Employee Volunteerism: A Path to Better Engagement
by Derek Linsell on 29/08/2011
What does a small amount of paid time off to do volunteer work mean for an employee?
Apparently a lot more than you think.
Last year, Hewitt Associates partnered with Canadian Business for Social Responsibility to understand the correlation between employee engagement and a company’s CSR efforts. After gathering opinions from over 100,000 employees and 2,000 leaders at more than 230 workplaces, the research team concluded:
“The findings demonstrate that organizations with high employee engagement have a higher degree of readiness to focus on CSR as a strategy to improve overall organizational performance and better meet the needs of employees and external stakeholders.”
Eighty-six per cent of employees at organizations with high engagement agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that they worked for an employer that was socially and environmentally responsible. That figure was 71 per cent at employers with moderate engagement and only 60 per cent at those with low engagement.
These findings can be interpreted in several different ways. For one, at my consultancy, we have found that organizations that function well internally – those that value leadership, staff dialogue and participation – often are highly engaged with external communities. We have discovered the inverse true as well – dysfunctional organizations rarely have stellar CSR programs, probably because they lack the culture and mechanisms for employee engagement and participation inside of the organization – never mind in the outside world.
Second, if a company understands the value of engagement, they are going to understand that this takes a number of forms – individual leadership training activities, work committees, diversity or gender based resource groups, or in the local community. Building a multi-faceted employee means giving them the opportunity to hone skills in a number of different contexts.
However, when do employee engagement and CSR move beyond a public relations or talent retention strategy and cross into business growth? A couple of case studies highlight this point well.
Manila Water Company
Manila is a city that has been historically plagued by unequal access to clean water. In 1997, the Philippines government privatized the state owned utility Manila Water Company (MWC) by granting a concession contract to MWC. After the IFC directed concession from the government operator to Manila Water, the company launched a “Walk the Line” program. Once a month, all company staff – from managers to district level representatives – visited their customers, including residents of informal settlements, to consult with them on water access in their community. By adopting a grassroots approach to serving low-income consumers, the company was able to integrate key stakeholders into its operations as a source of intelligence and strategic business planning. It also importantly gave MWC staff members the opportunity to interact closely with consumer communities and to be direct drivers of social impact and innovation. In less than 10 years after the acquisition, the number of people served by MWC increased by 300% – mostly as a result of increased employee knowledge and investment in their customer base.
Other companies, such as IBM and Patagonia grant their employees off-site time to deal with real world problems. IBM, for example, selected 600 high-potential employees to engage in solving real problems across the world in emerging and developing markets through its Corporate Services Corp. Stanley S. Litow, vice-president of corporate citizenship and corporate affairs, described it as a “corporate version of the Peace Corps.” He explained, “What we as a company get is leaders with a broader range of skills that can function in a global context. What the individual participant gets is a unique set of leadership opportunities and development experiences. And what communities get are IBM’s best problem solving skills. It’s a triple benefit.”
Patagonia offers its employees a month-long paid internship at an environmental organization of their choice, supporting the company’s strong ethos of environmentalism and mission of creating outdoors sporting apparel. “It also benefits the larger Patagonia culture,” the company website explains, “Volunteers return with a powerful sense of purpose and accomplishment that inspires their colleagues and encourages other employees to work on behalf of the natural world.”
These initiatives not only mean a lot to employees, but they also benefit employers in less attrition, increased engagement, and innovation. What’s more, taking the time to create a volunteer program that actually ties back to business goals can be meaningful to staff and ultimately profitable for companies. The next time you’re thinking about ways to engage your workers, think about the intersection between your business growth and your community and give your employees the chance to email@example.com