Why You Should Consider Paying Employees for Volunteering

Allowing your staff to work for their favorite charity on your dime could keep younger workers happy and impress prospective customers.

Why You Should Consider Paying Employees for Volunteering

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Recently I was talking to a small-business owner and friend when the topic of volunteer time off, or VTO, came up. My friend, who runs a small auto repair shop, is admittedly a self-sufficient, “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of guy. He didn’t understand why a local government was considering a policy to give employees a few paid days off every year to work for a charitable cause.

Presumably, his complaint about such a program is tied to the idea that these days off would be covered by taxpayers and the public would have no say which charity its money is going to support through the VTO. It’s a fair question to ask, as anyone would want to direct their own charitable giving toward causes they believe in. 

However, I imagine this friend and many other small-business owners have a natural inclination to oppose the concept of VTO in general. After all, small-business owners fight a constant battle to maintain profitability in the face of stiff competition and rising costs of doing business. Why would they choose to pay their employees to go and work for someone else?

My guess is that even 10 years ago, this would be the prevailing attitude among small-business owners who would say volunteering and charitable giving are commendable, but employees need to pursue those opportunities off the clock, on evenings and weekends. However, whether or not you as a business owner still feel that way, it’s apparent that thoughts about mixing work and volunteerism are changing — both among your workforce and your customers.


Changes Are Coming

Experts say that younger workers, the millennials (ages 23 to 38) and Generation Z (22 years and below), have a different mindset about work in general — and specifically blurring the lines between volunteering and working for you.

Younger people expect many workplace perks that were unheard of a generation ago, such as a much more flexible work schedule and lax paid-time-off policies. And where 30 years ago an employee might put up with having few days off and constant weekend work, the reality now is that they are happy to bolt for an employer offering more attractive terms.

A study by Cone Communications showed 76% of millennials (the largest age group in the workforce today) take into account a company’s corporate social responsibility when accepting a job. That’s compared to 51% for the average of U.S. workers. Similar numbers of employees surveyed say they would like VTO as a company benefit. These statistics may be surprising to owners of small retail companies who hire less frequently than bigger corporations.

The 2018 Employee Benefits report produced by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) showed 24% of companies overall offer paid VTO and 47% offer community volunteer programs. The report says those numbers were steadily rising. 

A survey by America’s Charities (www.charities.org) showed even more surprising numbers:

  • 71% of employees say it is either imperative or very important to work where a company supports giving and volunteering.
  • 82% of businesses say employees want the opportunity to volunteer with peers in a corporate-supported event.
  • 88% of company leaders believe effective employee engagement programs help attract and retain employees.
  • 70% of employers firmly believe that employees expect them to be socially responsible.
  • 92% of companies believe their customers expect them to be good corporate citizens.


Good Vibrations

The value of paid VTO to you as the business owner is most tangible in employee recruitment and enhancing your reputation in the community. As an employee benefit, such programs are a clear nod to your younger workers, says Kelsey Hawkins, a media specialist for North American Van Lines. 

“Millennials are often categorized as socially conscious but less likely to remain in the same position for longer than two years. With such a high turnover rate, companies have had to get more creative in their ways of attracting and retaining millennials,” Hawkins writes in a recent blog. “Employees tend to feel more loyalty toward companies that mirror their values and make positive contributions to the community.”

And while your past charitable efforts may have captured the attention of a few customers, Hawkins explains that the public relations reach for your good works has grown exponentially through social media. How can you take advantage of this publicity powerhouse through VTO? Ask your employees to post to Facebook and Twitter whenever they take time away from work to support their favorite cause. Encourage employees to team up and work together for a greater impact to a local charity.

While you’re at it, reach out to other organizations supporting the same good causes to create a new network to attract business in the future.

“VTO programs provide excellent opportunities for employees to act as ambassadors for their companies. By giving back to local charities, a company can form long-term partnerships with organizations that often serve as the pillars of many communities,” Hawkins writes. “(It’s a) great way to show consumers and employees that they are serious about community investment.”


Getting Started

SHRM has some guideline recommendations for companies considering starting a VTO policy:

  • Think about the number of hours or days you think is reasonable for your crew to dedicate to volunteering on the company dime.
  • Request advance notice from employees so volunteer time doesn’t interfere with peak work schedules.
  • Who is eligible for VTO? Do you want to offer it only to full-time employees or everyone, with time allowed based on their weekly work hours? Only offer the benefit to employees who are performing up to expectations.
  • Interested employees should meet with a manager to discuss their volunteer choices and receive approval from the company before getting started.


Changing the Mindset

Small-business owners who question the whole idea of giving workers time off to volunteer could think of this as an extension of more traditional community outreach. Maybe you currently sponsor a Little League team and the players proudly wear the uniforms with your company name on the back. How about giving your employees a few days off to help the Little League construct a new ball diamond as part of a VTO project?

A slower time of the year for your business is good for employees to consider dipping their toes in the water with VTO. When demand services is spottier for a few months, ask your crew how they would feel about taking a day to work on a Habitat for Humanity construction project or serve another worthy nonprofit organization. Plan a group project or send each employee out on their own when the workload allows it.

Then follow up. Did the workers enjoy the experience? Did you get any phone calls thanking your business for supporting volunteerism? Was this a feel-good experience that you might expand in the coming years?  


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