Employee volunteering is more than just a noble gesture, it’s a strategic opportunity that benefits both businesses and communities. What’s more, employers actively engaging in corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, have the edge over competitors when it comes to recruiting and retaining good people. So, what are the key benefits for employers in allowing employees time to volunteer and why should you build it into your company culture? Here’s our guide to employee volunteering.

What is employee volunteering?

Also known as employer-supported volunteering (ESV), it offers staff the chance to volunteer during their working hours. Many employers have introduced it into company culture to support local communities or organisations aligned with their ethos and values. Essentially, it offers employees time and skills for the wider good. Most programmes take part under what’s known as ‘volunteering leave’.

Types of volunteering

Typically, employers set up regular agreements with local charities or organisations to work on specific projects. These can be on an ongoing basis or on a project basis.

As individuals will have diverse interests and motivations when it comes to volunteering, it’s essential to offer a well-rounded ESV programme with ample options. This should allow employees at all levels time off to volunteer and make an impact, as well as use this time to support charities of their own choosing.

Some of the more common options include:

  • Short-term or one-off volunteering opportunities: these involve brief tasks that are more manageable for busy teams. They also provide a good introduction to volunteering for those who may not have got involved before. These include delivering talks in schools, for example. At Bespoke HR, we take part in local school careers day hosting mock interviews and advising on CVs.
  • Long-term volunteering: these help staff make a sustainable commitment to support specific communities or organisations. This could involve mentoring, working on community projects or taking on a long-term commitment such as becoming a school governor. Here at Bespoke HR, we have signed up to the government and Enterprise Nation’s ‘Help to grow’ mentoring scheme to assist start-ups and entrepreneurs on their business journey.

Benefits of employee volunteering

There are many benefits for both employees and employers in creating a company culture that embraces ESV programmes.

  • Impacts employee engagement and retention

By allowing employees to volunteer in programmes that are aligned with their personal values, you will increase motivation and in turn loyalty. This ultimately leads to improved job satisfaction, morale and a stronger connection to the company’s culture.

  • Develops employee skills and offers learning opportunities

Through volunteering, employees can obtain new skills and gain a fresh perspective on problem-solving. The skills learnt during volunteering can be transferred to teamwork, leadership and communication within the workplace.

  • Contributes to Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS)

The commitment to CSR highlights to staff, but also customers and stakeholders, the business’s values and brand.

  • Positions you as an attractive employer

In a competitive marketplace, employees are demanding more than just a good salary. They want to work somewhere aligned with their values and beliefs. According to a LinkedIn study, over half of the respondents stated they wouldn’t work for a business that didn’t share their values, even if they were offered a pay increase.

  • Supports team building and collaboration

Employee volunteering can create an inclusive and collaborative workplace. When employees come together to serve a common cause they inevitably build stronger relationships and develop a shared sense of camaraderie.

  • Makes a meaningful contribution to the community

Above all, by addressing local or nationwide social issues, companies can positively impact the lives of individuals and create a sense of goodwill. This is also good for business, attracting customers who align with the company values.

How to introduce employer-supported volunteering

  1. Gauge interest and support from employees – speak to staff to learn whether there is an appetite and willingness to participate.
  2. Define the goals and objectives – understand what the purpose will be, clarifying social issues that align with the company’s own values and mission.
  3. Form a team or committee – who will be responsible for driving this forward and monitoring its outcomes. This should include staff at all levels from across the business to offer a wide representation of views.
  4. Develop the relevant policies and guidelines – setting out clear guidance on how the programme will work (see below).
  5. Identify potential community partners – researching and identifying partners that fit with the project’s objectives.
  6. Plan activities – working closely with the partners to design meaningful volunteering activities.
  7. Promote the programme to all staff – raising awareness of its aims and objectives, the time commitment needed and how to get involved.
  8. Provide the relevant resources and support – this includes time off but could also include access to relevant material.
  9. Evaluate and measure – as the programme goes along it’s important to measure its impact and outcomes.
  10. Recognise achievements – highlight the positive impact employee volunteering has on the community and reward those who have achieved good things as part of it.

You will need to determine how much time you will allow employees to take off for volunteering, weighing up the impact on your business. For example, employers like Surrey County Council allow staff two paid full days per year for volunteering. Digital marketing agency, Platypus Digital, encourages staff to dedicate 10% of their monthly billable working hours to use pro-bono for a charity of their choice.

What to include in an employee volunteering policy

It’s essential to create a clear set of policies and guidelines that outlines the purpose, objectives and guidelines around the programme. It should include:

  • Criteria for participation
  • Expectations – time commitments and roles.
  • Requesting volunteering leave – timelines for submissions and process required.
  • Potential benefits or incentives for employees to participate.
  • Volunteering suggestions – how these requests will be managed.
  • You will need to also develop a time off policy (including the maximum time allowance for volunteering).
  • Employee code of conduct – this could link to your existing handbook but should define what’s expected of employees when undertaking volunteering activities.
  • Expense reimbursement
  • Confidentiality and data protection – addressing the issue of confidentiality of any sensitive information encountered during the activity.

Useful resources