A few years back, I had the opportunity to go to the Dominican Republic on a service trip to work in a sugar cane village and build a small house for a pastor. Without getting into all the details, let me just say, it literally changed my life in more ways than I can count. It was after that trip that I began to think about how I could give my staff the same opportunity. So, my partners and I established a “service and learning” benefit at our company. We would pay for half of the cost for an employee to go on a service trip, and their PTO while they were out would be comped. By doing so, we removed the two biggest obstacles that prevent people from taking advantage of these sorts of opportunities - money and time off. The response has been amazing as we’ve had over half of our 25-person staff go or is considering going on a international work trip to places like Haiti, Nicaragua, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and other locations. Sending our people on these trips has revealed a few key benefits that reinforce why we invest in this benefit.
- Employees perspectives are drastically altered - for the better. Sending employees on international service projects gives them an opportunity to see parts of the world and cultures that they may never have otherwise been exposed to. These employees return with an entirely different perspective on their job, their relationships, their salary; really their entire life in general. Investing in people and sending them on a trip like this is one of the best investments an employer can make in his/her people.
- It recharges their batteries. I have found that employees return from service trips with a new zeal and energy for their job. These trips disconnect them from the society they are comfortable in, the technology that they've grown accustomed to, and all the first-world luxuries we take for granted. When they return, the employee has a new energy for their job and the tasks ahead of them. It's like day one in the office all over again.
- Self-reflection. If nothing else, going on an international service trip causes people to dig deep into who they are as a person; how they’re spending their money, how they’re spending their time, what relationships are most important, and what impact they are having on others around them. In short, it makes them more self-aware and ultimately, better people.
- Doing good. Obviously, one of the key benefits of a service trip is to allow staff to have that feeling of “doing good” by serving the poor through construction projects, providing education to children, or visiting the sick and elderly. It gives them the opportunity to feel apart of something bigger, a cause more important than the day-to-day grind of spreadsheets and PowerPoints. They come back with the desire to do good in their own community and realize that making an impact doesn’t require going to another country and living off the grid for a week. They gain a different perspective on service and engaging themselves in community activities.
In summary, serving on short term overseas service opportunities really pushes people outside of their comfort zone. And while that experience is certainly not for everyone, for those who do take the plunge, it can be a life-changing experience, personally, professionally, and spiritually. As an employer, the least I can do is remove barriers from what could be the most important experience of their life.