Encouraging Employees to Volunteer Has Many Benefits

Monday through Thursday, Michelle—the corporate vice president—shows up to the office in a stylish suit and is well prepped for her many meetings. But on alternate Fridays, she’s in jeans and tennis shoes, chopping onions as she prepares lunch for the local homeless center. These two different scenarios aren’t all that surprising, although what may be unexpected is that Michelle is on company time both at the office and at the shelter.  She’s part of one of many companies that encourages voluntarism at work.

Employee voluntarism is growing. And most programs have expanded far beyond the once-a-year food drive. Many volunteer programs allow employees to devote significant portions of their work to helping others. As businesses have found, there are compelling reasons to developing robust employee volunteer programs:

  • Purposeful work: The paycheck is important, but it isn’t everything. Employees want to work for an organization that shares and promotes their values. Who would you rather be at a cocktail party—the obscenely paid executive at a company known for mediocre goods or the fairly paid executive at a business that is highly regarded for its social responsibility programs? Certainly, most of us would prefer to be affiliated with a highly regarded organization even if it means not affording a private jet. People want to be fairly compensated, but they also want to be associated with an organization that engages in activities that have meaning and that align with their values.
  • Teambuilding and silo busting: Most volunteer activities allow ample interaction among employees from a variety of departments. It’s a great way to break down silos and to encourage better communication across the company. Additionally, people engage in interesting conversations when sharing a volunteer experience. Don’t force it, but many brainstorming sessions have occurred while painting a classroom or making sandwiches for seniors.
  • Hierarchy flattening: Volunteer projects often put the CEO beside a sales associate as they wash dishes or cook spaghetti. It’s a great opportunity for executives and staff to get to know one another. In fact, it’s not unusual to see all ranks of people laughing together through their tears as they chop onions in unison.
  • Growing leaders: Encourage those who may not have leadership opportunities on the job to head up volunteer teams. It’s a great way to teach management skills and build confidence for up-and-comers.
  • Job stickiness: Employees who volunteer with their companies typically perceive their employer as having stronger values. And since people gravitate toward organizations that display strong values, employees are more engaged and more committed to these companies. That’s good for employee retention. People are not always looking to leave an organization that they respect.
  • Enticing others: While voluntarism is good for retention, it’s equally good for recruitment—especially if you do a good job of promoting the work being done by current employees. People who want more than to simply collect their pay are attracted to companies with robust social responsibility and volunteer programs. This attraction is especially strong among Millennials who have grown up to respect those organizations that do more to give back to their communities.
  • CSR experimentation: If you are building a corporate social responsibility (CSR) program, it may be a good idea to test a few smaller activities with your employees. After a few weeks of sending employees into the field, ask them for insights on which community partners they prefer to work with while volunteering. This information can be very useful in deciding whether or not you want to pursue bigger programs with a potential partner.
  • Getting active: Many volunteer opportunities involve some physical work. That’s great news for office workers who sit most of the day. Having active employees is also good for reducing the overall healthcare costs of your organization.
  • Adding to your story: Your company can add to its narrative by showcasing employees who help out in their communities. Even if you’re already telling stories about your products and services, there is nothing more resounding to the human experience than the act of helping others. These activities will speak volumes to the nature and purpose of your company.

Tomorrow we’ll look at how to start up an employee volunteer program.