A Day of Service at Give Kids the World Gives Teams New Opportunities to Connect

By Debra Livingston

You would be hard-pressed to find something which inspires more eye rolling from your employees than when they hear the words, “company picnic” or “team building exercise”. Although some will always be excited about connecting with their employer and coworkers outside of the work setting, and others will simply “go with the flow”, one study suggests that most types of employees may reluctantly attend with somewhat negative (or worse) feelings toward such events or will not even show up due to either legitimate reasons or excuses (1).

On the other hand, some research claims that team building exercises have a net, positive effect when implemented correctly and for a specific purpose (2). However, employers often get this wrong, assuming that by simply having your team do something together—like an outdoor adventure or the dreaded trust fall—that it will have lasting effects or benefits on employee morale.

This may feel like a paradox: a catch-22 with no good answer. Fortunately, there is a solution which benefits not only the employer and employees of your organization, but your community as well, and the impact on your business will be felt long after the memory of last year’s ziplining event has faded.

As part of this year’s Workers’ Compensation Institute Educational Conference, ReEmployAbility had the privilege to send 20 of our team members (myself included) to volunteer for a truly wonderful and inspiring organization, Give Kids the World Village.

Give Kids the World Village is a remarkable nonprofit which provides cost-free vacations for critically ill children and their families. This whimsical, 89-acre, theme-park-inspired resort in Kissimmee, Florida, is a place in which these children can “experience the simple joys of childhood, and where families can recapture some of the precious moments that may have been missed due to illness,” (3).

The ReEmployAbility volunteers conducted maintenance activities at Give Kids the World Village. Part of this included cleaning and painting the facility’s outer wall which surrounds the park, a task that would normally take the facility’s staff an entire month to complete. But with the help of other volunteers from within the workers’ compensation industry, we were able to finish the job in just three hours.

What did our volunteers have to say after three hours of sweating in the oppressive, Florida heat during our hottest and most humid month of the year?

“I was looking forward to this volunteering event since the first day it was announced… I have to say with all sincerity that it lived up to my expectations. It was encouraging to see how many people showed up and genuinely appeared to want to be there. That really energized me…” -Carlos

“It was worth a little sweat to know we helped just a little bit.” -Todd

“Volunteering at Give Kids the World was a great opportunity to not only connect with our team outside the office, but to also complete a meaningful project that will benefit the Village and its visitors. To know that our efforts… will help provide a warm welcome to the families is invaluable. …I’m glad our team got to play a part in adding a little brightness to the Village, and in hopefully making someone else’s day.” -Lindsey

“It meant so much to be able to help a facility that does such amazing work for children and their families. It was amazing to see all the employees so happy and all the incredible things available to families so they can relax and have fun with their little ones. It genuinely felt so good to be even just a small part of that.” -Ashley

So, other than giving employees the opportunity to give back to their community and feel good while they’re doing it, how would volunteering opportunities help your company and employees any more than a Friday pizza party? Well, a 2017 United Healthcare study of people who had volunteered in the previous 12 months found that, out of the 2,705 participants, 88% reported an increase in self-esteem, 93% had an increase in mood, 94% felt an enriched sense of purpose, and 79% were experiencing lower stress levels (4). That is nothing short of incredible.

Now, you may be wondering, if volunteering has such a profound effect, why don’t more people do it? The answer is that most people are too busy with work. For business leaders, this is a golden opportunity. 91% of the study participants said that their employers could help them by paying them for their time to engage in volunteerism (4). This study reveals that, when encouraged to volunteer by their employers, participants developed professional skills (87%), learned better time management (86%), and improved their people skills and teamwork ability (92%) (4). If that isn’t enough to make you excited about getting your teams involved in volunteer opportunities, “Almost three-fourths [71%] of employees who volunteer through work report feeling better about their employer,” (4).

Volunteering also allows teams to reinforce the connections they have with each other while making new friends at the same time. The mental and physical health benefits of human connection are too numerous to list. How fundamental is human connection to our wellbeing? Some research implies that it may be just as—if not more—important to our health than eating healthy and exercising. One study, conducted over a nine-year period, found that, “those [people] with close social ties and unhealthful lifestyles (such as smoking, obesity, and lack of exercise) actually lived longer than those with poor social ties but more healthful living habits,” (5). Volunteering is a wonderful way to provide this much-needed connection, especially for employees who may be shy or too busy with work and family to make the time for socializing.

There will always be at least a little eye-rolling, reluctant participants, and no-shows when company leaders suggest an activity other than work. That can’t be helped. What can be helped is the level of impact of that activity on your business and employees, especially if it is centered around volunteering.

ReEmployAbility would like to thank the Workers’ Compensation Institute and Give Kids the World Village for allowing us to learn more about the nonprofit and how it provides a large service to families in need. Our team was happy to participate in a fun day of hard work and service to the Orlando community. It was truly an honor.

If you would like to learn more or volunteer with Give Kids the World Village, check out their website at: GKTW.org

(1) Zhang, R. & Losekoot, E. (2021). How do employees really feel about team building?:
An exploratory netnographic explanation.
Retrieved October 19, 2022 from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/22243534.2021.1917797?needAccess=true

(2) Klein, C., DiazGranados, D., Salas, E., Le, H., Burke, C. S., Lyons, R., & Goodwin, G. F.
(2009). Does Team Building Work? Retrieved October 19, 2022 from: https://doi.org/10.1177/1046496408328821

(3) Give Kids the World Village. Retrieved October 19, 2022 from: https://www.gktw.org/about/

(4) United Healthcare (2017). Doing Good is Good for You Study. Retrieved October 20, 2022
from: https://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/content/dam/UHG/PDF/2017/2017_Study-Doing-Good-is-Good-for-You.pdf

(5) Brody, J. E. (2017). Social Interaction is Critical for Mental and Physical Health. Retrieved
October 20, 2022 from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/12/well/live/having-friends-is-good-for-you.html