Re-thinking workplace giving

Mental Health


Written by

Olivia Roney

July 2020

Re-thinking workplace giving

"Money motivates neither the best people, nor the best in people. It can move the body and influence the mind, but it cannot touch the heart or move the spirit; that is reserved for belief, principle, and morality." - Dee Hock, Founder of Visa

Our work in mental health, and wellbeing in the workplace has shown that purpose is one significant key to employee wellbeing.

A sense of purpose allows an individual to understand why they are undertaking certain actions and that their tasks and efforts are worthwhile and meaningful. Purpose provides context and helps individuals understand their place, contribution, and potential future in any business. Aside from being good people management, it is also offers a great business case.

A strong sense of purpose has been shown to improve employee happiness in workplaces, as well as improving memory, executive thinking, and general cognition.

(Lewis, N., Purpose in life and cognitive functioning in adulthood).

Purpose at work may take form through work in feedback, goal generation and recognition, but importantly, also includes opportunities for involvement in local events, social impact causes and community issues.

One potentially powerful avenue for creating purpose in work is workplace giving.

The state of workplace giving in Australia

Traditionally, workplace giving involves workplaces offering voluntary regular donations from salary payments to a chosen cause or local issue.

The top reasons for giving through the workplace range from a personal attachment to the cause, right to it just being an easy thing to do:

(Giving Australia 2016 Australian Individual Giving and Volunteering Webinar Series, May 2018)

Interestingly, women are more likely to take part in workplace giving than men, and when they do, give a higher proportion of their income (despite experiencing pay gaps across industries).

(Giving Australia 2016 Australian Individual Giving and Volunteering, September 2017; QUT Working Paper No. ACPNS 71, June 2018)

Although, while it seems easy and accessible to make donations through these programs, workplace giving has not lived up to the hype in Australia.

Giving through workplace programs is on the decline, falling from $43 million to $35 million, with the median donation just $75.

(ATO Individual Returns 2015-16 Income Year)

And, only 4.7% of employees who are offered giving programs use them - a decrease from 4.9%. (QUT, 2018)

So, what's missing in workplace giving?

A long held mantra at spur:, on the subject of behaviour, has been: what is easy to do, is easier not to do.

Most workplace wellbeing programs are opt-in. Employees have to go out of their way, specifically out of their busy and pressured work day, to sign-up. This may involve numerous steps and forms and present far too much 'emotional inertia'.

Secondly, after tax and compulsory super contributions (for salaried employees), workplace giving programs have to persuade employees to part with whatever is left of their payslip.

It's easier to part when others have paved the way, or even better, when the workplace is walking the walk and matching contributions.

And if they do part with their money, people don't want to just know where their money is going, they want to have a say in where it goes, and critically, what impact it does or will have.

Finally, traditional workplace giving programs operate on basic financial donation models. Nominate a percentage or flat number from your pay, and we will donate it to x cause. But for most workers, there are other resources that could go further, or they are more willing to part with - their expertise, time or advice.

When we consider this barrage of hurdles, engagement numbers for workplace giving programs in Australia aren't so surprising. Here at spur: we recognise these hurdles and offer our team an alternative approach to workplace giving.

spur:'s take on workplace giving

At spur:, we recognise the role of employee giving programs in fostering our workplace culture, and promoting wellbeing in the workplace.

But we also believe that purpose shouldn't be something just tapped on to your work day, or unrelated to what's on your desk day-in-day-out. The existence of workplace giving programs should complement meaningful, purpose-driven everyday work and culture.

That is why we have taken a slightly different approach to the standard donating a portion of our salary.

Instead, our commercial arm spur: donates 5% of revenue and 20% of our time, resources and expertise in strategy, design and behavioural change per week, to our sister organisation spur: org.

spur: org is an Australian DGR-1 registered charity, centred broadly around wellbeing. Under this model, spur:org delivers our own award-winning wellbeing projects, from the world's largest real-time mental wellbeing survey in How is The World Feeling to elderly isolation in #OLDMATE to decriminalisation of homosexuality in 123+.

This means that 4 days a week, we are working on client projects, and otherwise developing internal projects dear to our hearts.

While all of our commercial work is already directly linked to social causes and local issues, this allows our team to pursue projects we are passionate about, that affect us and the people we love. And we can afford to give a lot more in this model than we ever could with salary giving programs. What's more, we get a lot more back in feelings of purpose, contributing to broader social causes, work-life balance and community. Importantly, we do this together, as a team.

Obviously, not all organisations are able to set up a non-profit entity - but looking to partners or finding established charities to work more closely might be a fairly practical solution. Offering employees a way to give back, to roll up their sleeves and use their skills or elbow grease for a good cause alongside their work could pay returns in employee wellbeing and engagement.

For me, this is what really sets spur: apart. I get to apply my entrepreneurial background, and my heart, to my everyday work. This isn't something that's considered 'extra' to what we do - it's just part of how we work.


ATO, Individual Returns 2015-16 Income Year, 2017

Giving Australia, 2016 Australian Individual Giving and Volunteering, September 2017

QUT, An Examination of Tax-Deductible Donations Made By Individual Australian Taxpayers in 2015–16 Working Paper No. ACPNS 71, June 2018

Lewis, N., Purpose in life and cognitive functioning in adulthood, 2016

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