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Promoting Volunteerism Can Reap Rewards for Employers
 

By Kathy Gurchiek  5/14/2010

Volunteerism is part of the corporate bone and sinew at Rosen Hotels & Resorts in Orlando, where employees can mentor students as e-pals electronically, assist with the local YMCA’s annual Healthy Kids Day and earn monetary donations to organizations where they volunteer.

The CEO at MindWorks Multimedia Inc.—an interactive multimedia video production company in Durham, N.C.—volunteers in the community and pays his 18 employees to contribute eight hours each month to community organizations they believe in. In 2009, employees volunteered more than 2,500 hours. That’s in addition to thousands of dollars in pro bono work and charitable donations the company makes.

And at Ohio-based public accounting firm Rea & Associates Inc., the company’s values statement reminds employees they are company ambassadors and exhorts each to be “a person of influence,” to “be a Rea ambassador,” and to “invest in your family, your community and your future.”

HR encourages and helps facilitate employee volunteerism; employees are recognized annually with a ‘volunteer of the year’ award. The winner receives money and a plaque; runners-up receive money. Rewarding volunteerism is a practice Rea continued during the soured economy, said HR director Pat Porter, because it recognizes that contributing to the community creates goodwill and develops a person personally and professionally.

“By being a part of these organizations we are creating relationships … and potentially we could use that for business reasons and networking and even identifying prospective clients,” said Porter, who serves on the board of an area Girl Scout council.

Volunteerism constitutes a small component of performance reviews, Porter said. People are given time to volunteer during the work day; many associates are exempt employees and have the flexibility to do so, Porter noted.

However, if only 40 percent of an employee’s hours were billable to clients and 60 percent were volunteer hours, “then we have a performance issue,” he said.

He thinks that employees are more engaged in their work when they are involved in their community. So does Janice Abrew, communications, events and community affairs manager at Rosen.

“It’s pride. It’s teamwork. They are representing Rosen Hotels, and they feel just part of the bigger picture,” she said.

Porter and Abrew might be on to something.

Workers who volunteer through their workplace feel more positive toward their employer and report a strengthened bond with co-workers, according to findings from an online survey released in April 2010.

The survey for UnitedHealthcare, conducted in February and March 2010 with 4,582 U.S. adults, found that 76 percent of the 1,889 workers who volunteered in 2009 feel better about their employer because of their organization’s involvement in volunteer activities.

However, while businesses can play a key role in promoting volunteerism, only 25 percent of workers who volunteer do so through their employer, the survey found. Other findings:

  • 84 percent of employed Americans surveyed who volunteer through their employer agreed that more people would volunteer if the employer helped provide the means and motivation.
  • 88 percent of those who volunteer said the experience provides networking and career development opportunities vs. 75 percent of non-volunteers who said the same thing.
  • 81 percent of those who volunteer through their employer said it strengthens their relationships with colleagues.
  • 57 percent of employed Americans surveyed said their company does not encourage its employees to volunteer.
  • 21 percent of employed Americans said they would not be a volunteer if their employer had not provided them the opportunity.

Attracting Employees, Building Loyalty

“Employee loyalty will drive your customer loyalty, which will drive your brand recognition,” said Dianne M. Durkin, president and founder of the Loyalty Factor, who has spoken at Society for Human Resource Management conferences.

A workplace volunteer program is one way to earn that employee loyalty. In addition, it can be a recruitment factor, especially for Generation Y, said Durkin. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, the MBA program at Plymouth State University and Daniel Webster College.

“Gen Y is only looking for organizations they feel are working for the betterment of the world,” she said of those born in the mid-1980s who are entering the workforce. “They want to make money, they also want to do a good job, and they also want a balance in life and feel like they’re contributing to society.”

She pointed to a spring 2010 undergraduate class at Lowell on the leadership process in which each of her students gave a 45-minute presentation on a company of their choice. One student studied Starbucks, another Target, a third Dunkin’ Donuts and another Coca-Cola.

“They measured the quality of the leadership practices of that company based upon what [the company] contributed or what [it] did in the philanthropic area,” including charitable donations and giving employees time to volunteer, she said.

To her surprise, four Generation Y students spent a majority of their presentations on their subject’s philanthropic efforts.

“If I had done this eight years ago they would not have spent this much time on the philanthropy [aspect],” focusing instead on profits and shareholder value, Durkin observed.

Pride in one’s employer reaps benefits in attracting and retaining employees, she said.

