Benefits, Culture, Engagement, Branding

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness, but Maybe Volunteering Does

According to a recent study, 27% of U.S. travelers are planning to volunteer on a trip this year. Volunteerism, thankfully, is becoming a stronger trend, and in the case of potential employees in the Millennial generation, who, as a group, highly value volunteerism, it’s important to recognize this need in a benefits program. In fact, companies that have a solid volunteer time off (VTO) program in place will have a recruiting advantage in attracting those employees.

Source: Syda Productions / shutterstock

VTO programs are part of a larger employer trend in which benefits of all types are on the rise, according to SHRM’s 2018 Employee Benefits study. The increase is driven by the need to retain and recruit workers. More than one-third of employers surveyed increased benefits, SHRM reported. Health-related benefits (51%) and wellness (44%) topped the charts, while about one-quarter had increased benefits relating to leave, family-friendly, and flexible working benefits. Within the leave category, VTO is steadily rising: From 2014 to 2018, companies offering paid VTO rose from 16% to 24%.

The flexibility of taking a paid day to volunteer further illustrates the employee trend of wanting more control over not only leave but also “on-the-job” work schedules. In its report, SHRM noted telecommuting, flex time, and compressed workweeks encourage work/life balance and can result in higher productivity. Companies that used such benefits as a strategic tool for recruitment and retention reported a 58% better overall company performance compared with 34% that did not.

Blended Work Life

Volunteerism supports what MetLife describes as the “blended work-life world.” In its 2019 Employee Benefits Trend Study, MetLife found that 76% of employees believe “when work and life blend and enrich each other, everybody wins.” In the case of younger workers, MetLife discovered their careers take on greater weight, as work is a key part of how they define themselves and contributes to their “personal brand.” In the era of social media, this blended work life, which includes volunteerism, is the complete expression of who they are.

The younger demographics, whether recruits or employees, now expect organizations to see them holistically, supporting their work life and allowing for more flexibility. VTO programs accommodate employees’ desire to be involved in their communities without sacrificing family time in order to do so. Employees are able to designate nonprofits they’re passionate about and take time off to volunteer.

What Works with VTO

While we work in a tech-centric world these days, not all employees are necessarily engineers. To encourage companywide participation, opening up VTO to all recognized nonprofits can greatly increase employee interest. Ivanti used this approach, and the results have been dramatic: a 60% increase in volunteer hours from 700 all of last year to 468 hours in the first quarter alone.

Another aspect to consider is the corporate culture. It’s important to evaluate how easily unlimited VTO fits into an organization’s business model. A program like VTO can rise or fail depending on support at the manager level. Checking in with managerial staff at the beginning can identify obstacles to administering the program.

Because volunteerism is a very personal endeavor, VTO programs that support family involvement also can have a greater chance of success. Families can volunteer together, actualizing the blended work life that employees want. One company employee assisted his physician wife in more than 100 cataract surgeries in just 1 week, and they also assisted in delivering babies. It’s a great example of what can be done when employers support their employee volunteer family teams.

Trust and Happiness Go Together

By supporting the holistic work life of employees and acknowledging their need to connect with their communities, companies can help enable employee happiness. Trust and happiness are elements in any VTO program. Employees need to be able to self-coordinate the VTO, with employers trusting their commitment to their jobs. Scheduling VTO should not interfere with work priorities. Companies will find employees will do the right thing and honor the trust.

As MetLife noted, “Our research reveals that trust—primarily in an employer’s leadership and their commitment to employees’ success—is the most significant driver of employee happiness at work.”

Global Scale

Companies working on an international scale with many locations can implement in-region VTO, but front-end planning and a good system in place are required to capture feedback. One method that works is to have employees answer a survey after a volunteer experience and provide feedback on how well the program is doing. This captures participation metrics and helps refine the program going forward.

In-region VTO activities can also be great teambuilding experiences, as employees may join in on a project and feel more connected to the “headquarters” office.

VTO Part of Desired Work/Life Benefits

Organizations are increasingly seeing the connection between VTO and nurturing employees’ growing desire for a blended work life. They also see the clear return on investment (ROI) in offering such benefits. SHRM said, “As the economy continues to improve and the job market evolves from an employer- to a candidate-driven market, it is essential that organizations leverage their benefits to recruit and retain top talent.” VTO is becoming an important element in this evolving benefits landscape.

Joining Ivanti (then LANDESK) in 2011, Sue Urses has more than 25 years of HR experience, nine of them in high technology. She has global responsibility for Ivanti human resource strategy and functions in nearly 20 countries. Prior to Ivanti, Sue was Director of HR for IM Flash Technologies, an Intel/Micron joint venture, and also served in key HR roles in the contract security and staffing industries. She is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). Sue was appointed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert as a business-representative member of the UtahFutures.org Steering Committee. She also serves as an HR advisor and board member for the non-profit Work Activity Center that assists people with disabilities, plus she co-chairs the Human Resources Forum for the Utah Technology Council.