Ever wonder why corporate volunteering has grown so big over the last decade?
The paid time off for volunteering starts at about 40 hours a year with companies such as the software firm VMware, the medical technologies giant Stryker and the tech company NetApp. It is slightly higher (48) at Salesforce and Autodesk, goes up to 80 with the healthcare giant Novo Nordisk and is unlimited at Deloitte.
Many of the bigger corporations have now created their own internal volunteering programs aligned with the causes they support. IBM, for example, allocates teams to tackle specific community problems in emerging countries, an experience that IBM employees describe as invaluable.
At the same time many other organisations have teamed up with non-profits who provide volunteering opportunities for their employees.
And it is not just large multinationals that let employees donate time, knowledge and skills to those in need. A lot of smaller, local companies have followed suit both in the US and here in Europe, including in Ireland.
So why the volunteering fever?
I believe the main reason has to do with what Mahatma Ghandi once said:
The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
It’s that meaning and sense of purpose that we so excessively seem to lack in the consumerism driven and hectic life of today, that volunteering and helping others gives us.
And it’s not that business has suddenly become concerned with the sense of fulfilment of employees, but meaning has become an important factor directly impacting employee retention rates. Retention is a huge issue in many industries today causing businesses to lose hundreds of thousands every year.
Volunteering is a great opportunity to bring meaning and purpose into the job and by doing so to engage in some philanthropic endeavours which in turn reflects positively on the company reputation and consequently, on the brand too.
But there are some other great benefits of volunteering that companies who engage in it have shared. Here’s a few:
It brings teams together – Chances are many of your employees probably never communicate with each other outside the office. Even if they are friendly to each other and like each other, the office setting creates some boundaries which is why employees generally tend to only get to know the work side of each other.
Volunteering brings them together in a completely different environment where they get to share a different experience and oftentimes a fun experience. As a result they loosen up and get to know each other better in a way that team building activities couldn’t get them to do. It’s just that many people don’t like having to participate in team building events and this create barriers.
Volunteering is a more natural experience that predisposes people to open up and that makes your workforce a much stronger team as a whole.
It develops leadership and other skills – As mentioned above, volunteering places employees in a completely different reality where they get to solve problems different to those that they deal with at work. This in turn helps them develop leadership skills, interpersonal skills, organisational skills, etc.
In fact, an article in the Stanford Social and Innovation Review called Skill-Based Volunteering: The New Executive Training Ground says that “today’s volunteers are tomorrow’s leaders”.
IBM employees from the above mentioned example have confirmed the tremendous benefits of volunteering in terms of what they’ve learnt which they now apply at the workplace too.
It enriches employees personally – Apart from having to face issues completely different to those at work and developing new skills to deal with these issues, it’s the overall experience of volunteering which is even more valuable.
Seeing a reality so different from theirs gives employees a chance to gain a new perspective and understand the complexity of underlying social issues. As a result, some employees develop other good qualities too such as emotional intelligence, compassion, even feelings of gratitude for all they have.
It sparks innovation – Being in direct contact with people in need or even only hearing about their problems gets employees to think about the reasons behind these problems and inspires them to come up with possible solutions in terms of products and services.
In other occasions, the volunteering experience gives them an insight into trends, needs and market niches that haven’t been explored. This sparks innovation and innovation is the single most important pre-requisite not only for survival in the highly competitive markets of today but also for business growth.
Yes, volunteering offers various benefits, business and personal alike. According to a research performed by Professor Cassie Mogilner who talked about it in an article for the Harvard Business Review, volunteering makes you feel like you have more time.
At the same time researchers from the London School of Economics have examined the relationship between volunteering and happiness. What they’ve found is that volunteering builds empathy, strengthens social bonds and makes you smile which in turn increases the feeling of love.
There have also been studies which conclude that there are great health benefits related to acts of kindness such as volunteering.
Not that one needs an incentive or a reason to do good and give back. As Winston Churchill once said:
We make a living by what we get but we make a life by what we give.
However, it is nice knowing that apart from it giving us personal satisfaction, it also makes us healthier and happier, right?
If you find yourself wondering about what philanthropic cause to take on and what to put your time into, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me. As a business consultant and philanthropic endeavours mentor, I can help you make a difference that is meaningful to the community, to you and to your business’ growth too. You can get in touch with me, Paul Davis, here.