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Volunteering linked to happier employees and customers

Kelly Salance

When an employee joins Zendesk, they volunteer on their first day — not only to give back to our community but to also help employees form bonds and get to know each other better. Volunteering is part of our core philosophy – we aim to be a good neighbor, a responsible business and ultimately, to be the company our customers and employees want us to be. That’s why we’ve put substantial time, money, and human resources into our communities around the globe.

To get a better sense of how Zendesk’s culture of volunteering has impacted our Advocates’ (customer-support employees’) feelings and performance on the job, we partnered with Drexel University to conduct a study.

What did we learn?

Volunteering has benefited our organization in three ways:

1. Increased help-seeking behavior: The more agents volunteered together the more they felt comfortable seeking help from peers at work.

2. More empathetic behavior: Volunteering encouraged advocates to flex their empathy muscles with individuals in the community, which led to employees flexing those muscles at work.

3. Increased job satisfaction: Zendesk employees said that CSR makes them more loyal to the company, more satisfied in their job, and instills in them a greater pride in the surrounding community.

Encouraging our employees to contribute to the communities around them has not only helped strengthen interpersonal skills, it has made for more engaged employees in the workplace. We hope other companies will be inspired by the results below to build a culture of volunteering.

Read the full study here.

If you would like to learn more about this study, or how to engage with your own community better, please email info@neighborfoundation.org

Addressing Homelessness as a Community

Kelly Salance

On a late October Sunday in 1887, the bearded and bespectacled Reverend Hugh Price Hughes stepped up to the pulpit in London’s St. James Hall to give some of the first public remarks about the Methodist mission movement, a radical call to action for Christians to get involved personally in breaking the cycle of poverty in the city’s neighborhoods.

“In London at this moment, the poorer districts are growing poorer and poorer, and those who ought to mingle with the less privileged are several miles off,” he said to a crowd of about 2,000. “Alas that in this great London there should be so many thousands whose whole life is absorbed in a desperate attempt to keep their heads just above water.”

Hughes’s passion for putting Christ’s teachings into direct action—which he referred to as “social Christianity”—did not fall on deaf ears. The Welshman, along with his wife Katherine and other devout members of the congregation, took up the banner by founding the West London Mission, which provided care and support for the most vulnerable citizens of London: children, the homeless, the sick.

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Now, more than a century later, that Mission continues its work, serving citizens who face many of same problems their forebears did—economic inequality, substance abuse, and personal trauma. Since the 1970s, the organization has run its day centre on Seymour Place, which assists about 100 homeless people per day, mostly men over the age of 25. Those clients—10 or more of whom are newly homeless—can use the centre to access critical services that most people take for granted: a hot breakfast, a shower, and medical care, as well as hair cuts, laundry facilities, and mail collection.

 Information from WLM on the rise of homelessness in the UK (2017).

Information from WLM on the rise of homelessness in the UK (2017).

The organization also provides care homes for men with alcohol dependency, as well as support services for men re-entering society after a prison sentence, veterans, and those who need affordable mental health treatment. The centre’s staff also teaches financial resilience and computer skills that can help clients stay off the streets.

“In the majority of cases we see, a relationship breakdown has been part of that person’s journey into homelessness,” said Martha Awojobi, WLM corporate development officer. “Someone’s marriage has fallen apart, for example. We’ve seen a lot of older men whose partner has died—they’re a 65-year-old man who can’t make the mortgage and finds himself on the street.”

WLM helps fill in the gaps where public social services run short, but the organization faces the age-old problem of securing enough funds to accomplish its goals. Yet when Zendesk opened its nearby office in 2015, the Mission found a partner that shared the same commitment to fighting poverty, homelessness, and overcoming technical illiteracy.

In keeping with Hughes’ vision of direct action, Zendesk’s employees get personally involved in helping the centre, from delivering chicken every Thursday for hungry clients to donating clothing during times of harsh weather. During a particularly bitter stretch of weather recently, Zendesk stepped up to help. “Zendesk supported us with hats, scarves, basically helping us keep our service users alive,” Awojobi said.

