The 2011 PR News CSR Award winner in the corporate/community partnership category, Memphis-Tenn.-based International Paper has its own charitable foundation that supports nonprofit organizations with primary focus areas of environmental education and literacy programs for young children. The foundation's signature program is "Coins 4 Kids," An employee relief fund assists co-workers and communities impacted by natural disasters, personal tragedies or other circumstances beyond their control by pooling both company and employees resources.
For International Paper’s director of communications, Patty Neuhoff, the key characteristic of a thriving workplace is an engaged workforce. “It sounds simple, but creating an atmosphere where employees feel their opinions matter is hard work,” Neuhoff says. More than a decade ago, International Paper began working with the Gallup organization to measure its employee engagement. Those findings have served as a baseline that has led the company to continually raise the bar and find out what matters most to employees. This commitment to listening has paid off: it is common to meet employees at IP working 20,30 even 40+ years.
After a devastating flood hit an IP community in 2000, IP employees wanted to respond, but soon realized there wasn’t a fast and easy way to provide support to their colleagues. Shortly after the flood, the company created the IP Employee Relief Fund. The Fund provides cash gifts—up to $2,500—for expenses related to food, clothing and shelter for employees who are victims of natural disasters or hardships. Over the years the program has expanded it to help victims of global disasters such as the Asian Tsunami and most recently the victims of the Haitian Earthquake.
For the communications team, work/life balance is difficult because of the 24/7 news cycle, which often blurs the lines between the end of a work day and the beginning of another. IP’s approach is to ensure the team has the flexibility they need, when they need it. “[We work to ensure] they take vacations—many often don’t—and that they disconnect after big events, which require long back-to-back work days. There is no silver bullet other than just having the good common sense of knowing when you and your employees have reached their limit,” says Neuhoff.