What a difference a day makes: the rewards of employee volunteering

Worried that providing volunteering opportunities in your small business might be too costly? Even a few hours a month gives something back to the community – and there can be other workplace benefits, too.

"I want to do something that makes a difference in life." It's a sentiment often expressed in many workplaces. But work can be too demanding. Life gets in the way. These unfortunate justifications for not yet having done anything about it prevent delivery of one of the greatest gifts we can give to others: our time.

For most companies, particularly small firms fighting for growth, letting their employees take extra time off seems like poor judgement. Not so, says Kristen Stephenson, Volunteering Development Manager for the National Council for Voluntary Organisations. "We know from talking to businesses that allowing time for employees to volunteer brings many benefits back into the business."

Taking employees out of their usual workplace and placing them in a new context, allowing them to meet new people and take on new challenges, can help them learn new skills. These experiences can greatly benefit the individual and their employer when they are back in the workplace.

"It's a way to diversify the experience and skills of staff, helping with employee engagement," explains Stephenson. "Companies that support staff-volunteering tend to have a happier and more engaged workforce."

A research paper jointly published in 2015 by NCVO and the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) shows that 65 per cent of those who took part in volunteering reported increased communication skills, and 59 per cent reported an increase in confidence. A separate CIPD paper shows highly engaged employees as providing up to 57 per cent more discretionary effort than the disengaged.

Thinking practically

It might not be feasible for a small firm to consent to staff volunteering for regular full days. A frank discussion about what is practical for business and employee in terms of workload and the roles staff undertake is essential to find a workable solution, says Stephenson. Some employers offer 'volunteering leave'. This opens up a dedicated number of days each year and, perhaps decisively, allows the business to plan around those days.

Right for all

Whether it is a whole day or a few hours, charities value that time, especially if the volunteer brings professionals skills. However, says Stephenson, volunteers can undertake something that is a complete contrast to their working day. "Sometimes that is what employees and employers are looking for from their volunteering."

To get the most from volunteering, finding the right role for employer and employee is crucial. It will ensure the company's goals are met, and it will keep the volunteer motivated, offer them the all-important 'feel good' factor and enable them to achieve the personal and work-based development they seek.

Increasingly, companies are using volunteering as a means of supporting the professional and personal development of leaders in their organisation. "Taking people out of their comfort zone, putting them in different contexts, and getting them to think about challenges in different ways can help develop and even find leadership talent," explains Stephenson. NCVO's own Step-on-Board programme has been set up to help companies explore this pathway.

Reaching out

The joint CIPD and NVCO survey showed that 65 per cent of respondents would be more likely to work for an employer that encourages and promotes volunteering. Conversely, PwC's Millennials at Work report shows that 56 per cent of graduates would consider leaving a company that didn't have the values they expected. "In a world where people are increasingly thinking about who they work for, a company can, through its volunteer programme, actively demonstrate its own values and ethics," comments Stephenson.

For a business keen to explore setting up a volunteering programme, in the first instance make contact with a local volunteer centre.

This will be able to explain the makeup of the local charity and volunteer sector and, in many cases, be able to make suitable introductions.

For more information on volunteering in the workplace, click here

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