With homelessness in London skyrocketing—roughly 40 percent of its citizens are just one paycheck away from the streets—it’s an issue that will remain a problem for the foreseeable future. But as Awojobi sees it, West London Mission has a responsibility to continue to empower people affected by homelessness, poverty, and trauma and support from the whole community is essential to make these positive transformations.

“Once you volunteer at our day centre, there’s no going back,” Awojobi said. “Homelessness looks just like me and you.”

How can you help? Visit West London Mission's website to learn more on getting involved.

Caring for the Whole Family

Kelly Salance

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It’s the middle of a freezing winter night, and your child is sick—desperately so. Panicked, you jump into the back of the ambulance, forgetting your coat and your wallet. But you’re not thinking about those things; your focus is on getting your child the help she needs.

That help can be found at pediatric intensive care units around the United Kingdom, such as the one located at St. Mary’s Hospital in London’s Paddington district. Founded in 1992 by Dr. Parviz Habibi, PICU began with a single bed but now treats approximately 400 critically ill children each year. For more than two decades, the unit has grown thanks to its associated charity, COSMIC, which has raised more than a million pounds for new equipment, as well as £500,000 toward research of childhood maladies ranging from meningitis to Kawasaki disease.

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In the United Kingdom, demand for beds in pediatric intensive care units often outstrips supply, which means parents frequently have to travel long distances—sometimes from as far away as Scotland—to get the care their children need, says Vicky Rees, COSMIC’s head of fundraising and communications. In 2017 PICU had to turn away 200 children due to lack of beds, but COSMIC—with help from Zendesk and other patrons such as Sir Richard Branson—has been working toward adding between eight and 15 beds starting in January 2019, with plans for a large family area so anxious parents can rest comfortably while their son or daughter gets critical care.

“We try to provide holistic care for the families,” Rees says. “We’ve been putting parents up in local hotels and Airbnbs so they’re within walking distances.”

Although the expansion will help the unit meet the demand for care, it will place even greater pressure on family housing. That means COSMIC has been forced to reimagine how it supports patients’ families. Local hotels don’t provide the environment many families need during a stressful time, says Rees, who is part of a small staff consisting of Charity Director Chloë Oliver, Fundraising and Communications Executive Emily Hughes, and Fundraising Assistant George Lee.

The idea is to create a home-away-from-home, with communal family areas, kitchens, and laundry facilities, that is attached to the ward itself. Considering that the average family stays for six days—and sometimes as long as 18 months—having a place that feels like home can make a huge difference.

“We want rooms that feel like proper bedrooms, with phones that connect directly to hospital rooms,” says Rees, who points out that half of the families end up suffering from PTSD or need bereavement assistance. “Being able to talk with other parents in shared facilities, being able to make a cup of tea—those small things make it a little more bearable for families.”

The project will be divided into three phases, with an emphasis on not disrupting care for children in any way; as part of that effort, PICU will be refurbishing an adjacent ward followed by a second area. Besides needing more beds, PICU simply requires more space for physicians to work and to store the vital medical equipment the charity has acquired over the years.

Some of that medical equipment (ventilators, medicine pumps, and more) comes care of Zendesk, which entered COSMIC’s orbit five years ago when the company opened an office in the Paddington area.

“They wanted to give back,” Rees says. “They helped produce a booklet for parents with PTSD and helped us fund countless numbers of hotel rooms and contributed to the costs of the new units. The help has been incredible.”

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That help includes lending a hand at COSMIC’s children’s Christmas party. While wrapping presents for the children has become a Zendesk tradition, some, like enterprise account manager James Marlow, go a step further by skydiving or running marathons to raise funds.

“COSMIC is quite close to my heart, as I have children and three of them were premature babies, so I know what it’s like to need specialist support from a hospital,” Marlow says. “I have attended their Christmas concert four years in a row and helped set up, sell raffle tickets, and dressed up as Santa Claus to give out presents to the kids.”

As a charity with a limited number of staff, being able to lean on patrons such as Zendesk can make a challenging job easier to manage, Rees says. “It’s the little things,” she says. “For example, we once asked, ‘Do you have anyone who can build a chair?’ The answer was, ‘Of course we do, we’ll send someone over.’”

