Monday, September 12, 2005 | Attracting and retaining quality employees is often one of the biggest challenges for businesses. Nationally, the average annual employee turnover rate for all companies is 12 percent, a reality that can be costly for many employers. Yet some San Diego companies are debunking that statistic by attracting and retaining quality employees through philanthropy.

The largest employee base for many employers is Generation Y, generally defined as people born after 1980, whose size now reaches nearly 80 million people.

To gain credibility with young workers, companies are realizing that they must offer more than the typical requirements of an attractive compensation and benefits package.

Unlike Generation X, which is stereotypically described as a generation of slackers, Generation Y members are highly focused on community involvement and desire an employer who places just as much value on community service as they do on the bottom line.

“Generation Y grew up volunteering their time at the local nonprofit organization or at the local library. They now want to continue that trend in their work life,” said Jerry Kochka, a senior consultant with Catalyst Advancement, LLC., a San Diego-based consulting firm that specializes in helping companies achieve an employee-centered culture. “It is important to them that a company be involved in the community. This is often something that they contemplate when performing a job search.”

The ability to retain quality employees not only benefits the company but also the communities in which the companies reside, Kochka said.

“Businesses that can make themselves magnets for these workers – just as the Baby Boomer generation gets ready to retire – are far more likely to reap the benefits,” Kochka said. “A business that ties itself to the local community is likely to establish a positive presence within the community, which is a benefit to everyone.”

Catalyst Advancement, which was founded in January 2004, has helped companies achieve good company spirit, a term they use to define a work atmosphere that promotes a positive and healthy work environment.

“By having a healthy work environment, a company and its employees are better able to achieve their goals,” Kochka said. “A company that actively participates in community events and works toward bettering the community through involving its employees is more likely to achieve success.”

According to the 2004 Cone Corporate Citizenship Study, 81 percent of Americans consider a company’s social commitment when deciding where to work.

The role of younger Americans’ influence on a company’s social standing is also evident, reported the study.

C&S Companies, a full service engineering firm, which has an office in San Diego, is one of many companies that have formed a specific department to encourage and foster community spirit in their employees.

The C&S Community Service Team has helped many employees to volunteer their time at local organizations.

“We have adopted highways, had employees who were mentors or who were active in Big Brothers Big Sisters. We do a lot of work at Children’s Hospitals,” said Terry Hopkins, the community service coordinator for C&S Companies. “When people volunteer, they tend to take a bigger stake in their community. Last year, we had more than 10,000 volunteer hours from our employees.”

With more than 300 employees in its seven offices across the country, the demographics at C&S vary but the hands-on approach to volunteering from many of the younger workers is evident, she said.

“It seems that the younger crowd does more of the hands-on stuff – highway cleanup, volunteering at the homeless centers – whereas the older group seems to serve more on the boards of nonprofits,” she said.

And as more of the Generation Y demographic enters the workforce, companies that are active in the community are more likely to be chosen by these young professionals for employment.

“I think that what some employers are finding is that when they are recruiting and a potential employee has two offers, that the potential employee is more likely to choose the company that is a good corporate citizen,” said Wanda Vevia Bailey, the executive director of Volunteer San Diego, a nonprofit organization that helps promote volunteerism in San Diego. “Companies are just starting to understand the value in it. That it is good for business and that people are asking for it.”

Although it is hard to say whether the influx of Generation Y into the workforce directly correlates to the increase in companies volunteering in the community, there is no doubt that companies are making community involvement an integral part of their employee culture.

“For the last seven years we were named (by Forbes magazine) as one of the 100 Best Companies to work for. Community involvement is one of the main factors of why we received that,” she said. “Employees are volunteering because they like to and it’s important to them. Not because they are looking for recognition.”

Galdorisi said Qualcomm, which does have a broad base of younger employees, is not able to break down what age group volunteers the most.

“We have all levels of involvement,” she said. “From the senior level down to the grassroots level for an employee’s kid’s jog-a-thon, they volunteer across the board.”

“A lot of it is employee retention,” Galdorisi said, of why the company encourages volunteerism. “They like working for an employer that stresses community involvement.”

Lisa Kovach is an account coordinator with Whitelaw Marketing, a full-service marketing firm. Previously, she was a reporter at the San Diego Business Journal.

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