The holiday season is when many of us turn our attention to food, family, food, football, and did we mention food? But the holidays aren’t all about extra helpings. They’re also about helping others.
While your employees might be thinking about doing some good in their communities, you might be thinking about how volunteerism might similarly do some good for your own organization. Indeed, SHRM research shows that employee volunteerism can help:
- Increase loyalty and motivation by giving employees a greater sense of well-being at the opportunity to help others.
- Improve skills related to leadership, coaching, conflict management, and other abilities.
- Create a better employee experience by exposing people to different colleagues, departments, and environments.
- Build team capabilities by encouraging collaboration.
However, at many companies, a volunteerism “strategy” might be nothing more than allowing extra PTO to volunteer or matching fundraising donations. In other words, there is no strategy. As a result, well-meaning organizations might be missing opportunities to create a culture of volunteerism capable of reaping a range of positive outcomes. According to findings from Deloitte’s Volunteerism Survey:
- 70% of employees believe volunteer activities are more likely to boost morale than company-sponsored happy hours.
- 77% say company-sponsored volunteer activities are essential to employee well-being.
- 89% believe that companies that sponsor volunteer efforts offer a better overall working environment than those that do not.
To develop a program that benefits your people, your community, and your company, it helps to think about volunteerism as a continuum based on organizational involvement. In HRM’s Role in Corporate Social and Environmental Sustainability, the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation describes five levels of company participation when it comes to volunteerism.
1. Private volunteerism — At this level, employees choose activities to do on their own time. There’s often little corporate awareness, let alone involvement — and as a result, no real benefit to the organization. However, you might reap some indirect benefits if an employee’s activity builds skills that the person can transfer to the workplace. For example, if someone helps organize events for a charity on the side, the employee might grow abilities to become a better leader at work. Nonetheless, the best employers take a more proactive approach to volunteer programs.
2. Employer-supported volunteerism — At this stage, organizations acknowledge their people’s volunteer activities by recognizing employees for their good work, providing them with resources, or helping to fund their efforts. However, since this is essentially done on an ad hoc basis, such support benefits individual workers more than your organization as a whole.
3. Employer-sponsored volunteerism — A common example of sponsored volunteerism is when people participate or compete as teams in the name of the company during a charity event. For instance, not long ago, Viventium’s employees walked as a group to raise money to support the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Principal benefits include enhanced team-building, camaraderie, and organizational reputation. (We had fun, too!)
4. Employer-planned volunteerism — Unlike in the previous stage, in which outside groups arrange activities, at this level, employees volunteer for projects developed by your company. This not only leverages the positive outcomes inherent to previous stages — teamwork, organizational reputation, etc. — it also potentially impacts your culture more deeply. For instance, your company may create a daylong event during which employees read to school children or work at animal shelters.
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5. Business-integrated volunteerism — This is the holy grail of volunteering. The main difference between this and the prior level is that the activities you develop are strategically tied to your business. It’s a way to bring your mission, vision, and values to life. Take Home Depot, for example. You can see how employees volunteering to improve veterans’ homes helps enhance the brand.
Ultimately, all volunteerism is great. The continuum of initiatives is not to imply that you should focus efforts exclusively at one level. Rather, your strategy can easily blend activities from multiple stages to achieve true cultural transformation — and still leave time for holiday bingeing!