The changing face of employee volunteering

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 By Abhishek Ranjan

Corporate volunteering has evolved from its place a decade ago from being a once-in-a-quarter event with isolated instances of painting walls, planting trees, conducting a cleanup drive, visiting an orphanage etcetera to becoming a focal component at the heart of employee engagement.

Several employee volunteers, especially millennials do not show too much of alacrity towards event-based volunteering, but seem particularly enthused by high-impact volunteerism, and this eggs me on my path of firmly believing that it’s time for the corporate space to move to innovative, sustainable, impact-driven employee volunteering. Imagine the look in the eyes of an orphan/old age home person you meet once-a-quarter. That isn’t where today’s generation want to be. The desire to do more is strong within this generation.

According to a study conducted by the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, or CECP, 32 million LinkedIn members, indicated an interest in skilled volunteering and 97% of MBA graduates were willing to forego up to 14% of their expected income in order to work for a socially responsible organization. The reaping of the benefits of volunteering is a two-way street. A recent study by Allan Luk[1],  One of the top experts on volunteerism brought to light the fact that employee volunteering has several benefits to the individual such as reducing stress, making us feel healthier and happier, improving self-confidence and giving a deep sense of satisfaction. These apart, there are several benefits of volunteering that are reaped organisationally as well such as improvement in team spirit and greater productivity which have led to corporates viewing volunteerism through different lenses.

A rapid increase in the number of millennials who populate our workforce is another reason due to which employers are now looking at volunteering differently. The 2017 Deloitte Millennial Survey[2] recorded 86 percent of respondents believing the success of a business should be measured in terms of more than just its financial performance. It is, therefore, encouraging that the vast majority (82 percent) of millennials report their employers are directly involved in issues of personal concern, or are supporting charities and other social initiatives in the area. In fact, millennials have managed to break down the barriers between what happens inside and outside the workplace. To them, they and their employers are obliged to give back to the community they live in.

Let’s put aside the reasons for the paradigm shift in volunteering, and look at the measurement metrics of volunteerism. Being able to showcase measurable benefits of volunteering is something which is increasingly becoming a priority for most CSR practitioners. This has resulted in companies choosing in favor of skill-based volunteering or pro-bono volunteering compared to the traditional volunteering, with a study by CECP showing that 51% of the companies provide pro bono service programs.

This measurability has also led to the spike in pro bono service programs as these are more structured and outcome based, thus making it easier for the companies to calculate the ROI, scalability, and impact of the program. Pro bono volunteering enables corporates to educate themselves about new markets, gain customer insights and recruit as well as retain talent while simultaneously being socially responsible by giving back to the community. Professionals can leverage it as an opportunity to test their skills in a new context while not-for-profits gain from having the best minds in industry working on their projects in a structured manner thus making it a win-win situation for all.

What is also crucial for brands is to promote individual social responsibility among employees, thereby imbibing it in the holistic structure. So if individual social responsibility becomes a way of life, corporate social responsibility may be an automatic result. The top-down approach reinforces the idea to the outside world that CSR is an integral part of a brand’s DNA. Warren Buffet, Ratan Tata, Bill Gates and Azim Premji are great examples for leaders who leveraged on their ISR to build their businesses reputation.

What is interesting to note is the sea change volunteering is witnessing. From growing a moustache or a beard for a cause to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge to online teaching to micro-volunteering using handheld devices and more, volunteering is taking some interesting turns.  Factors such as these will make HR/CSR teams and employee engagement teams revisit their volunteering programs at regular intervals in order to come up with programs that keep their millennial workforces engaged.

According to a recent survey conducted across the globe by a digital technology major, 96% of employees felt that volunteering helped in improving their productivity. The same percentage of those who were surveyed also mentioned that volunteering helped lower their stress levels in an increasingly fast-paced work environment. 94%, in fact went to the extent of saying that partaking in their organization’s employee volunteering program made them feel like they were making a difference, and that this made them more likely to recommend their organization to friends and family. The days of charity outside the temple are over. Today, employees actually want to make a sustainable difference, whether it be spending hours teaching school children or walking to work to benefit the environment.

Before I draw to a close in my advice to HR/CSR managers, I’d like to draw on a final point, that of understanding the gaps in volunteering such as bandwidth, management support, lack of awareness and impact measurement challenges. Once these gaps are identified, volunteering programs need to be rewired to make programs successful.

I would like to leave you with my two cents on re-wiring your volunteering strategy

Know their reasons for volunteering – Map employee Interests

Customize the program keeping in mind the interests of the employees

Communicate: Let them know what is expected of them as well listen to their suggestions and feedbacks. Recognizing and rewarding the employees for their work

Show them how they made a difference

Lead by example – Leadership Involvement

Keep employees motivated – PROBABLY MOST IMPORTANT

[1] http://allanluks.com/home

[2] https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-deloitte-millennial-survey-2017-executive-summary.pdf

About Abhishek Ranjan: Abhishek’s career started with IBM as Business Analyst and later worked for Oracle Financial Services, where he was credited with setting up the Customer Centers and Industry Relations function in India. He has expertise in managing Social Media and teaches Social Media Marketing at various institutions. Abhishek is also an avid blogger and his articles have been published by leading global publications and CSR websites including India CSR Network (IndiaCSR.in). He served on the board of various non-profits and CSR/IT committees of CII, BCIC and NASSCOM. He is the Chairman of Rotary JBN Trust and the founder trustee of the Netra Lake Rejuvenation Trust. He recently awarded for his work in the area of lake and ward development by the Hon’ble Union Law Minister Shri Sadanada Gowda. He has led various community engagement projects. He has been invited as speaker by IIM Calcutta, Indian School of Business (ISB), Bangalore CSR Roundtable, Christ College, Rotary Club, Narsee Monjee, Symbiosis (SCMHRD), Banasthali University, Institute of Public Enterprise, Jyoti Niwas College, SSMRV College, Vishwa Yuva Kendra and many more such organizations. He has recently been selected as one of the 100 Most Impactful CSR Leaders (Global Listing) by World CSR Congress. Abhishek completed his PGDCA from IMT Ghaziabad, and an executive program on Digital and Social Media Marketing from ISB, Hyderabad. He can be reached on twitter @IAbhishekRanjan

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Disclaimer: The views expressed by the author in this feature are entirely his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of India CSR.

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