Every company wants to be seen as a leader in Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG). But many ignore one of the most effective, efficient ways to fully engage their workforce in ESG leadership – empowering employees to volunteer their time on causes that matter to them. Organizations that sponsor employee volunteer programs can realize a three-fold benefit: making the world a better place, improving their employee’s holistic life and supporting a healthier and more productive work environment.
With all the macro challenges in the world, it’s important for companies to take action on issues like climate distress, widespread poverty, and racial injustice. At the same time, it’s also important for organizations to give individual employees the opportunity to make a difference in their communities.
So, what is employer sponsored volunteerism?
The Society for Human Resource Management defines it as supporting employees who pursue volunteer opportunities or perform community services. This support can include offering paid leave, providing direct sponsorship, and making information and resources available for volunteer activities – ranging from frontline volunteering to virtual participation. To show support, employers can give special recognition to employees who demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to their communities.
Americans want socially responsible companies – and they are willing to reward organizations that show leadership. A recent survey found that 77% of consumers were motivated to purchase from companies committed to making the world better, while 73% of investors believed efforts to help improve society and the environment contribute to investment returns.
Many companies already understand the value volunteer programs deliver to business and to employee wellbeing. In fact, standardizing mental health metrics, as well as neurodiversity, and their place in ESG frameworks, continues to gain traction at a global level. That’s why 66% of companies provided paid time off for employees to volunteer in 2019 and 40% of Fortune 500 companies offer volunteer grant programs. Employees are starting to seize the opportunity; one-third of workers already participate and more are soon to follow if executive leadership makes these programs a priority.
If doing good is not enough of an incentive, companies looking to demonstrate the ROI of volunteerism should consider these key benefits.
First, volunteering improves health and wellbeing. Research shows that volunteering has many benefits for physical and mental health. The Mayo Clinic links volunteer time to reduced stress, and increased positive and relaxed feelings. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) directly links volunteering with developing confidence, finding purpose, and improving happiness. Lower stress reduces the risk of many physical and mental health problems. So much so, that one study found that individuals who volunteer actually have lower overall mortality rates. Launching activities that support mental health in the workplace – like volunteerism – have the potential to manifest into increased productivity, a stronger workplace culture, and an overall healthier workforce.
Second, volunteering contributes to learning new skillsets. Volunteering can be viewed as a skills-based training program. Research suggests, volunteer time-off programs can build soft skills like public speaking, communication, teamwork, problem solving, work ethic, and time management. They can also help employees become responsible and adaptable workers enabling a greater contribution to company’s overall resiliency.
Third, volunteering enhances employee engagement. According to a United Healthcare study, employees who volunteer through work report feeling better about their employer and stronger bonds with co-workers. Both reduce turnover. PwC released a study that employees are 87% less likely to resign than employees who consider themselves disengaged. Volunteering is also an attractive strategy for recruitment. Revising old social contracts between employers and employees to include positive global and community impact will be essential for supporting Gen Z and the future of work.
The Harvard Business Review recommends several best practices for implementing volunteer initiatives: create a clear, specific policy; give employees choice; don’t make volunteering mandatory; involve other stakeholders to build support for the programs and increase their impact.
Many companies are making headlines for showing leadership in social responsibility. Patagonia offers the opportunity for employees to support grassroots environmental organizations through its employee Environmental internship program. This year, individuals from the program contributed 10,000 volunteer hours for 43 organizations.
Companies that embrace employer sponsored volunteerism can not only demonstrate good corporate citizenship but more importantly support their employees’ mental wellbeing – becoming better companies and stronger businesses in the process.