairs at H-E-B. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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