#131 – Integrity Idea 005: Fund an Employee Fund

ESSENCE:  From time to time, we are devoting posts to describing specific actions a faithful leader can consider in leading faithfully through business a better way.  We are calling these Integrity Ideas.  

INTEGRITY IDEA: Fund an Employee Fund

COVERT-OVERT CONTINUUM (six Continuums for action):  Practices

COVERT-OVERT RATING (several levels from Highly Covert to Highly Overt):  Highly Covert

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

Most Integrity Ideas are practical actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  “Fund an Employee Fund” is about creating and funding a “rainy day” fund to assist employees with unexpected expenses.  A large percentage of Americans report that they could not cover an unexpected $400 expense with cash.  “Fund an Employee Fund” is about showing employees that they are valued as human beings–that the organization cares about the stresses and realities of life outside of work.  It is about loving your neighbor in a tangible way in a moment of need. It is about a work community being a faithful presence by taking care of its members.

From time to time, we are devoting posts to describing specific actions a leader can consider during the Re-Align step of Integriosity®–actions that will begin to Re-Align the organization with Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities.  We are calling these “Integrity Ideas“.

Some Integrity Ideas will feel like a good fit, and others will not. The choice should be based on which approach is best for stewarding the organization toward its WHY.

INTEGRITY IDEA: Fund an Employee Fund

Since 2013, the Federal Reserve Board has published an annual report on the “Economic Well-being of U.S. Households”.  One measure of well-being has been the ability of families to deal with an unexpected expense of $400.  That could be something like a car repair, a home repair, or a small medical or dental bill.  In the report on 2019 (prior to COVID relief payments), 37% of people could not cover such an expense with cash and 12% could not cover it by any means.  43% of those with a high school diploma or less (and 13% with a bachelors degree or more) “did not expect to pay their current month’s bills in full or would have been unable to do so if faced with an unexpected $400 expense.”

Although people in many occupations are unlikely to relate to the stress of an unexpected $400 expense, many employees in industries such as retail, hospitality and manufacturing may be living paycheck to paycheck.  An unexpected expense can create a domino effect of financial default and delinquency, bringing with it unhealthy personal and family stress, which in turn can impact work attendance and productivity.

“Funding an Employee Fund” is about creating a fund that is available to help employees get over the hump of a “rainy day” through a loan or a grant.  The Bible is full of passages about sharing wealth to help each other through difficult times, and we know that the second great commandment is to love your neighbor.  For example:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17)

Whoever has a bountiful eye will be blessed, for he shares his bread with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. (Hebrews 3:16)

And we have the example of the Acts church sharing what they had “as any had need.”  “Funding an Employee Fund” says “we are a community of human beings engaged in sacred work together, and we help care for each other when life throws a curveball.

Back in post #053 (Loving Generously–Faithful Presence), we examined the concept of faithful presence introduced by James Hunter in his book To Change the World.  In fact, we said that understanding love your neighbor in an organizational context is essential to leading faithfully through business a better way and that we believe James Hunter’s faithful presence is the best tool we know for understanding what it means to love your neighbor through the culture of social structures such as organizations and businesses.

Hunter describes it as follows:

A theology of faithful presence calls Christians to enact the shalom of God in the circumstances in which God has placed them and to actively seek it on behalf of others. . . . What this means is that where and to the extent that we are able, faithful presence commits us to do what we can to create conditions in the structures of social life we inhabit that are conducive to the flourishing of all.

We believe organizations where people work are “structures of social life”.  An organization where people work is a community.  Indeed, organizations have intrinsic Kingdom value because they create the platform and the opportunity for humans to come together in relationship to express and fulfill their humanity through work by producing and promoting flourishing in ways that could not be accomplished by people working alone.  Pope John Paul II in Laborem Exercens observed:

Thus work bears a particular mark of man and humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons.

CONTINUUM: Practices

The Integriosity model organizes “heart change” along six Covert-Overt Continuums.  There is nothing magic about these categories, but we believe they are helpful in thinking about practical execution of a Re-Imagined Purpose, Re-Imagined Values and a Re-Imagined Culture.  The Continuums are Prayer, Proclamation, Policies, Practices, Products, People.

Each Continuum represents an area in which leaders can begin to think about, plan and institute Re-Alignment changes to the heart of the organization.

“Funding an Employee Fund” is a Practice.  Practices reflect, and at the same time help shape and reinforce, an organization’s culture.  Purpose and values define the culture of an organization; the culture shapes the behavior of the people in the organization; and the behavior of the people drives the results of the organization.  “Funding an Employee Fund” is a Practice that reflects an understanding of Imago Dei–that all people deserve to be treated with dignity.  To the extent employees are involved in funding the fund or the decision-making process for grants/loans, they become ambassadors of the organization’s culture of caring and generosity.

