What brands are doing to engage employees in the wake of the bushfire crisis

We talk to four Australian brands that have set up employee engagement schemes going beyond cash donations to find out why they're important

The bushfires that devastated so many communities across Australia in 2019/2020 resulted in an outpouring of help for those affected by the nature disaster.

From direct donations to the rural fire services supporting those communities, providing income and mortgage loan relief to those who lost homes and methods of livelihood, initiatives have come from organisations large and small, in finance through the retail, services and advertising.

And several organisations have been taking it right into the heart of the way they engage employees and community, creating initiatives to actively encourage staff to not only donate, but spend time and money in those communities hardest hit by the bushfires.

Out-of-home player, JCDecaux, is one example. In January, the group launched a ‘holiday fund’, and internal initiative encouraging its staff to support the bushfire relief in a hands-on way. The fund sees JCD contributing to accommodation costs for staff members who book a future holiday to any bushfire-affected area in Australia. Paid volunteer leave has also been offered to any staff who would like to assist with on-the-ground relief efforts.

JCDecaux CMO, Essie Wake, said it’s a first for the organisation, and an important step in engaging closer with employees on a very real issue affecting Australian society.

“JCDecaux understands the link between an employee’s level of engagement and their connection to a company’s purpose, and we have recently launched an organisational strategy where we shared our purpose: To connect our brands with communities and enrich urban life,” she explained to CMO.

“The recent bushfires presented an opportunity for our employees to connect directly with people in our communities, with a large number of our employees expressing their interest in offering their assistance to people in fire ravaged communities.  The uptake has been overwhelming and it is clear our employees are driven to help others in need.”   

Wake said 27 employees are participating in the Bushfire Holiday Fund and a dozen staff enquired about the volunteering. The volunteering opportunities run until the end of 2020.

The idea of time off was reportedly first raised in corporate circles by National Australia Bank, which has opted to give employees an extra day of annual leave so they can visit bushfire affected communities and support local businesses. This encompasses some 30,000 permanent staff members. This will enable them to take a long weekend or a day-trip anywhere in Australia that has been impacted by recent bushfires.

NAB employees have been provided with a list of bushfire affected communities across Australia to visit, ranging from Gippsland in Victoria, the New South Wales south coast, Kangaroo Island and the Adelaide Hills in South Australia and south-east Queensland.  

By giving NAB employees an extra day’s leave, we hope to help businesses such as cafes, restaurants, tour operators, hotels and other accommodation providers get back on their feet,” a NAB spokesperson said. “Focusing on the recovery and rebuilding of these communities is critical and this initiative is another way NAB can play a role to support today and in the weeks and months ahead.”

There are also other options for NAB staff to volunteer and donate and employees can join the Workplace Giving Program with ongoing donations to a charity of their choice.

Over at Microsoft, Australian CMO, Pip Arthur, is another marketer involved in active employee engagement efforts around the bushfire crisis.

“As we returned to work from the summer holidays, so many of us were preoccupied by the devastating impact of the bushfires on Australian communities and the environment, including the loss of life, loss of homes, and the destruction of our natural habitat and wildlife,” she said.

“The general sentiment from our employees was ‘what can we do to help’? We know it is complex, in fact there are still many fires burning and the impact from the disaster will be felt for a very long time as communities slowly rebuild.”  

Knowing tourism is down in many parts of regional Australia and it is more important to inject money into communities impacted by bushfires and drought than ever, Microsoft gave employees the ability to use their three days of volunteer leave to visit and spend money in and around impacted communities.

“We are encouraging people to take a break and support local businesses to get back on their feet,” Arthur said. “In addition to extending the use of volunteer leave, we are also starting the clock again so all permanent employees have three days before the end of this financial year and another three in the next financial year.”  

On 31 January, a company-wide fundraising day also saw Microsoft Australia employees downing tools to raise funds for bushfire relief efforts. In addition, in the marketing team, a group opted to take a road-trip to the Southern Highlands with guided by #emptyesky to visit bushfire affected towns that so desperately needed support. Arthur said

“We also had team members in Melbourne, the Central Coast and Gold Coast filling eskies in their backyards with online orders,” Arthur said. And where possible when arranging offsites with teams over coming months, Microsoft plans to visit regional locations that will benefit from its patronage.

“Employee involvement in any bushfire relief activity is entirely optional. Having said that, so many people want to do their small part to help those impacted by the bushfires,” Arthur said. “Given we have many ways to get involved we anticipate the majority of employees participating across one of the different activities whether it is giving, fundraising, volunteering or taking a break to visit an impacted community.”

Arthur noted a disaster of this magnitude hasn’t occurred for a long time in Australia. “So it is fair to say we collectively rallied across the organisation in a different way than we have previously to activate bushfire relief efforts,” she said.  

“Microsoft employees are passionate about giving time, money and skills to address the issues facing our world. It’s part of our culture and how we live our mission. We know what truly motivates our employees to give is the impact they make and that is why is it so important to offer programs to support their efforts.”  

It's a similar story at Westpac Group. CEO of bushfires, Ross Miller, said it was important its people felt empowered and enabled to help whatever way they could. Westpac Group has implemented a number of initiatives to this end.

Like a number of organisations, this includes uncapped paid leave for Westpac Group employees who are emergency services volunteers in bushfire affected areas including fire, SES, paramedic and defence. All employees are also entitled to three days paid community volunteering leave if they want to volunteer in bushfire affected areas.

“We also recognise it was an emotional gruelling time for our staff, many of who were at the frontline assisting customers who had lost their homes and livelihoods and needed assistance as quickly as possible. Mental health and wellbeing is important during such times so we offer counselling support,” Miller explained.    

In addition, Westpac made up to $5000 in emergency cash grants available for employees in affected areas who need emergency relief, alongside customers in a similar scenario. It’s a similar story for NAB customers and employees living in areas highly exposed to the impacts of extreme weather events, flood and drought and other natural disasters such as bushfires.  

Of course, there are plenty of company-level bushfire initiatives being launched across a vast array of Australian businesses, from direct cash donations to providing services and products for free. JCDecaux, for instance, is offering outdoor advertising access and supporting an Outdoor Media Association (OMA) campaign coordinated with its American counterpart, the Outdoor Advertising Association of America (OAAA), which has taken a call for donations to WIRES on outdoor advertising screens across North America.

“We have been working closely with several media agencies on a number of bushfire relief campaigns, including a recent promotion to drive donations to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund in Victoria,” Wake continued. “The company donated a number of sites to agency, TBWA, which put together content calling for donations to the bushfire relief effort.”

The international Advertising Association has also debuted the ‘C’mon friends in the marcom industry let’s unite for Australia’ campaign to call on those across the global industry to support Aussie at this time of loss.

And these are just a couple of examples across of the wide array of industries offering products and services to support bushfire relief, from free mental health services from telehealth platform, Coviu, to trades services from the Tradies for Fire Affected Communities set up by carpenter, Piers Smart.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia


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