Most of today’s large organisations realise that encouraging employees to volunteer in their communities is a good thing.
If you unlock their energy and passion, employees can be extraordinarily powerful agents of change.
But what’s in it for business?
Why pay your staff to work for others for free?
Quite simply, it’s because volunteering is one of those genuine win-win propositions: It works for communities, it works for employees and it works for organisations.
Volunteer programmes have become a tool for attracting and retaining talent.
Companies use it to their competitive advantage knowing that today’s employees look beyond pay and benefits — they want to work for organisations that put an effort into developing people and communities and create sustainable value for shareholders.
Staff become more engaged
Research has shown that staff who volunteer in the community are more engaged and more likely to stay with their employer.
And of course, staff who are more engaged typically provide higher levels of customer service and are more productive.
For Generation Y graduates, volunteer programmes are fast becoming something they expect from prospective employers.
Volunteering is not just about bumping up the corporate “feel-good” factor or ticking a philanthropic box.
It is about connecting to the economies and societies in which you want to play a long-term role.
When it comes to the discipline and planning required for effective volunteering, companies are ideally suited to organising and mobilising large numbers of people.
At Standard Chartered, the volunteer programme has grown rapidly in just a few years.
Last year, the bank offered each staff member three days’ paid leave for volunteering as part of its wider “Here for good” brand promise.
Volunteering is one of the best ways that individuals can demonstrate they are “here for good”.
The bank’s employees responded by giving more than 392,400 hours of their time to communities, up 315 per cent from 2009. Like many of today’s companies, we believe that we can make our community investment go further by contributing more than financial donations.
It can be a lifelong habit
It seems to me, if you can get people to volunteer once, you stand a chance of making it a lifelong habit.
People rarely fail to be moved by the experience, and I include myself in that. Whether it’s handing out free spectacles to school children in Jakarta or painting a school in Bangladesh or building an outdoor activity space for girls in India, I find the experience exceptionally rewarding.
Volunteering demonstrates that a business can be about more than the profit it makes; it can be a force for good.
In a recent global staff survey, 74 per cent of Standard Chartered’s staff said that employee volunteering had increased their job satisfaction. I believe that we are only just starting to see what employee volunteering can achieve.
Globally, there is still a shortage of statistics as to its overall effect on communities, people and organisations. These are important because they can help to build a compelling case for businesses that are not yet on board.
As we build a clearer picture of how, when and where employee volunteering can have the biggest impact, we will be able to realise more of its great potential.
Employer plays a role too
Meanwhile, organisations need to continuously review their programmes, adapting strategies where required to make the most difference.
Offering paid leave is not enough; it is essential to put in the infrastructure that makes volunteering easy.
In Singapore, for example, the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre found that as many as two-thirds of employees would take part if their employer were to organise volunteer activities — highlighting the role that organisations can play in encouraging volunteering.
Last year, Standard Chartered launched iVolunteer, a global online platform that lets its staff access volunteering opportunities and share their stories.
We also set targets for individual countries for the first time. Both played a part in the dramatic increase in our 2010 numbers.
No company engaging in employee volunteering will do so without a challenge.
In many markets, the practice is still in its infancy, and attitudes vary widely from country to country. Organisations must allow for this when designing global programmes.
Extending skills-based volunteering is another area in which a careful balance has to be struck.
It is clear that volunteering can be particularly effective when staff share their specialised knowledge and experience with communities.
Rigid, mandatory programmes are a recipe for disengagement.
Companies can truly make a difference when employees connect with the issues that matter most to them and the communities where they live and work.
When organisations get it right, employee volunteering is good for communities, good for people and good for business.