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Seattle Works volunteers helping with tree planting, (Seattle Works Photo).
Seattle Works volunteers helping with tree planting, (Seattle Works Photo).

“Employee engagement, employee volunteerism is an HR issue,” Ben Reuler told a crowd of professionals and community organizers in downtown Seattle Friday. “The smart companies are realizing this.”

Reuler is Executive Director of Seattle Works, a nonprofit that brings corporations and people together to volunteer and do good work in the community. He spoke at the Downtown Seattle Association’s Focus Forward Breakfast Roundtable, a panel discussion on galvanizing the droves of young people moving to Seattle for tech jobs and other opportunities.

Art Thiel, Ben Reuler, and Racquel Russell.
Art Thiel, Ben Reuler, and Racquel Russell. (GeekWire Photo)

Racquel Russell, Zillow Group’s Director of Government Relations and Public Affairs and Art Thiel, a veteran sports reporter and editor of SportsPress Northwest, joined Reuler to discuss ways to engage newcomers in the Seattle community.

Reuler believes the best way to reach this new class of young people is to give them the opportunity to use their skills, not just for the company, but to benefit the broader community as well.

“Employees who volunteer together think more highly of their company, are more likely to stay with their company,” said Reuler. “They have better teamwork and lower stress, better time management. So this is really an HR issue.”

Employees of all ages benefit from giving back but millennials, in particular, thrive when they have a sense of agency and purpose. Russell believes Zillow’s commitment to employee engagement gives the company an edge when recruiting Seattle’s young newcomers.

“For millennials, they need to feel their own agency,” she said. “They need to feel like they’re part of changing the world, in whatever small way that they are, and so we, at Zillow, recognize that and provide various opportunities for them to do that.”

Many tech titans realize that for millennials, corporate social responsibility isn’t just a perk. It can be a dealbreaker. Companies, like Microsoft and Google, have formalized volunteer programs, donation matches, and other initiatives to encourage employees to get involved.

The panelists agreed that beyond recruiting and retention, actively engaging newcomers is vital to the health and prosperity of Seattle.

“Rather than looking at all the new buildings and counting the construction cranes, we need to look at all the new people they’re bringing in and realize that they are real assets,” said Thiel.

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