A Salute To Our Neighbor

Kelly Salance

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It’s a chilly San Francisco morning in February, and outside Zendesk’s office at 989 Market Street—in the heart of the city’s rough-and-tumble Tenderloin district—stands the Mayor. Not interim mayor Mark Ferrell, but the real mayor of this part of town: David Lofton.

For the past six years, Lofton has kept a close eye on the patch of brick sidewalk outside the building’s tinted windows, ensuring the safety of tenants while building relationships with people on the street—neighbors, visitors, and those who face a difficult day-to-day experience.

“It is definitely getting better,” says Lofton, who can be seen rain-or-shine wearing his trademark military-style beret. “When I first came there were often drug dealers and fights all up and down the street. Today it just feels like it is getting better.”

                     Illustration by  Chelsea   Larsson . 

                    Illustration by Chelsea Larsson

Originally from Vallejo, California, a working-class town overlooking San Pablo Bay, Lofton and his siblings moved to Mississippi in the late ’50s to live with their grandparents. It was there—when he was just four years old—that Lofton first experienced racism and the humiliating effects of Jim Crow-era segregation, when he unknowingly drank from the “wrong” fountain. He recalls his grandmother having to not only apologize to angry whites for his supposed transgression but being forced to clean the fountain “so white people could drink from it again.” It’s a memory that remains raw, all these years later.

“It taught me not to let anyone feel as low as I did when I was four years old,” Lofton says. “I hold my head above no man or woman. I hold to that to this day.”

At age 17—after getting into what he admits was a “bit of trouble”—he slipped his grandfather a piece of paper that was supposedly a permission slip for school. Instead, it was a waiver that allowed him to join the US Marine Corps. Soon he found himself in boot camp, which then led to duty with two tours in Vietnam during the early ’70s as part of the Marine Corps’ Force Reconnaissance, where his job was “green operations”—finding the enemy, assessing its strength, and reporting back without engaging those forces.

After serving for a decade in the military, Lofton found himself back in the Bay Area, adrift and battling both post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse. That might have been the end of his story had he not met his future wife, who helped him land a security job at Kaiser Permanente. Her support and love helped get him back on track, Lofton says.

I learned before joining the Marines that you need to give everyone respect. Most people think it’s earned—it’s a given. I treat everyone the same.

That egalitarian worldview gets tested everyday outside the door of 989 Market Street, where pedestrians can see Lofton standing upright, feet slightly apart, eyes always scanning for trouble. Behind his no-nonsense air—an unavoidable necessity in a neighborhood plagued by homelessness, drug addiction, and despair—lies a deep compassion for those who have hit hard times.

“You will see them walk by—maybe they’re dirty, haven’t had a shower in a while,” Lofton says. “But you look them in the eye. And it opens them up, because no one pays attention to them.”

Lofton’s compassion extends to everyone who walks through the front door, from Zendesk employees to delivery workers. Without fail, he greets every person by name (or with a playful military rank such as “admiral” or “LT” for lieutenant). One moment he’s teasing an employee about eating French fries in the lobby, the next he’s playfully ribbing a deliveryman about not being around “in a month of Sundays.” His ability to read emotions at first seems preternatural, but as he points out, he simply pays attention. “I can tell when they have too much work on their minds,” Lofton says. “Everyone has that gift—to see what people are feeling—they just don’t use it.”

Lofton, who lives with his wife and daughter in San Francisco’s Baypoint neighborhood (he has an 18-year-old son studying psychology at Sonoma State University), has become a beloved figure for Zendesk employees.

“The very first time I came to this office for my interview, David greeted me with a smile, asked my name, and wished me luck,” says Zendesk employee Kate McMahon. “On my first day of work three weeks later, I walked in and David said, ‘Miss Kate, welcome to Zendesk.’ I was floored.”

For Lofton, showing that kind of attention to detail and kindness comes with the territory, but behind it all lies a sense of gratitude and an intense loyalty to Zendesk. “Zendesk is like the older brother of the other tenants here,” Lofton says. “They’ve taken care of me since day one. This is my house.”

To learn more about building empathy in everyday interactions in your life, check out this article on our Zendesk Relate blog.