What kind of benefits does your workplace offer? Maybe there’s free breakfast, or pizza and beer on a Friday, flexible WFH, or subsidised gym membership.
These are all nice perks, but maybe more workplaces should be offering something that has wider benefits for the community and society – employee volunteering.
Some companies allow their employees to take a day, or a few days, per year to volunteer for a good cause. And the benefits of this can be enormous – not just for the charity, but for the mental wellbeing of the employees, and even the company as a whole, too.
A 2017 study found that creating a culture that encourages volunteering can help employers boost employee morale, workplace atmosphere and brand perception.
According to the study from Deloitte, creating a culture of volunteerism within your company doesn’t just help others; it also improves your organisation.
The research, which was based on surveys of 1,000 full- and part-time employees who had volunteered over the previous 12 months, found that an overwhelming majority – 89% – of employees think companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment.
And 70% said they believed volunteer activities are more likely to boost staff morale than company-sponsored happy hours, with more than three-quarters saying volunteering is essential to employee wellbeing than after-work drinks on your boss.
Communications agency Social offers all employees up to five days’ paid time off to volunteer during work hours at a charity, community group or not-for-profit of their choice.
Their aim is to donate at least 500 hours of Social time each year to good causes. Currently people volunteer with a range of organisations including food banks, mental health charities and serving as school governors.
‘I am a crisis volunteer with Shout 85258 because it means a lot to me to be able to help people when they’re going through really tough times,’ says James, and employee at Social.
‘I’ve been volunteering with them since January 2020, so it’s been clear the impact of the pandemic and lockdown on people’s mental health and Shout has been there for them throughout it all.
‘I’m proud to be a small part of that support. It also ties in well with my role as a mental health first-aider at Social.’
Another Social employee, Lauren, explains that she started volunteering for Rochdale Connections Trust last year, during the peak of the pandemic.
‘I was delivering care packages for families in need as I wanted to play my part in my local community at a critical time,’ she explains. ‘They then invited me back this year as a volunteer mentor working with young people.’
Rob Luke, director at Social, adds: ‘We wanted to move from words of support for staff volunteering to really encouraging it in practice.
‘Knowing we actively want them to use work time to volunteer removes many of the practical barriers for our team, whether it’s childcare or simply finding the time.’
Rob explains that the company doesn’t view this as time lost because they get it back in terms of increased staff motivation and retention.
‘In demonstrating our commitment to positive social impact it has wider value for us as a business and as an employer,’ he adds. ‘I’d certainly encourage other employers to consider it.’
How volunteering can make you feel better about your workplace
Volunteering and charitable deeds is a big priority among younger members of the workforce.
53% of under-35s want to volunteer more than they do, with this figure increasing to 60% among 18-24-year-olds, according to a report by City Philanthropy.
Of the 43% of respondents under-35 who said they already volunteer, workplace volunteer schemes and initiatives were cited as playing a key role in influencing their charitable good deeds.
‘It’s definitely important to me because volunteers have a hugely significant role to play in our society, particularly as we’re still dealing with the impacts of Covid-19,’ says James from Social.
‘So, being actively encouraged by my employer to get out in the community (via my laptop in my case) making a difference in people’s lives can only be a good thing.
‘This policy encapsulates why I’m proud to work for Social, because we don’t just talk about improving lives, we take an active role in making it happen.’
Lauren adds: ‘It’s important that companies give back to their local communities, and offering it as a benefit stops volunteering becoming too much of a burden on your personal time.
‘I feel like my workplace empowers me to better myself and I’m encouraged to follow my own interests in charity work.’
The sense of pride that James and Lauren mention here is something widely felt by people who are afforded time to volunteer as a workplace benefit. And that often translates as loyalty.
Research by Great Place to Work looked at thousands of employee surveys from companies on its 50 best Workplaces that Give Back list and revealed that workers at these organisations say they’re more likely to stay with their employer for a long time as a result of the company’s voluntary programmes.
Helen is the head of new business at advertising agency Wunderman Thompson. She volunteers at The Drive Forward Foundation, as do many of her colleagues.
The Drive Forward Foundation helps young adults leaving foster or residential care to achieve their full potential with exciting and sustainable employment opportunities. Helen is incredibly passionate about the work of this charity, and she feels privileged to be able to do what she can to help.
‘2,000 young people leave the London care system without the skills, confidence and support to manage their next step into independence,’ explains Helen.
‘The ramifications include 30% of young people experiencing homelessness within six months of leaving care and 40% facing unemployment. These stats are harrowing when you consider care leavers can be as young as 16. But these stats are a result of a lack of opportunity. Something I have had the privilege to have in our industry and within my agency.
‘Throughout my career I’ve had people support, encourage and open doors for me, and it’s only right to pass the baton. We all have that responsibility to lift others.’
Helen volunteers her time across four weeks each year with Drive Forward to help make a life-changing impact for people who have been denied certain opportunities.
‘We all know how important it is to look further and wider for diverse talent, and someone’s past shouldn’t hinder their future,’ says Helen.
‘Being given the time to support that ethos and work with people outside of those I’d normally meet is frankly inspiring.
‘We’re an industry built on action. Communicating with millions of people every day, encouraging them to do something; buy, share, like, interact. But let’s face it we aren’t saving lives. It’s important we apply that mentality to help the world around us where we can.
‘Having the time, investment, and support to spend time making a difference to others demonstrates that the business is as committed to improving, diversifying, and championing the future of our industry as much as individuals.’
How to encourage volunteering in the workplace
The sad reality is that despite the many recorded benefits that come with volunteering in the workplace, the Deloitte study revealed that only 38% of respondents say that their employers provide access to company-sponsored or coordinated volunteer programs.
69% say they are not volunteering as much as they would like to, and of those, two-thirds (62%) say they can’t dedicate time during the day to volunteering.
There seems to be a serious issue with accessibility, and employers not seeing the wider benefits that can come with active volunteering.
‘It appears that many employees understand the value of volunteering and have the desire to do more, but they aren’t reaping the full benefits,’ said Doug Marshall, managing director of corporate citizenship, Deloitte LLP.
‘Employers have an opportunity to build on their volunteerism programs by creating a culture that celebrates volunteering and empowers volunteers to be more active.’
On top of that, employers then need to encourage a culture in which employees feel empowered to take up volunteering opportunities.
One way businesses can encourage more volunteering is by helping employees better understand how their efforts benefit their community. Three quarters (75%) of millennials surveyed by Deloitte said they would volunteer more often if they had a better understanding of the impact they were making.
Another way to encourage more volunteering is by helping employees understand how it benefits them.
In 2016’s Deloitte Impact Survey, 80% of hiring influencers indicated that they believe active volunteers move into leadership roles more easily.
However, the more recent research found that just 18% believe volunteering can enhance their career opportunities, and only 36% say it can help develop new skills.
‘As businesses continue to find new ways to retain and attract new talent, and establish a more purpose-driven and engaged workforce, they should consider how they can better incorporate volunteerism into their culture,’ added Marshall.
‘It’s a potential solution from which businesses, professionals and communities can benefit, while supporting employees’ personal and career development, and boosting their sense of wellbeing.’
Volunteering and working to support charitable causes has never been as important as it is now. More companies finding a way to allow employees to give something back as part of their job can only be a positive thing.
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Volunteers’ Week takes place 1-7 June and highlights the amazing ways people can give back and help others. To get involved click here.
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