COVERT-OVERT RATING: Highly Covert

The Integriosity model breaks the Covert-Overt Continuums into six gradations–from Highly Covert to Highly Overt–that we believe are helpful in beginning to pray and think about what is most appropriate for an organization at a particular moment in time.

Most Integrity Ideas will have one place on the scale.  Some can vary depending on how they are implemented.

“Funding an Employee Fund” is Highly Covert (an action that would be taken by a secular company), but it can move to the overt end of the Continuum if the leaders of the organization choose to explain it in terms of faith and Biblical principles.

STAKEHOLDERS SERVED: Employees

When we categorize faith-based actions, we also consider the stakeholders principally impacted by the action: Employees, Customers/Clients, Owners, Suppliers/Vendors, Community and Kingdom.  “Fund an Employee Fund” is about caring for, valuing, and “seeing” Employees.  If employees are part of funding the fund or part of the decision making process for grants/loans, it can also be about empowering Employees.

Thus work bears a particular mark of man and humanity, the mark of a person operating within a community of persons. (Pope John Paul II)

IMPLEMENTATION

The most difficult part of implementing “Funding an Employee Fund” is making choices–choices about how it will be funded, the application criteria, the application process, the grant/loan-making process.  It should start with a committee tasked with shaping the program.  That committee could be just management or it could include employees (potential beneficiaries).  We think including employees is a wonderful opportunity to spread a culture of generosity and caring.

Here are some questions for the committee to consider:

Funding.  How will the fund be funded?  An annual grant from the organization?  A combination of an organizational grant and and opportunity for employees to make donations?  Should those donations be tax deductible (there are organizations that help provide this ability through outsourcing, such as Helping Hands Charitable and  America’s Charities)? What if the fund runs out before the end of the year?

Administration.  Will the fund be operated by an internal committee or outsourced?  Outsourcing can offer the benefits of greater confidentiality and tax deductibility.  Internal administration offers the benefit of employees being empowered to help fellow employees.

Form of Assistance.  Will assistance be given as grants or loans or some hybrid (e.g., a grant with encouragement to donate it back to the fund if and when the recipient is able)?  It would be wise to obtain professional tax advice on the implications to the organization, to those who contribute to the fund and to assistance recipients of various assistance alternatives.

Assistance Criteria.  What hardships will qualify for assistance?  Are there any hardships that will be excluded? What employees will qualify? Will any categories of employees be excluded (officers, management, new employees, part-time employees)?

Assistance Amounts.  Will there be a cap on the assistance amount to ensure the fund is available for multiple employees?  How much?

Application Process.  What will be the application process?   Will it be formal or informal, complex or simple? How can confidentiality be maintained if it is done internally?  How can it be done in a way that maintains the dignity of the applicant?

Approval Process.  Who will evaluate and approve applications?  Any internal committee of management? Of employees? Of a combination of management and employees? A third-party processor based on well-defined criteria?  By a senior leader based on the recommendation of a committee? Will an internal committee be told the identity of the applicant or only the circumstances of the need?

Communication.  How will the program be announced to employees?  Will the communications tie the program to Biblical beliefs, principles and priorities?  Will the program be communicated to those outside the organization such as on the website?  Will public communications be overt about faith underpinnings?

The questions may seem overwhelming, and a knee-jerk reaction might be to just tell HR to outsource the whole thing.  We believe that would be a missed opportunity.

It would be a missed opportunity to engage members of the community in thinking about how best to care for fellow members.  It would also be a missed opportunity to engage the community in thinking about how best to engage the broader community.  It would be a missed opportunity to give people a voiceone of the three elements (along with vision and value) Michael Stallard points to for creating a healthy culture in which employees feel connected.

PERSONAL NOTE (from PM):   It may be difficult for owners or executives of a business to understand the financial stress of someone who could not pay an unexpected $400 expense.  In fact, it may be hard for them to even imagine being in such a situation.  Even the inability to sympathize does not relieve us from the need to empathize.  It is the first step toward loving your neighbor and living the Golden Rule.

Of course, sympathy is not impossible even with vast disparities in income and wealth.  Financial stress can happen at all levels of income because our culture encourages living to our means–keeping up with the person next door.   I remember hearing a story of one of the partners in the law firm where I worked lamenting to an associate who had just purchased a new set of golf clubs that the partner wished he could afford a new set of clubs.  He was earning well over a $1,000,000/yr but was living “distribution to distribution”.   Following the 2008 financial crisis, a friend who advised ultra-high-net-worth individuals shared the story of a client who called in great financial distress because he needed to trim his personal monthly “burn rate” from $5,000,000 to $3,000,000.  It is hard to feel sorry for this person, but financial stress is relative.

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Photo Credit: Original photo by Juan Marin on Unsplash (photo cropped)