A growing trend among employers is programs designed to increase the volunteer efforts of employees. How successful are these programs? What’s the purpose of these programs? The answer is like so many others in business: it depends.
Your volunteer program could be enhancing morale and aiding retention, or it could be turning employees off. It could be bolstering the company’s image in the community, or heightening the perceptions that your philanthropy is self-serving.
Thoughtful development of an employee volunteer program is required for the program to produce the right outcomes, including strengthening retention, enhancing employee wellbeing, and making a difference in our communities.
Some programs can produce unintended and undesirable outcomes. Here are a few ways a volunteering program could yield more damage than good:
- “Volunteering” is mandatory. This happens when employers aim to enhance teamwork by forcing employees to participate in a volunteer activity together. Employees who are “voluntold” will bristle.
- The volunteer efforts are focused on the pet project of the owner or leadership. Employees may rebel if their volunteer efforts must be focused on the passion of the owner instead of investing in something that is personally meaningful.
- Volunteering is seen solely to enhance public relations and drive new business. If the efforts are simply another marketing tool, those efforts may be perceived as lacking genuineness. Employees don’t want to play a role in being fake.
Employee volunteer programs can be impactful in the community and personally satisfying for both the employer and the employee. Below are four ways to ensure your employee volunteer program produces the intended outcomes.
- Create space for employees to volunteer. Employer-sponsored volunteer activities on company time can be planned and provided for employees. Or one or more paid days can be provided to each employee each year to volunteer with the organization of their choice and on the day of their choosing.
- Aim for engaging the passion of the employees. The best way to do this is to allow employees to choose where they volunteer. Employees can be encouraged to volunteer with an organization that matches their personal passion. Some employers use a hybrid model that gives employees the flexibility to choose a volunteer opportunity that aligns with the three to five mission-oriented focuses of the employer.
- Emphasize how volunteering can make a difference. People want to be engaged with something that is impactful. We want to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Even if the volunteer strategy is directed by the employer, emphasize the impact of the activity.
- Communicate the benefits of volunteering. Employers can share how volunteering can benefit the employee. Some of the key personal benefits of volunteering include:
- Volunteering provides a sense of purpose.
- Volunteering allows us to make a difference.
- Volunteering provides opportunities to meet new people.
- Volunteering allows us to learn new skills.
- Volunteering allows us to “give” to causes that matter to us.
- Volunteering lessens the effects of stress and anxiety
- Volunteering helps us fight depression.
- Volunteering promotes better mental health
A well-designed and thoughtful employee volunteer program can benefit the employer, the community, and the employee.
Written by Jack Bruce, Director of Population Health & Wellbeing at The Benefit Company. Georgia Audubon is one of Jack’s favorite non-profits with which to volunteer.