Cindi Andrews reports:
Jenni Eilers started volunteering with Luxottica during college, while she was working as an optician in a LensCrafters store. Connections made during a company volunteer trip abroad helped her land a job at the corporate headquarters in Mason after graduation.
Data analyst Zac Welin was dissatisfied working at a company where the only philanthropic effort was an annual golf outing. He was lured to Luxottica by interviewers who spoke passionately about company-led volunteer programs such as OneSight.
“Most of my days are filled with numbers and accounting-type activities,” Welin said as he helped test the vision of seventh- and ninth-grade students with other OneSight volunteers at Clark Montessori in Hyde Park. “But there are these days where I get to meet new people, I get to help and I get to actually touch product.”
Eilers and Welin, both 30 years old, represent the millennials – the 21- to 35-year-old generation that’s been called the most philanthropic since World War II. Seventy percent of millennials strongly favor companies that show commitment to their communities, according to a 2011 Deloitte survey. Millennials who participate in workplace volunteer activities are more likely to be happy with their jobs and their employers, the survey found.
It’s not entirely clear why millennials so favor philanthropy. Some say national tragedies such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina made early, deep impressions about the value of helping others.
Others suggest that millennials turned to volunteerism to gain experience and connections during a lengthy recession. At the same time, these heavy users of digital media are connecting daily, in ways never before imagined, with causes vying for their time and money.
Whatever the reason, many of these young employees, including Welin, say a prospective employer’s commitment to community service is more important than salary in deciding whether to take a job.
Companies are beefing up their volunteer opportunities to attract and retain these employees. The Society for Human Resource Management found in its 2012 survey that 19 percent of organizations provide paid time off for volunteering – a number that has hovered in the same neighborhood for about five years despite the Great Recession.
In Greater Cincinnati, employers’ volunteer programs run the gamut:
• PNC Bank, which has 1,600 local employees, gives workers up to 40 hours’ paid time to work for early childhood education organizations such as Head Start centers as part of its Grow Up Great initiative. Recruiters make sure potential employees know that Grow Up Great is part of the company culture.
“Our employee engagement is core to who we are as a company,” said Dale Kozma, PNC client and community relations director. “Our current and future employees – it’s important to them.”
The Pittsburgh-based bank gives both money and time to Grow Up Great, believing that the two types of philanthropy enhance each other, Kozma said. For instance, when employees help assess skills of new kindergartners, they see firsthand that youngsters are more prepared if they’ve gone through a program such as Head Start, she said.
• Abstract Displays, a Blue Ash company with 23 employees, expects its workers to complete at least three volunteer activities a year – in their off time. The company compiles several options each quarter, often suggested by employees. Past beneficiaries include the Ronald McDonald House, Cincinnati Union Bethel’s Off the Streets program and pet charities.
“It’s kind of a condition of employment with us,” president and CEO Carla Eng said. “It’s making a conscious decision to give back (in a way that) there doesn’t need to be a reward other than the satisfaction of helping.”
Stephanie Underwood, 27, embraced the philosophy when she took a job at Abstract Displays as an accounting clerk a year ago: “It was probably one of the things that steered me to this position, just for the fact that it showed the company is concerned about the community. It takes it a step beyond being a business.”
• Luxottica gives employees at least 16 hours of paid time annually to assist with OneSight, a program that provides vision testing and recycled eyeglasses to those in need locally, nationally and internationally.
The emphasis on community service has unquestionably helped with recruiting, according to Mindy Drummond, vice president of talent acquisition at Luxottica. This summer for the first time, all interns did a stint with OneSight, and word has quickly spread back at their colleges.
“My campus recruiter is very busy now fielding calls,” she said. “We’re becoming quite a destination based on our community involvement.”
While millennials get the credit for pushing workplace volunteerism, Drummond said it has been embraced by employees of all ages at Luxottica: “Our experience is that volunteering is an important unifying experience for employees at all experience levels. … And we need volunteers at all experience levels to successfully deliver and grow our charitable programs.”
The 5,500 employees at the North American headquarters in Mason, as well as the distribution center and retail locations across Greater Cincinnati, provide OneSight services to 30,000 students in more than 100 Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky schools, according to Luxottica.
“To work in the city, live in the city and then help in the city is great,” said Eilers, who normally works in marketing but was co-leader of a recent OneSight vision screening day at Clark Montessori. Her volunteer work has helped her career and built her leadership skills.
In 2006, she made the leap to leading a OneSight clinic.
More than anything, she and other millennials say they’re drawn to the feeling that they’re making a difference in the world, no matter what their job.
Welin, the data analyst, said corporate philanthropy at his previous employer consisted of a benefit golf tournament: “We skipped a day of work to go golfing. It felt kind of hollow.”
At Luxottica, he said, he enjoys getting out and working with kids in the schools.
“You just feel better about the company you work for,” he said.