Building bridges within a workforce spread across 62 countries
In this conversation with Andrea Cabrera, Head of Image & Corporate Communication for the L’Oréal Group, you can learn more from the lady who is helping L’Oréal’s men and women around the world to join forces and do their bit for those less fortunate than themselves.
L’Oréal’s Citizen Day is an amazing event. After all, a planet-wide day of community action is nothing to sniff at. Seven years after it was first staged, the 2015 event involved 62 countries and over 25,000 employees, who came together to help communities in need. Involvement has been rising steadily with every year. It is a great example of how employees can get behind a project as they find fulfilment through their humanitarian and professional engagement.
Baby steps… Looking back at the origins of Citizen Day.
It all began in 2009. With L’Oréal celebrating its centenary year and Chairman and CEO Jean-Paul Agon supplying the impetus, subsidiaries across the world took on 100 community projects. The aim, explains Andrea, was “to give back what we receive all year long. We grew the project step by step. In year one, we set up a Citizen Village in France and abroad to build employee awareness and see what a collective project might look like. After that we went out around the world conducting on-site assignments so that we could set up the programme after observing the actual needs of charities and non-profits”. Following this groundwork, employees at L’Oréal subsidiaries were given the opportunity once a year to help out an organisation near their workplace. Citizen Day was born.
And it grew. “Between 2012 and 2015, employee participation grew by 39%”, says Andrea. In 2015, 25,000 employees volunteered their time and energy, with 170 projects in the Greater Paris area and 6,000 participants in France alone. To give one example, an anti-waste project obtained six tons of fruit and veggies to prepare 400 meals for the needy. It is hard to put a figure on how many people will take part in 2016, as Citizen Day events for this year have already begun and will run country by country through to October, but Andrea expects to see at least 26,000 participants worldwide. She points out that the participation rate for France is already 8% higher than in 2015 and adds: “For the Greater Paris region alone, over 3,100 of our 8,500 employees had signed up within a few hours of registrations opening up”.
Let’s go L’Oréal! Key factors in employee engagement
As well as having a social impact, Citizen Day involves an engagement that builds bridges within the workforce. Andrea comments: “What L’Oréal Brazil has achieved beautifully illustrates Citizen Day’s twin effects in terms of social impact and engagement. There is the social side, because we are helping communities in need, but then there is the engagement aspect, which is what takes L’Oréal to the top of workplace surveys such as the Great Place to Work ranking.
But while Citizen Day is a wonderful tool for promoting engagement, it has to be used astutely. Andrea says that pacing is crucial: “Employees have dictated the speed with which Citizen Day has grown. Communication around the event was by word of mouth originally. It was only later that we set up unified campaigns for every country to make sure our messages were consistent. We have cool posters that portray participants as ambassadors. People and groups have become the standard bearers for Citizen Day, making it an event that employees don’t want to miss”.
In 2016, to foster even more engagement, Andrea’s team stuck with the poster idea, but enhanced the digital side by creating a Citizen Day app. The concept is simple: any employee can create a poster and put it up on social media with the hashtags #weareloreal or #citizenday. Here again, Andrea is moving forward at the pace set by participants, who in recent years have been bringing Citizen Day to life online by spontaneously sharing photos of the event on their private accounts. There are no statistics on downloads of the official app for now, but Andrea senses that there is a real appetite. Employees can personalise their posts before putting photos up on social media, with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the preferred sites. Andrea believes that these hashtags help to raise the profile of Citizen Day on L’Oréal’s account but also through employees’ personal networks: “It is a way to bring our people closer together and enable them to share an endeavour that they are proud of”. The line between personal and professional life is blurring. “People want to be able to share their professional engagement in their personal life”, says Andrea.
“It feels good to do good”: employees looking for meaning appreciate the opportunity to volunteer
How do you renew and strengthen this commitment every year? By responding to the growing need among employees to bring meaning to their professional life.
Andrea observes: “We started out by looking at the needs of different communities and asking how we could respond. In the Greater Paris area, for example, we aided 155 organisations in 2015”. In other words, the first driver for Citizen Day was a desire among employees to come together to do good. As Andrea says: “Realising that we could have an impact as employees – and on a global scale to boot – really encouraged people to come on board when we celebrated L’Oréal’s centenary”.
But the motivations have shifted over the years, and Andrea now sees a new force emerging: “Over the last two years, we have conducted an employee satisfaction survey after Citizen Day to gather feedback. We find that more and more employees want to have direct contact with beneficiaries on Citizen Day. This is borne out by registrations for the 2016 event, with people flocking to projects that involve contact with beneficiaries”.
Any other insights? “We get an average of 8.8 out of 10 on the survey. Put another way, employees are proud to take part”. And they want more, as Andrea explains: “They want the initiative to continue beyond the day itself.” To respond to this, she has set up Citizen Time, a year-round programme that allows the company to match up partner organisations with employees looking for volunteering opportunities.
When other companies ask Andrea about the keys to Citizen Day’s success, she tells them that she too is, more than anything else, an employee who finds fulfilment in what she is doing.