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Five reasons to encourage your staff to volunteer

6 June 2018

To mark Volunteers' Week, we asked CBI members why they want their employees to use more company time to volunteer

Businesses are the source of economic growth and jobs in our communities. But many firms choose to give back more to society – and the areas in which they operate – by encouraging their staff to volunteer. 

Available research suggests 70 per cent of FTSE 100 companies and 20 per cent of small and medium-sized companies offer their staff a number of paid days’ leave to help local projects or other charitable causes they care about. And the appetite for this employer-supported volunteering is growing – in the boardroom, as well as among employees.

As more firms look to set up a volunteering scheme – or formalise what they already offer –  we asked several CBI members to share their experience and explain why it’s important to them.

  1. It’s the right thing to do

Ask any volunteer what motivates them and their response may vary – but it boils down to the same thing: giving something back. Firms are no different.

“Our people are working in the local community. We want to make sure they feel like they are being good neighbours,” says Marguerite Ulrich, Chief Human Resources Officer at Veolia, where 14,000 staff have the chance to spend a day each year on a local community project of their choice. 

We're giving back to the community because they helped us get where we are

“We’re giving back to the community because they helped us get where we are,” says Abi Aldred, HR co-ordinator at Harrogate based energy company CNG. As many of the firm’s employees are in their first jobs, its efforts focus on helping young people and it partners with  the Princes’ Trust.

“We are a local community retailer,” says Pete Westall, Group General Manager Colleague & Co-operative services at the Midcounties Co-operative. “What matters to us it that we’re using our colleagues to support the local causes that matter.” 

As a co-operative, benefiting the local community is the “only reason we exist”, he adds. Colleagues are given up to three days a year to support the charity selected by each local regional community. These currently include Aspire Oxford, Gloucester Young Carers and Bicester Green.    

  1. It engages your staff

Here the statistics speak for themselves. According to Accenture’s annual survey of its volunteers, 90 per cent say they feel increased job satisfaction, 92 per cent said that it improved their wellbeing and 91 per cent said that it increased their pride in working for the company.

“As a people-based business, having people who feel good and who are excited about working for Accenture is the number one priority. It’s a clear business benefit,” says Accenture’s UK Head of Corporate Citizenship Camilla Drejer.

It's important that people are proud of where they work

“We’re very driven as a business by our values,” says Catherine Correia, Corporate Responsibility Manager at Bristol law firm Burges Salmon. “All this work we do is an expression of those. It’s important that people are proud of where they work – and 93 per cent of employees in our people survey said they would recommend the firm to friends and contacts.”

Accounting software business Sage Group only set up the Sage Foundation in 2015. Its 2+2+2 model governs its objectives of donating 2 per cent of staff time (5 days a year), 2 per cent of free cash flow and 2 donated software licenses to eligible charities. But with the company’s recent rapid global expansion, Elaine McCulloch, UK and Ireland Sage Foundation Manager, says the foundation has become the “glue” unifying the business behind common goals that everyone can believe in.

  1. It develops your people

Volunteering also gives businesses the chance to develop their employee’s soft skills – and increasingly firms are evolving their volunteering schemes in partnership with their learning and development teams.

Aon, for example, builds in time for volunteering for interns, apprentices and graduates on its Early Careers programmes. “It helps them with teamwork and communication skills. And it helps them understand what it is to work for a common goal and to realise how important this is to Aon,” says Katherine Conway, the company’s Head of Diversity & Inclusion and Community Affairs.

It helps them to understand what it is to work for a common goal

Other employees who give up time to mentor young people learn just as much from the process as those they mentor, she adds. And at Sage, members of the sales team have gained the necessary experience to move into training role by volunteering in this way.

Similarly, working in a deprived area of a city can boost employees’ emotional intelligence. “It teaches employees to be more sensitive, which can be really useful in a tricky meeting – and that can’t be taught in a classroom,” says Nick Graves, partner at Burges Salmon.

A growing number of the law firm’s employees are volunteering as charity trustees or school governors, which also helps to develop leadership skills.

At CNG, Abi Aldred and Chloe Hollins are enthusiastic about how getting involved has helped them become better HR coordinators. Talking about the barriers some young people face in finding work and seeing the impact of their lack of confidence has been eye opening for Aldred, who says she now “really understands the value of giving positive feedback”. For Hollins, encouraging youngsters to face some of their fears has led her to push beyond her own comfort zone too.

  1. It encourages future talent

Millennials are driving more firms to think harder about their volunteering efforts. According to a Harvard Business Review report, 75 per cent of them consider the potential to contribute to society when choosing an employer. And, reflecting that, Accenture’s Camilla Drejer has seen the number of questions about such extracurricular activities, particularly among graduate recruits, grow year on year.

With fierce competition for available talent, volunteering schemes can be very useful for attracting employees. But businesses also have a role to play in tackling those skills shortages at a grassroots level – and volunteering can help.

“Burges Salmon starts its efforts in primary school, with reading buddies, in response to research that suggests just four or five engagements with business people will prevent young people becoming NEETs (not in education, employment or training),” says Burges Salmon’s Catherine Correia.

The firm’s Bright Sparks programme, which also includes CV writing workshops, is just one of the case studies that features in a practical guide for employers on how to support careers and enterprise activities in schools – drawn up by the CBI and the Careers and Enterprise Company last year.

Other examples include Barclays’ Life Skills programme, which focuses on employability skills; BT, which supports computing and tech literacy skills; and Jaguar Land Rover which has an education programme based on improving STEM skills.

A growing number of business leaders are also speaking at schools as part of initiatives such as Founders4SchoolsSpeakers4Schools and Primary Futures improving children’s understanding of the world of work, broadening their horizons, and sparking greater levels of ambition.

Aon’s Katherine Conway says the firm’s volunteering efforts have helped its broader diversity and inclusion agenda too. “The insurance industry is not well known,” she explains. “By encouraging volunteering in different communities and working with disadvantaged youngsters, for example, it’s really helped us reach different people who may not have traditionally thought about it as a career option.”

  1. It helps build your brand, reputation and trust

Volunteering can make businesses’ contribution to society more visible – or more real – to both employees and customers. And according to the CBI’s Everyone’s Business report, “contribution to society” may not be what matters most in people’s interactions with firms – but it’s certainly in the mix.

As well as making businesses more attractive to both staff and potential recruits, a good volunteering scheme can also boost client relationships too.

At Accenture, for example, more than one in five employees involve clients in their volunteering days.

And last year, Burges Salmon combined forces with client Yeo Valley to host a day of activities for young people on behalf of the Social Mobility Business Partnership.

It’s also becoming a factor in winning new business, says partner Nick Graves. “We’re working for a lot of businesses with a strong footprint themselves in volunteering and being a responsible business,” he explains. “They want to know what we do. When we’re bidding for work, it’s important we can demonstrate that.”

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