Employee Volunteering – the benefits for companies and their CSR programmes

CSR Central will be spending the next few weeks looking at Employee Volunteering initiatives and how they relate to firm’s Corporate Social Responsibility strategies.

Employee Volunteering has been gaining greater importance with many companies as they consider how they can best express their commitment to corporate citizenship (a trend we noted in our recent post on the LinkedIn Volunteer Marketplace). On the flipside of this equation, charities and non-profit organisations have been feeling a greater need for non-monetary support. The business world has stepped into this breach by supplying their staff to assist charities through structured volunteering programmes.

Over the coming weeks, CSR Central will be analysing what makes a world class volunteering programme, the barriers corporations face when creating such programmes, and how companies and charities can ensure these initiatives are executed more effectively. But first we want to focus on the benefits of employee volunteering, not just for charities and local communities, but also for companies and the wider economy.

Volunteers in Dublin city centre during Ireland's National Volunteering Week in 2012 (Source: Citizen IBM)
Volunteers in Dublin city centre during Ireland’s National Volunteering Week in 2012 (Source: Citizen IBM)

The Value of Volunteering

Is it possible to measure the value of voluntary work to a country? A recent survey carried out by the volunteering charity CSV estimated that approximately 70% of FTSE 100 companies now run some form of an employee volunteering programme.

Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, gave a speech last year claiming that “frequent, formal volunteering” produces £24 billion worth of economic output in the UK each year. Haldane says this figure is “equivalent to 1.5% of GDP” in the UK, making volunteering one of the country’s foremost industrial sectors. Indeed, Haldane comes to the conclusion that “the benefits to volunteering might be as large for volunteers themselves as they are for the recipients. In other words, in giving we really do receive – possibly as much as we give.”

Skills-based Volunteering

A cleverly devised company volunteering programme can give employees the chance to draw on their own skills and expertise. Staff from the lower echelons of an organisation often find that voluntary work can help them develop their own leadership skills. Shari Tishman of the Volunteer Match blog offers an insightful explanation for this: “volunteerism helps people expand their perspectives, which can often mean they become much more in tune with things happening outside of the workplace”. Additionally, Tishman says that for workers from non-supervisory roles “being a volunteer often causes a person to discover new talents”.

Building Relationships

Creating a volunteer team is also a great way of building inter-departmental relationships across a large company. A well-thought-out CSR initiative team will involve members from across all departments of a company. Staff should be brought out of their departmental silos and ivory towers so that the CEO can rub shoulders with the receptionist, and they all have to muck in together in support of a particular project. In this way, an employee volunteering programme can forge stronger bonds and a sense of camaraderie amongst co-workers, hopefully resulting in stronger relationships when they return to their day jobs.

KPMG volunteers helping out the charity St. Michael's House (Source: Volunteer Ireland)
KPMG volunteers helping out the charity St. Michael’s House (Source: Volunteer Ireland)

Pride in the Company

Employees generally want to feel that their work has meaning and that the company who employs them has some sense of a social purpose. This seems to be particularly true of younger generations of workers. A report commissioned by the consultancy services firm Deloitte in 2011 found that millennial employees who took part in employee volunteering programmes were twice as likely to regard their company culture as being ‘very positive’. These volunteers were also twice as likely to feel satisfied with their chosen company and career. Furthermore, 52 percent of these millennial volunteers said they felt ‘very loyal’ to their company. This compares favourably to the mere 33 per cent of non-volunteers who responded that they felt ‘very loyal’.

Employee Engagement & Staff Retention

Volunteering doesn’t just boost employee morale and engagement; it can also increase their productivity. A 2014 report by PWC on ‘CSR Employee Engagement’ found that when employees are highly motivated and engaged, they put in “57 percent more effort on the job and are 87 percent less likely to resign” than employees who are considered to be disengaged.

A corollary of a more engaged workforce is that it can dramatically reduce your employee turnover rate. Retaining your top performing staff for longer will save you substantial training costs. An analogous Gallup report on “The State of the American Workplace” found that disengaged workers cost the U.S. economy up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity and through their greater propensity to “steal from their companies, negatively influence their co-workers, miss workdays, and drive customers away”. By acting as a way of engaging and energising employees, we might say that volunteering can – albeit indirectly – lower costs for your company.

The Health Benefits of Volunteering

As if that weren’t enough justification, there is ample evidence that volunteering is good for your health. The Corporation for National and Community Service commissioned a report in to the benefits of giving to others which found that “volunteers report greater life satisfaction and better physical health than do non-volunteers”. The report also indicated that, among volunteers, “life satisfaction and physical health improves at a greater rate as a result of volunteering”. The health benefits of volunteering are not just in the physical realm – Andrew Haldane of the Bank of England, in his speech on the voluntary sector, noted how it reduced the incidence of depression, stress and anxiety.

AIB Corporate Volunteer team renovate a Dublin house for Habitat for Humanity (Source: Habitat Ireland)
AIB Corporate Volunteer team renovate a Dublin house for Habitat for Humanity (Source: Habitat Ireland)

Connections with the Local Community

The benefits of a CSR initiative for a charity can continue long after that programme may have concluded. Research shows participation by company directors in volunteering programmes makes these directors more likely to become charity trustees. A survey of 134 business volunteers by the charitable organisation Pilotlight indicated that 87 per cent of respondents expressed more interest in becoming charity trustees after they had been volunteering with a charity. Similarly, over two-thirds of all respondents said volunteering made them more likely to donate to a charity.

Given the clear benefits that we’ve outlined, it seems puzzling that many companies still do not operate a volunteering programme. However, there is a big leap between starting such an initiative and sustaining one that makes a real difference to people’s lives and the wider community.

Over the next few weeks, we will look at some of the obstacles to successful voluntary work, and we will also investigate some of the best employee volunteering programmes in Ireland to see exactly how they are getting it right.

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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