The Value of Volunteering: Why Companies Have So Much to Gain From Giving Back

Come across the term “VTO” yet?

If you haven’t, you soon will. Because establishing a VTO – or Volunteering Time Off – policy is rapidly becoming one of the fastest-growing trends in the modern work environment. Building on the concept of corporate social responsibility, VTO policies encourage employees to participate in volunteer activities and support charitable causes – but, crucially, without losing pay. And in a workplace increasingly dominated by socially aware millennials, more and more organisations have recognised that a VTO policy is essential in order to attract the sort of highly skilled, motivated young professionals they seek. A company policy that increases social awareness and encourages a culture of empathy and compassion doesn’t hurt, either.

Now, you could be forgiven for thinking that volunteer activities, while nice in theory, sound a lot like extra work to cram into an already packed calendar. But think again. Because although these activities do of course require time and effort, it seems that the benefits for you and your organisation far outweigh a little schedule-shuffling. And because at PEPworldwide we’re all for any policy that has a positive impact on a company’s employees and culture, we thought we’d take a closer look at this concept. How, for example, does one of these volunteering policies actually work in practice?

To answer this, we talked with Salesforce New Zealand solution engineering manager – and self-declared VTO enthusiast – Stu Jones. Salesforce was one of the first companies to adopt a VTO policy, pioneering what they call the “1:1:1 Model of Integrated Philanthropy”. It’s a simple formula: 1% of their product, equity and time is donated to charitable organisations. Jones explains: “What that means for me as an employee is that I have seven days of paid leave a year in order to work in the community or with charitable organisations. I’d argue that this is one of the key reasons why people join Salesforce – they know they’ll be given seven days a year to give back to their community in a way that’s personal and relevant to them.” It’s also one of the main reasons why Salesforce consistently features at the top of lists of the world’s best companies to work for, taking out the number one spot in 2018.

Fair enough. But as proponents of what’s practical as well as what’s pleasant, we sought more specifics. We asked Jones, therefore, for a quick run-down of what he perceives to be the real value of VTO:

1. It takes team-bonding to a new level.

We all know how essential it is for teams to work effectively together. VTO encourages team collaboration in a way that’s easy, not enforced. “When you’re undertaking a volunteering activity, you get to know your colleagues much better than you do in traditional social contexts. I think it helps people to actually engage with each other in a more meaningful way,” observes Jones. “In our team, we treat our VTO as a bit of a challenge: each person nominates a volunteering activity and it becomes quite competitive – albeit in a fun way – around who can think of the coolest thing to do.”

2. It builds different skills and behaviours.

Upskilling? VTO ticks that box, too. “The variety of VTO activities means we’re always learning something new,” explains Jones. “This can be something practical like how to plant trees properly or how to identify weeds, which we learned when planting native trees on Waiheke Island earlier this year. But at the same time, you’re improving your communication, collaboration and leadership skills in a totally different context from the usual professional one, which is very effective. It’s a low-risk environment in which you can hone high-level skills.”

3. It increases empathy and social awareness.

What company doesn’t want compassion as part of their culture? “Volunteering gives us a real insight into the challenges other people face,” observes Jones. “It really makes you count your blessings – and that inspires and motivates you to help out even more. I know what effect it has had on my own social conscience; collectively, then, it does have a real impact on the values and culture of an entire organisation.”

Add to all this mounting evidence which suggests that volunteering lowers stress levels, improves employee engagement and decreases staff turnover and you’re totally talking our language. After all, we’ve discussed at length how improved engagement, effective collaboration and building the right behaviours all increase productivity. So if VTO offers a way to promote all of the above – with a pretty powerful feel-good factor thrown in too – then it’s no wonder this workplace trend is gaining traction. And fast.

Feeling inspired? Then run with it! As with anything, making a start is as simple as scheduling it into your calendar. Remember: the only way this will happen is if you make time for it to happen.

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