Employee volunteering - where CSR and HR meet

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This article was written by Gennie Franklin, Director of Programmes and Employee Volunteering, Business in the Community (BITC).

Volunteering is an important part of creating a healthy, motivated and engaged employee profile and its importance is only likely to increase as employees’ expectations of employers rise. Employee volunteering is a fast moving space both in terms of the ways companies are integrating it into core business but also the types of activity that are being seen. CSR and HR teams are working closely together to develop exciting offers for employees which make a huge contribution to local communities.

For years corporate volunteering was confined to pockets of activity driven by passionate individuals within a business. Now we see it as a key point of collaboration between HR and CSR teams.

Approximately 70 percent of FTSE 100 businesses have an active EV Programme. [‘Employee Volunteering: Who is benefitting now?’ CSV]. For CSR teams, volunteering publically demonstrates a company’s commitment to its local community. Research from CSV demonstrates that 88 percent of consumers are more likely to buy from a business that visibly supports activities to improve society. [‘Employee Volunteering: Who is benefitting now?’ CSV]

Cathy Lewis, HR Director at Prudential UK & Europe, sees volunteering as an important way to connect with local communities “Any business is ‘in’ the community it works in, but truly being ‘part of it’ is more of a challenge. At Prudential, it’s crucial we are part of our community.”

For HR teams, volunteering provides development opportunities, builds team work and boosts morale. Benefits for individuals are wide-ranging, from increased confidence and self-esteem, to soft and hard skills including leadership, communication and project management. In a YouGov survey of over 1000 employees, 96 percent of managers believe that workplace skills can be gained from volunteering and 57 percent of managers feel that skills gained can help fill gaps in the workplace. [Volunteering is the Business Employers’ and employees’ attitudes to workplace based volunteering, YouGov (December 2010)]

Over three hundred companies have taken BITC’s Employee Volunteering Check Up since July 2010. One in five of those companies have fully integrated employee volunteering as a tool for delivering learning and development objectives and/or motivating employees. Half of the companies proactively encourage employees to volunteer and target influential groups such as graduates, high potentials and senior managers.

But not only has the role of volunteering changed, the definition of volunteering is also expanding.

What was once dominated by employees painting community centres for a day or clearing up a local park, is now moving towards skills-based volunteering, making the most of the talent that businesses have at their disposal. We are seeing this in Give & Gain Day, which has seen over 60,000 employees out volunteering in their community since 2008. Five years ago, 99 percent of projects were physical, gardening, painting. This is now closer to 60 percent with 40 percent skills-based. Companies now want to offer a range of volunteering opportunities to their staff matching their talents and motivations to community needs – whether it’s a bank doing financial literacy with young people or recruitment consultants running an employability workshop with a group of long-term unemployed.

Pro bono work is also an interesting area of volunteering. It was once the preserve of the legal profession but now it’s being integrated into volunteering strategies across different sectors. It’s particularly valuable in the creative or digital industries where employees can try out new techniques and processes outside of their normal working environment, still delivering what’s required and adding skills.

Here at BITC we’ve been developing an exciting programme which is the ultimate form of volunteering – Business Connectors. Business Connectors are talented secondees from businesses who are trained and placed in communities of greatest need to build partnerships between the private and voluntary sectors. The commitment is for at least 12 months.

Commenting, Lily Heinemann, Head of Corporate Responsibility and Community Investment at Royal Mail Group said: “We are an integral part of every community in the UK, delivering to every UK address and connecting millions. Business Connectors helps us give back to these communities while supporting the development of our colleagues. Our secondees...come back to us with greater community awareness, stronger network and a wider set of skills.”

Kelly Metcalf, a Business Connector in Salford seconded from Fujitsu has found the experience really valuable. "I've always worked in HR and I was keen to explore other areas. Becoming a Business Connector gave me the perfect opportunity to do so. On any given day I feel like a management consultant, PR specialist, mediator, sales person and project manager. When I return to Fujitsu, I'll be ensuring I build my learning into my future roles."

Whatever the type of volunteering, demonstrating business value is vital. British Gas’ involvement in Cardiff Cares saw the employee retention rate reach 99.6 percent for those participating. Hard metrics are being given to volunteering programmes, not just measuring numbers involved but the contribution to the community and the benefits to the volunteer. Cathy Lewis commented: “We regularly evaluate our programme and we see the return on investment. 89 percent of colleagues see Prudential as a responsible business, well above the industry norm, and 70 percent of volunteers say their volunteering has had a positive influence on how they feel about working at Prudential. We know from this, and other data, that employee volunteering sits alongside other employee benefits as a way to help us recruit and retain talent, essential for any business.”

Some businesses feel that volunteering is so important they tie it into performance reviews. Lloyds Banking Group executive leaders can choose to have volunteering in their scorecards to demonstrate its importance. Employees are also encouraged to think about volunteering for their development plans and to have conversations with their line managers about how they might use volunteering through the year.

It’s a particularly interesting time for employers as more and more Millennials enter the job market. Aside from career progression and financial incentives 35 percent are attracted to their employer by excellent development programmes. [‘Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace,' PWC] Over 50 percent of Millenials think that in the future business will achieve the greatest impact on solving society’s biggest challenges. [‘Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace,' PWC]   With this in mind, the role of volunteering in the creation of a healthy, motivated and engaged employee profile is only likely to increase.

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20th Jun 2013 05:32

 A corporate question, What's Innit For Me has driven this strategy. By broadening the horizons of employees, driving change becomes easier and there's probably a side-benefit of free- training for those employees with the initiative to seek out areas which interest them.

But the corporate gates are firmly locked against reciprocal benefit for would-be staff. Twice I've offered pro bono with a year-end guarantee to medical research institutions and been rejected by HR on the grounds of a lack of allegiance to the organisation, unless indentured by wages. Desperation to enter a field was greeted with suspicion. This despite bringing two decades of (relevant) IT, Bach Degree and other tertiary healthcare awards with clinical postgrad underway. A Master of Public Health with the same offer was also turned away! Thanks HR, yet another hit to public health spending.

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