Andy Melia: Employee volunteering has benefits beyond corporate social responsibility

Employee volunteering gives staff the opportunity to connect with a community, build their knowledge of the needs and challenges in society and deliver value through sharing skills and expertise. This can help to generate trust in the business and help staff to feel more involved in the towns, cities or countries that the business operates in. It is an important tool for making staff feel good about where they work, whether they are befriending isolated older people or sitting on a board of trustees.

But it is more than charity or corporate social responsibility, it is also an opportunity for employees to gain valuable skills and knowledge that improves their productivity. It can help employees to create products and services that are more relevant to the customer base within a community.

Brigade is a social enterprise restaurant and bar that offers homeless people or those at risk of homelessness training in hospitality and catering, and is a partnership between several charities and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC). The accounting firm provided marketing and legal support to help support the restaurant and more than 100 employees have volunteered and mentored apprentices. As well as generating high levels of social value and return on investment, PWC reported that its staff improved their own skills, developed networks and social awareness, and reported feeling more engaged with their employer.

Examples like this are backed up by research. A May 2015 study by Circle Research, People or profits: why not both? found that the business benefits of employee volunteering included employee engagement (40%), team building (21%), and even a positive impact on PR and reputation (38%). And in an era where attracting and retaining millennials is a hot topic for HR teams, employee volunteering has also been shown to be an important pull factor. Research by Business in the Community in May 2016 showed that young people aged 18 to 24 are using volunteering to further their career aims (38%) and gain new skills (48%) to a greater degree than any other age group. 

As businesses increasingly fight to retain and recruit talented staff, employee volunteering is a way for employers to offer employees an exciting mix of skills development, demonstrate their corporate responsibility and offer social value to the community.

Andy Melia is head of community investment at Business in the Community (BITC)