“It makes a huge difference in who they’re looking [to work] for; although they want jobs, they’re not going to work for companies that aren’t doing the right thing.”

Community involvement is a part of Rosen Hotel’s image, says Abrew, and it made time for volunteerism even during the recession.

“It’s part of our mission as a company, and that’s how we fulfill it,” she said. “We’re a local company and we’re known for our philanthropic efforts. It’s become part of our brand.”

There is some pushback from among the company’s 4,000 employees, but  ”any person in this company can go to at least a weekend event,” such as helping with a 5k fundraiser “or go to an event at a school,” Abrew said.

Rosen has a written policy devoted to volunteerism that defines the rewards and incentives available to participating employees and defines the circumstances when volunteering is considered work time. Employees whose participation is requested are paid at their normal rate of pay for all hours worked, and hours worked count toward overtime for nonexempt employees.

Employees whose participation is not requested but still volunteer are paid up to two hours of the time worked during their normal work period if their manager or supervisor approves the employee’s request to participate.

Employees who volunteer a minimum of 25 hours of their own time to a recognized charitable or community organization—and can document their hours—can earn that charity $1 for every hour worked in a year up to a maximum of $100 from Rosen.

‘Missed Opportunity’

Until recently, employee volunteering and giving often were relegated “to the margins of corporate citizenship,” writes Cheryl Yaffe Kiser, managing director of the Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship in Mapping Success in Employee Volunteering: The Drivers of Effectiveness for Employee Volunteering and Giving Programs and Fortune 500 Performance.

“This is a missed opportunity. Brought into the core, employees strengthen corporate citizenship from the inside out with compassion, promising ideas and unparalleled energy,” she wrote.

The paper looked at best practices at more than 200 Fortune 500 companies and offered a benchmark and guidelines on how to tap into volunteerism to strengthen corporate citizenship.

Some of the effective practices it identified:

  • Set up an employee volunteering web site where workers can post stories and pictures and comment on others’ volunteer work.
  • Customize messages for middle managers that show support for volunteerism and explain its benefits to the company and its employees.
  • Get HR to advocate for volunteerism. Volunteer projects can be used for employees looking to develop project management or related skills.
  • Consider an all-company single-day volunteer event to motivate employees to become more involved. OfficeMax, for example, shuts down nearly its entire company one day every October to give back to local schools in more than 1,000 cities nationwide.
  • Establish a systemized process whereby employees can search volunteer requests from nonprofit organizations.
  • Offer skill-based volunteering.
  • Run a campaign to help build a spirit of volunteerism in the workplace culture.

Corporate America gives workplace volunteerism a strong vote of confidence as a tool for making a meaningful, long-term difference in their communities, according to the seventh annual Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT survey released May 3, 2010.

The findings are from 303 corporate managers and other executives who manage employee volunteer programs at companies with more than 1,000 employees. Although traditional volunteering is the norm by a few percentage points, the survey found, companies reported that increasingly they are offering skills-based volunteer opportunities to employees.

Sixty-four percent, for example, offer skills-based volunteering for a project that addresses the company’s philanthropic focus area, such as education. Sixty percent offer skills-based volunteering where employees select the issue they wish to address as a volunteer, using their business skills or knowledge.

Rosen Hotels, for example, debuted a six-week speaker series in spring 2010 for a class of high school students identified as needing extra motivation to stay in school. The volunteer speakers include the company’s associate HR director, who talks about issues such as how to fill out a job application and how to dress and act for a job interview.

“Create special events,” Abrew advised. “You can make a big impact and get your name out there [in the community]. It’s better to select certain areas … where you can really make a difference,” she said.

Durkin says implementing a workplace volunteer program is a great way for HR to build its credibility and be viewed as proactive within the organization.

“Every company needs to put [volunteerism] on their radar screen and start putting programs in place and expand their image, their positive image in the community. It’s not just by giving money. It’s by giving time, contributing with expertise,” she said.

“Employees want to feel as though their company is making a real difference in the world. It’s well beyond profits.”

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News.

Related Articles:

Employer-Based Volunteerism Lures Gen Y Workers, HR News, April 25, 2007

Employer-Sponsored Volunteerism: Difficult to Measure, but Benefits 'Priceless,SHRM Online HR Disciplines, April 1, 2006

Related Resource:

Volunteerism—Moving Up on the Strategic Agenda, SHRM Research, July 1, 2009

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