Benefits on the Fringe: Volunteering Makes Employees More Competent and Engaged

Welcome to Benefits on the Fringe, a column from writer Jason McDowell. Every month, McDowell covers the most unique benefits that today's employers are using to woo talent, as well as advances and innovations in the employee benefits realm.

We all want to volunteer for a good cause, but let's be honest: After a 40+ hour workweek, a long commute both ways, and finding time to spend with friends and family, who can fit it into their schedule?

As it turns out, companies seeking to attract top talent should consider providing workers with the time to volunteer. Making a real difference in the community has a longer lasting positive impact on workers than the occasional free lunch.

In fact, 77 percent of respondents to the 2017 Deloitte Volunteer Impact Research study believe that volunteering for a good cause is essential to employee well-being.

"Creating a culture of volunteerism is a win-win-win for companies, their employees, and our communities," says Doug Marshall, director of corporate citizenship for Deloitte. "Research shows that corporate philanthropy and volunteerism help businesses develop, retain, and attract talent and that millennials are increasingly seeking opportunities to pursue social impact work in the corporate sector. In addition, research shows that having a culture of purpose is not just the right thing for private-sector organizations to do, but is also good for business."

Happy Communities Make Happy Employees

Employees working at companies that give them time to volunteer tend to be more satisfied, according to the Deloitte study. Eighty-nine percent of respondents believe companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment, and 70 percent say volunteer activities are more likely to boost employee morale than a company-sponsored happy hour.

"Deloitte's survey further confirms that having a culture of purpose may play an important role in recruitment and talent engagement as well as employee satisfaction and well-being," Marshall says. "In addition, the 2016 Deloitte Impact Survey of hiring influencers showed that volunteer programs may be able to improve employees' professional and leadership skill sets, as well as better prepare employees for leadership roles."

Without work-sponsored opportunities, many employees can't figure out how to fit meaningful volunteer work into their busy schedules. Unfortunately, only 38 percent of respondents in Deloitte's study said their employers provide access to volunteer programs. Furthermore, 69 percent of respondents said they were not volunteering as often as they would like.

"Employers have an opportunity here to build on their volunteerism programs by creating a culture that celebrates volunteering and empowers volunteers to be more active," Marshall says.

If they need some inspiration, organizations can follow the example of Deloitte's "Impact Day," an annual day of service. on Impact day, Deloitte employees deliver more than 1,000 projects for nonprofits in more than 80 cities throughout the country.

"We see increased employee engagement as a result of the Impact Day program, as well as through the many year-round opportunities we provide our people to volunteer," Marshall says. "While creating a company-wide service day is certainly an option, it's really about finding what works best for your company."

It's up to companies to engage their workforces and find out what sorts of volunteer opportunities employees wish to pursue.

"We have found that it isn't the category of activity that makes [a corporate volunteering program] effective but whether it enables employees to find the volunteer opportunities that best meet their interests and needs," Marshall says. "Corporate volunteering has so many benefits to offer in addition to making a social impact, including the opportunity to connect with coworkers on a more personal level, further build and practice business skills, and fulfill one's sense of purpose beyond daily work demands. I would encourage any company to explore finding a balance of what best creates the environment for employees to express purpose while at the same time expressing company values, interests, and culture."