Employers who allow their employees additional annual leave to complete charity work during office hours are more likely to keep their workforce, according to a growing body of research.
A Canadian survey found more than 55 per cent of workers would like their work places to support their volunteer work. It’s supported by American studies showing that eight out of 10 CEOs believe employee volunteer programs help achieve social goals, and a more recent survey of Gen Y jobseekers (age 18-26) would value working for a company that allows them to use their skills to support non-profit organizations.
Employee volunteer programs are growing in popularity, says Volunteer Toronto director of communications Jessica Reynolds. The programs help employees feel recognized as individuals, and see their employers as part of their community, which improves engagement and retention.
“The benefits of offering paid days off for volunteering to employees are numerous – helping to create a positive work-life balance, developing new skills, promoting a culture of trust and improving retention,” Reynolds says. “Employees that engage in paid time off for volunteering see their activities as a part of a set of values that they share with the company, and as a result of volunteering, with the community at large.”
A number of large Canadian companies offer time off to volunteer including Mountain Equipment Co-op, Acenture and Shell Canada. Shell employees get up to three paid days off per year. Last year employees donated over 2,800 hours volunteering with charitable projects, supporting about 1,000 organizations. The company's charitable program focuses on three areas: the environment, education and employee volunteerism.
Melissa Brown from the Centre on Philanthropy at Indiana University said more companies are granting employees paid time off to do pro bono work for charities than ever before, and it’s good for morale and promotes work/life balance. “Volunteers return as better employees with a more enhanced skill set. And it's good for recruiting, as more younger employees expect that companies will give them time off for this kind of work,” she said.
However, Brown said, the planning stage is critical before rolling out any company charity programs, and HR must ensure it does not become a cause of stress amongst colleagues.
Company charity programs – points to consider
Recognize both the advantages and disadvantages of workplace charity efforts. Be mindful that despite the best intentions, some employees may have enough responsibility in their lives already and may view additional commitment as a source of stress.
Determine if time off for charity work will be paid, unpaid or a mixture of both. If your organization uses software to determine the amount of man hours needed per project, factor hours for charity work into the overall project time. If it becomes clear that paid time off during work hours will affect your productivity negatively, consider allowing unpaid time off that can be made up during an evening or weekend shift.
Gauge how much interest your employees have in community work by conducting either a formal or informal survey. Some employees may already be involved in charity work on their own time and some may want to keep as clear a line as possible between work and charity.
If a large number of key employees indicate interest in charity work, plan to keep a strict schedule allowing only one or two employees time off during each shift. Communicate that they are still responsible for making sure their work gets done by either doing it themselves before or after charity work or by delegating tasks to someone else. If only a small number of employees indicate interest in charity work, it may be better to officially sponsor a certain charity, and allow those who are interested to engage in a few events throughout the year.
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