Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Employee Volunteering – If it’s so important, why aren’t we all doing it?

By Andrea Grace Rannard

Employee volunteering is widely acknowledged as an integral component of a company’s CSR activity. Yet, many companies don’t integrate it into their operations by giving staff time off to volunteer. And, for those companies that do, not all staff utilise it. So, do we take employee volunteering that seriously?

According to the 2010-11 Citizenship Survey, 25% of people volunteer on a monthly basis (1). If a company is a microcosm of wider society, then regardless of the formalised mechanisms to foster a culture of volunteering, people will not always engage with it.

Some companies are concerned that establishing a policy will result in huge uptake and adverse impact on core business. However, this can be refuted on two accounts: First, for any responsible employer, community investment via employee volunteering is core business. Second, offering employees time off to volunteer is a marathon rather than a sprint. For example, the FSA, who integrate volunteering into appraisals, offer employees up to 27 days of volunteering leave a year. Yet, only 20% of the workforce is engaged (2)

The main reason cited by people for not volunteering is a lack of time (3). So, perhaps addressing this barrier by formally allowing staff time off to volunteer will go some way in demonstrating a company’s commitment to CSR and employees without the fear of 100% workforce engagement.

Browsing through a company’s CR report, it is obvious that volunteering is a useful mechanism to report employee engagement and community impact. Yet, despite the importance of capturing outputs, there appear to be mixed feelings about embedding employee volunteering into operations, for example through appraisals and volunteering leave days.

From a company perspective, adapting HR procedures to implement new volunteering policies can involve significant resource. If the demand from staff isn’t explicit, why make company-wide changes?

Of course, employee volunteering arrangements can be made on an informal basis between employees and line managers, not necessitating formal procedure. The output remains the same – employees volunteer. Also, an informal approach may make volunteering more attractive.

However, as with any activity a company takes seriously – whether it is promoting diversity or sustainable procurement – formalisation is helpful to embed a company-wide culture and demonstrate commitment. Creating formalised channels for volunteering can also ensure a more robust data capture system, supporting wider CSR reporting. This includes generating personal case studies that bring reporting to life.

Another benefit of having a policy on volunteering is that it helps reinforce the company’s brand and reputation. Allowing volunteering leave can also make the company an attractive place to work, forming part of a wider portfolio of employee benefits such as training, pension and healthcare provision.

Finally, there is significant evidence to support the engaged employer argument (Gallup 2006, CMI 2008,MacLeod and Clarke 2009) including reduced staff turnover, higher levels of productivity and profitability, fewer sick days, increased levels of innovation and improved morale. (4-6)


(1) Department for Communities and Local Government (2011) Citizenship Survey: 2010-11

(April 2010 – March 2011, England), Statistical Release Number 16

(2) Corporate Citizenship (2010) Volunteering – The Business Case: The benefits of coporate volunteering programmes in education

(3) National Centre for Social Research in partnership with the Institute for Volunteering Research (2007) A National Survey of Volunteering and Charitable Giving 2006-07 (Helping Out)

(4) Gallup (2006) Gallup Study: Feeling Good Matters in the Workplace

(5) Kumar, V. and Wilton, P. (2008) ‘Briefing note for the MacLeod Review’, Chartered Management Institute

(6) MacLeod, D. and Clarke, N. (2009) Engaging for Success: enhancing performance through employee engagement