Employee engagement through charitable work by Sarah Courtman

Wed, 27 Jan, 2021

At Kindred, we believe in friendship and encourage our employees to give back to local communities. Employees are offered paid days of leave to spend on our charity partnerships, initiatives, or any charity of their choice. Our Finance Business Partner, Sarah Courtman leads the Kindred London Engagement Group and talks about employee engagement and contributing to local communities. Throughout her years at Kindred, Sarah has been an active member and leader of several employee activities from sports, to comedy, to volunteering. 

What made you join Kindred?

I didn’t know much about Kindred (Unibet at the time) when I was first interviewed over five years ago, but I always loved sports and the people seemed great. After some research, I discovered all the great things Kindred were doing to ensure gambling is carried out responsibly, so it seemed like a great fit for me. 

You’ve been involved in employee engagement for several years, - why is this important to you?

I have done some form of employee engagement work in every job I ever had. If I love where I work, I want everyone around me to feel the same. I want to help make work life enjoyable for everyone. I firmly believe that if your people feel engaged and enjoy a good work-life balance, you will always get the best out of them. I’m yet to be proved wrong!  

What does volunteer work mean to you?

Volunteering as a term feels very formal to me, which sometimes I think creates its own barriers. As though you need permission, have to sign up through a charity, or have to in some way go through specific channels to do it. For me, volunteering means helping out in any way I can. People often assume giving money is the best option, and if you are struggling financially you might feel that you are unable to offer support.

But help can also be something simple, like reaching out to the elderly neighbours to make sure, especially during the pandemic, that they have everything they need. In fact, just being there for a chat can work wonders. It may not feel like volunteering, but it certainly feels rewarding and has greater value than a £2 monthly donation. Additionally, things like litter picking while walking, donating unnecessary clothes, being a marshal at a marathon, or just offering your time for the common good is volunteering. 

What support does Kindred provide to employees who wish to volunteer and contribute to communities?

As a company, we offer each employee three paid days per year to use for charitable work. Over the years I've been involved in organising a wide variety of activities for this purpose, ranging from cooking for a food shelter using food waste, to teaching people over 50's how to use technology and a group litter pick on World Clean-up Day last year. We have also done some local initiatives during Covid-19 lockdowns. What’s great about Kindred CSR days is that employees are free to choose the charity they want to work with.

How important, do you think, it is to have an employer who engages themselves within the community?

In my opinion, every individual needs to engage in their community, whether you are an employee or employer. We all have different things that motivate us and shape what we want to get involved in. But what is pivotal, is for employers to give people the discretion to do what is meaningful to them. There are so many great causes that deserve more funds, time and human resources, so giving each individual a choice is crucial. 

What are the benefits of engaging in volunteering? For an employee personally, but also the company?

I have never met anyone with negative comments after volunteering, which probably says it all. It is such a rewarding experience, and people come away with greater respect for those who do it day-to-day. Most people who try volunteering, go back and make it a habit. Employees often feel more appreciated after volunteering because they have been given the opportunity to contribute. We've noticed this experience leading to happier and more engaged employees. At Kindred, we aim to increase the number of employees who use their days, and that can encourage people to try volunteering for the first time in their life.

Do you have a special dream-project that you would like to engage in?

I always said that if I won the lottery, I would love to buy an old London double-decker bus and transform it into a safe place for the homeless. I would create pods to sleep in on the top floor, but also facilities like shower, washing machine and soup kitchen on the ground floor together with an in-house therapist to offer support.

On a smaller (probably more achievable) scale, I would love to offer coffee mornings for the local community (post-Covid), with some form of soup kitchen. There are lots of people who are financially struggling, and others who are lonely. This would be a place to gather and support people of all ages and walks of life. 

How have engagement activities changed during the period of remote working? 

The obvious change is that everything is now remote, but the positive is that we’ve been forced to think outside the box. People have engaged more than usual. For example, we did our first-ever virtual comedy event, which was joined by 200 people - way more than I expected! We've tried to keep people active, by doing many competitions on the Strava app, where you can record your physical activity. We've also focused on supporting colleagues with anxiety or other mental health issues that the pandemic might have triggered.

One of your latest events was ‘Kindred runs lap of the world.’ Tell us more about this competition and how it went?

Last year, for the first time ever, we chose one charity of the year. This was done to have a combined and united goal, and we set ourselves the target to raise £10k in one year. Things were going great until the dreaded Covid-19 hit, which really put a spanner in the works on how to reach our final target; no more bake sales, Tough Mudder races or other popular activities.

After speaking to the charity of our choice about new fundraising ideas, they mentioned that some companies were asking people to run a marathon over the space of a month. As a company, we are very much into sports and there are people at Kindred, who can casually run a marathon before they start work, so I thought we needed something harder and a bit more impressive.

As a result, with four months left of 2020 and after some Google searches, I came up with the “Lap of the World” which is a mere 24,901 miles. Sounds like a proper challenge, right? During that time, we had the second lockdown in London, so we decided to run weekly competitions to encourage people to get out and exercise. I’m very glad to say that we completed the Lap of the World before the year-end, and are now close to reaching our final fundraising target. 

Read more about Kindred’s sustainability commitments and how we contribute to communities here.