July 28, 2015

Measurable Ways Volunteer Day Policies Pay Off

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This is a guest post from WorkForce Software‘s Jonathan Corke. Jonathan is the Director of Communications for WorkForce Software, and monitors trends in HR practices and technology investments via a combination of primary market research, analyst interactions, and client feedback.

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A Win-Win

Employers that value corporate social responsibility (CSR) have plenty of options at their disposal. They also have more variables to consider. When CSR was coined, more than 50 years ago, it was viewed as an obligation of private industry to the community at large. Today, we appreciate that giving back to the community also benefits the business, especially because of its positive impacts on culture, engagement, and retention.

As one CEO put it, “Employees and customers want to work with a company that they respect.”

With engagement levels plateauing in recent years, CSR is even more important as another way to enrich the employee experience. This may explain the upward trend in volunteer days: nearly 1 in 3 U.S. employers now offers employees time off to do volunteer work.

Let’s explore what makes these programs so effective.

The Appeal of Volunteer Days

Organizations, like people, have two basic choices when contributing to charities and social causes: donate resources, or donate time. For the receiving organization, both are usually appreciated. For employee impact, time is more powerful. Why? When an organization donates money to a cause, that money is an abstraction for workers. It never crossed their hands. When an organization donates time, that time is also the employees’ time – they are directly involved in the giving effort.

Designing Your Policy

Once you decide to implement a Volunteer Day policy, there are two basic choices to consider:

  1. Establishing a shared Community Service Day
  2. Granting employees an individual day to use at their discretion

Let’s examine each option in brief:

First, you may choose to organize a ‘Community Service Day’ as a corporate activity. The organization may choose the charitable cause outright, or perhaps have a voting or feedback system for employees to influence it. The event could be broadcast internally and through social and public relations tools to help raise awareness about the cause, as well as to burnish the employer’s reputation. And, ideally, there will be executives on hand as part of the volunteer effort. There are several advantages of this approach, notably greater camaraderie among peers, and strengthened bonds between executives and line professionals. Yet, in many organizations it is tough to commit the lion’s share of workers for a single day. It’s also tough for individual workers to align their schedules.

If the organization plans such a day, but does not take efforts to alleviate workloads, then employees may feel like this is a “corporate event” rather than a rewarding personal day. Worse, employers can be tempted to schedule these community service days during an employee’s personal time, such a weekend or holiday day. That step, while convenient for the business, is shortsighted.

In most cases, an individual employee policy (option two) is the best approach. When you grant each employee a day during the business calendar to devote to a cause that is meaningful to her/him, you are assuring that the time will be rewarding for that worker. In addition, you are giving the employee the discretion to find a convenient span for taking that time off. Most employees will choose to take a volunteer day when it will have the lowest impact on work results, because it’s hard to unplug when you are staring down critical deadlines.

Because this policy grants employees more personal time, it makes a much bigger statement about your appreciation for them than a one-size-fits all Community Service Day. It is difficult to directly measure appreciation, but there are ways to validate that a volunteer day policy is improving employee loyalty and morale. Let’s explore some of those metrics next.

Measuring Its Impact

If your volunteer day program has specific goals behind it (and not all do), then it’s important to measure your results against those goals. That means putting the proper reporting in place, and determining the right metrics. To get the right reporting, consider automating your Volunteer Day policy like any other time off program (sick, vacation, comp days, etc.) with a Time and Attendance application.

When you look for the policy’s impact, don’t fixate on its usage rate. Even if employees don’t avail themselves of a community service opportunity in a given year, they may still appreciate that such a program is offered. Your metrics should try to gauge that level of appreciation. Here are a few ideas for measuring what matters:

  • Candidate acceptance rate – when you introduce a Volunteer Day policy, it can help strengthen your message to potential new hires
  • Unplanned turnover rate – adding just one additional day of time off for volunteer work may help
  • Employee satisfaction scores – if you conduct an annual satisfaction study, make sure it includes a question about the employer being a good place to work and/or it being a place that employees would recommend to their peers, and track those scores once the Volunteer Day policy is announced

An Untapped Opportunity

Work/life balance issues remain front-and-center in many business circles, and there’s much more room for innovation in time off policy design than we’ve seen yet. Volunteer time policies are a great example of a low-cost, high-return program that can benefit the community and boost employee loyalty at the same time.

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