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Illustration: Janne Iivonen

Not long after Tony Dicks’s young son started cancer treatments, he saw a poster for the Inside Ride, a charity bike race to benefit pediatric cancer trials. The message hit home, and Dicks, a reporting analyst, was the first of his colleagues at Winnipeg’s National Leasing—which helps some 57,000 businesses finance equipment purchases—to sign up.

Four years later, Dicks and his Inside Ride team members have raised a total of $40,000. And now, thanks to a new program called Take a Stand, National Leasing will match all of the fundraising dollars the team raises. For Dicks, it’s a potent motivator. “The company stands behind us when it comes to what we need, both at and outside work,” he says. “They want us to help in the community and learn new skills, and apply those things to our jobs. It makes us better employees.”

Take a Stand, which launched in August, is designed to encourage National Leasing staffers to, simply put, do some good in the world. The company has long offered attractive perks: It co-ordinates sports groups, maintains an on-site gym and even offers staffers and their families the opportunity to stay at its lake house in Gimli, Manitoba. But it’s the firm’s efforts to engage its people in meaningful work that have helped it achieve a 95% voluntary retention rate and earn a spot on the Aon Best Employers in Canada list for 10 years. Take a Stand shifts that notion into overdrive. The program riffs on a core tenet of employee engagement—that people do better work when they feel they’re making a difference—by giving workers a chance to earn rewards (such as cash bonuses and charity donations) for partaking in leadership initiatives, physical activity, volunteering and fundraising. One employee gets cash for regularly teaching fitness classes for colleagues; another volunteers with the United Way in return for National Leasing donations. It’s a win-win-win setup, applying such motivation drivers as teamwork and skills development to the realm of corporate social responsibility.

Ante Glavas, an associate professor with a specialization in organizational behaviour at Kedge Business School in Marseille, France, says employees of companies that promote social responsibility tend to feel more connected to their work: “They are more engaged, because instead of leaving values at the door when they leave home, they can feel like they are doing something good that aligns with who they are as a person.” And when employees can help shape that social mandate, the sentiment is amplified.

Jani Sorensen, National Leasing’s manager of brand and communications, conceived the Take a Stand program almost two years ago. Her sister was dying of cancer, and Sorensen was, understandably, finding it difficult to pull herself out of a funk. One brutally cold, dark winter night, Sorensen forced herself to join National Leasing’s cross-country ski team in a corporate challenge to raise funds to buy ski equipment for disadvantaged kids. The experience was so illuminating—“I felt so grateful to work at a place that offered these opportunities,” she says—that she started thinking of other ways the firm could connect physical and mental wellness with community improvement. Take a Stand was born.

Sorensen didn’t have to work hard to get the program approved. National Leasing president and CEO Tom Pundyk has long declared to each of his 363 employees that social responsibility is more than a feel-good afterthought. For instance, he sits down with each new hire after three months to talk about how engaged he or she is—both at work and in the community—and to discuss ideas for improvement. “There are selfish reasons, such as opening employee horizons and having them learn things that can’t be taught at work,” Pundyk explains. “But we also want to create an environment where people can be happy, which involves more than just sitting at your desk.” Pundyk notes that programs like Take a Stand do take investment: In addition to cash outlays (donations, rewards), more resources are required in areas like HR and marketing to administer all the activity. “But whatever the cost is,” he says, “the return is 100 times greater.”

Tony Dicks—whose son has been cancer-free for two years—remains an active participant in the Inside Ride, and the company’s support of his efforts has had a profound effect. “National Leasing has done everything it can to make me feel good about myself,” he says. “And because it’s made me feel that way, I don’t hesitate to put National Leasing first.”


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