Is Workplace Volunteering a benefit or a bind?

Next week is National Volunteering Week, so I thought it a good time to reflect on the positive reasons for having a workplace volunteering scheme.  I have been a volunteer in many different organisations in a variety of roles, and I can vouch for the positive benefits – a sense of contribution, meeting lovely people, learning new skills and often having a lot of fun.

So why should an organisation offer its employees the opportunity to volunteer as part of their working life?  Is it to ‘look good’ to potential employees or customers, or are there real benefits for the company?

Having an organisational approach to volunteering can generate great benefits for your company, your employees, your community and your reputation.

People engaged on a company volunteering scheme report feeling high levels of personal achievement and an appreciate the opportunity to engage with a different group of people from their workplace.  Imagine helping to paint some walls with your boss, or running a three-legged race with that person in finance who always seems to want to nit-pick your expense claims. 

It helps create a stronger team with connections at all levels and in all departments and breaks down barriers leading to a great sense of belonging and loyalty to the organisation.  It can also help improve productivity as different areas work together rather than compete.

The connection with the voluntary or community group is also important as it enables the workforce to understand the issues faced in a different sector.  Workforce volunteers often gain great deal satisfaction from being able to help and share their expertise.  They often report improved physical and mental health as a result of working with the third sector which can reduce sickness absence levels.

Volunteering offers a great opportunity for your employees to learn new skills or develop existing ones in different surroundings.  It will enhance your employees CV’s and may make them suitable for an internal promotion which will benefit your organisation and improve their feeling of wellbeing. 

Many potential employees want to know how an organisation interacts with their community, so a workforce volunteering programme could give you a competitive advantage in the skills marketplace.

The fact that your workforce is supporting the community has a huge impact on your reputation, not only amongst the organisations who benefit, but on your customers, the families and friends of your employees and the voluntary body you have chosen to partner with.  It is a great PR and marketing opportunity with long lasting results.

What sort of opportunities are there?  Well, there are companies who include a day with their chosen voluntary organisation as part of the initial induction process – this could be practical help, painting walls, cooking meals, interacting with the community group or using their skills such as finance and accounting, project management, administration or training and coaching.

Other workplaces offer their employees an amount of time per year, one afternoon a month, a week a year or whatever, to work with their chosen partner.  This supports ongoing projects, enables continuity and builds a high level of connection between both parties.

Alternatively, the company could organise a fun day or a fundraising and awareness event on behalf of their chosen partner.  This offers little in the way of interaction with the voluntary body, but would offer team building, an opportunity to acquire new skills (event management, budget control) and is more often than not a lot of fun.  Cake sales, an office swear box or Christmas jumper collection are all easy ways of making your team feel involved and engaged in something other than just their job.

However you choose to work with a voluntary or community body, your company will benefit through improved morale, increased skills in your workforce and an improved reputation in your market place. 

A bit of advice though, if you are not already associated with a voluntary or community body, involve your employees in the decision on which organisation and how you will be involved. If the choice comes from the wider team, there will be much more support and participation and both sides will benefit.

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