Christian Business Leadership, Organizational Culture, Strategy

Janice (my HR leader) burst into my office and told me, “Maria was in a car accident! Her car was completely wrecked; it is a miracle that she is still alive. They have rushed her to the hospital for emergency surgery.”

Maria is our customer service representative. She is a single mom taking care of two children.

As a company leader, my thoughts started racing:

How can we help her while protecting her dignity? 

Does she know that we all care for her?

How can we help her as a company? 

Will her coworkers also want to help?

What does God want me to do? 

How can I demonstrate our company purpose during a time like this?

How can we pay for some of the expenses directly? 

Is there a tax-efficient way to vet the needs and help?

This is just one example of an opportunity for companies to meet an employee need.

Facing Financial Roadblocks 

The Federal Reserve has reported that 40 percent of American families do not have sufficient savings to resolve a $400 emergency expense—and that was before the historic wave of unemployment and economic fallout related to the pandemic. Now, employees across industries are facing unprecedented financial hardship. For some, this is due to adjustments in compensation, personally or for someone they depend on. Many of us leaders are left wondering what we can do to help. As employers, our businesses serve as infrastructure that can support employees through a global crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic and the personal problems employees face even in relatively normal times. 

Improving Wellbeing and Engagement

An employee hardship fund is a tool that enables companies to support employees and their families when unexpected crises arise. Corporate-led generosity, in turn, inspires a powerful, generous culture. 

In a comprehensive study, the Aspen Institute identified some key benefits of an employee hardship fund: 

– Workers feel grateful and relieved. Research participants reported deep feelings of gratitude and relief regardless of how much they received from the funds. Among survey respondents, 60% stated that the funds made them less stressed. One fund recipient shared, “It’s indescribable because you wouldn’t think that your job or company would have that for you.” 

– Workers feel more connected to their employers and their coworkers. The research found that workers felt valued by their employers because of the funds’ existence. As a result, 72% stated that they were more likely to stay with their current employer than leave for a company without hardship funds. In addition, the contributions of their coworkers generated a strong sense of community. One participant stated, “It made me feel like my coworkers had my back.” 

– Workers can more effectively build and maintain financial health. Funds served as critical resources during a time of need. In an interview, a fund recipient described its impact as, “[Without the fund, I] would have been getting loans and falling back, taking from one bucket to fill another.” 

– Workers report positive impacts on job performance. Among survey respondents, 64% felt that the funds enabled them to be less distracted at work. One interviewee described, “As hard as you try to snap out of it, it’s very difficult when it’s a hardship like that… it would have eventually caught up to me and affected my job performance.” 

Stewarding Resources

Companies are more likely to accomplish these benefits by partnering with organizations that set up and administer employee hardship programs through turnkey solutions. For example, Co.tribute offers a community dashboard where teams can interact, see and contribute to specific needs, and inspire collective impact. Particularly in an era of increasingly dispersed and remote teams, a platform like this strengthens distant relationships as employees rally behind their teammates. 

As we aspire to steward the resources entrusted to us by God and perhaps feel wounded from seeing generosity mismanaged in the past, we can partner with industry organizations. Companies like C12 Member Helping Hands perform extensive due diligence to qualify recipients as to need and to ensure donors’ giving meets IRS guidelines for tax exemption. Their vetting assures us that funds are going directly to the needs and relieves us of the responsibility. Hardship programs can also use donor-advised funds administered by organizations like C12 Strategic Affiliates National Christian Foundation and Waterstone.

Fulfilling a Greater Purpose

It is critical to recognize that employees who are reaching out for assistance usually do so from a place of stress, uncertainty, and anxiety. For many, asking for help is difficult and can be accompanied by feelings of shame. Respect and dignity must remain top of mind and at the core of our approach when interacting with applicants. No one wants to think of themselves as needing charity, so it is important to position hardship funds as a resource we want to expend for anyone in the company community should they hit a rough patch. 

This model is highly effective in helping faith-driven companies fulfill their greater purpose and advance their ministries. As we serve them financially, we can care for them emotionally and spiritually, sharing the gospel reason behind our giving. If not through an employee hardship program, let’s think about how else we can demonstrate generosity to our teams and invite them into a tangible way of experiencing and participating in generosity.