Posted on September 25, 2018 in Consulting


Recently, I participated with the firm at a Houston Legal Aid Clinic where we evaluated potential cases for pro bono legal aid services. Tanya Garrison, my partner and (plug) candidate for Judge in the 157th Harris County District Court, organized this effort as she has for many years lead the Firm to participate in pro bono work.   Tanya has earned the firm repeated honors driving us to do what is right. Likewise, Margo recruited a group to sign-up for Habitat for Humanity early next month. I expect it will be a similarly rewarding experience for me and our firm participants.


What I took away from the Legal Aid Clinic and most assuredly will gain from the Habitat for Humanity project — in addition to feeling good about serving community – was the camaraderie developed in volunteerism. We gathered after for lunch talking about our experience of the day. The project took us out of our day to day law-firm environment into a setting without the pressures that come with work.


Volunteer work is also a far more productive and useful vehicle for engaging with co-workers than gathering for happy hour. Those more typical activities often focus on venting about work frustrations. And, people congregate for lunch and join in drinks (after work) within the same clique. None of that fosters team work. Indeed, it probably has an unintended consequence of isolating the excluded.


Volunteer activities help co-workers interact who might never otherwise speak. Even in a small company there is little time to visit with a colleague whose office is located on the other side of the building. Bringing co-workers together on a unified, non-professional effort creates a more personal connection and opportunity to learn about others.


Let employees select the activity rather than have a corporate directive. I jumped at Margo’s volunteer initiative because I enjoy physical labor and home projects. I have not volunteered at a Habitat House in many years. I remember well, however, how much fun I had shingling a roof years ago. (Not sure my current age permits me to engage in such effort.)


Colleagues must be careful not to judge or shame someone for not participating in a volunteer project. A valued co-worker might feel uncomfortable in a selected volunteer activity or simply have other commitments on the date selected. Others might dedicate their personal time to faith-based volunteer work. We have a right to volunteer or not, at whatever activity we chose.


Bear in mind, it is not “volunteer” work if an employer directs a non-exempt employee to volunteer. DOL regulations require employees be paid for any time spent in work for public or charitable purposes at the employer’s request, or under the employer’s direction or control. An employer must also pay employees for any activity in which the employee is required to be present irrespective of whether the employee is performing work for the employer.


See 29 C.F.R. § 785.44. and DOL Opinion Letter:


One final comment, team building works best when the bosses participate.

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