Unlimited Volunteering: Will It Work for You?

By Helen Bates, GivingForce

Unlimited volunteering is a new trend in corporate social responsibility. Similar to the increasingly popular policy of unlimited holiday – where employees are given unlimited vacation allowance – unlimited volunteering means giving employees unrestricted time off work to volunteer. This may seem a counterintuitive way to run a successful business, but the idea has now caught on in companies such as Virgin and Mercedes-Benz, who are reportedly very happy with their decision.

So, is unlimited volunteering something your business should be adopting?

Employer-supported volunteering is often promoted as a win-win. Non-profit organisations benefit from increased volunteer power, while employees and businesses get the chance to make a difference and access development opportunities. But employer-supported volunteering often doesn’t live up to this ideal.  A sudden influx of employees on an annual training day can be more panic-inducing than helpful for many charities, who scramble to find something for all their new volunteers to do – poorly-executed painting projects being the most infamous example. This fails to put employees’ professional skills to good use, wasting an excellent chance for development.

Unlimited volunteering could be the solution. For instance, unlimited volunteering time allows employees the flexibility to become involved with charities in the longer term – in ways that complement their skill set and professional development needs, improving their job performance, and allowing them to have a greater positive impact.

Examples of this could be volunteering as a trustee, working with a charity to improve their marketing campaigns, or helping out with financial planning over the long term. These kind of opportunities allow employees to develop skills, gain early career leadership experience, and have a long-term impact on the charity.

All without a paintbrush in sight!

Will It Benefit Employees?

An unlimited volunteering policy may work wonders for employee satisfaction.

Results of unlimited holiday policies have shown that both employees and employers report a more pleasant working environment and a culture of trust.

Certainly from Mercedes-Benz’ perspective, unlimited volunteering has many benefits:

“We are trusted to be agile with our working environment…not only are we empowered to support charities and community programmes that are close to our hearts, but we also have an unlimited amount of hours and days that we can spend during the working week to give something back…”

For anyone worried that unlimited volunteering hours will mean your employees never showing up to work, we can look again at the results of unlimited holiday policies, where employers have found no increased likelihood that such a system will be abused by workers.

Can unlimited holiday help your reputation?

Research into employer-supported volunteering has often shown low engagement by both employees and the public, who may view such schemes as little more than a PR measure.  An unlimited volunteering policy shows real commitment, and is likely to increase engagement among colleagues.

Employees are far better ambassadors for a company if they are engaged and enthusiastic.

Unlimited volunteering policies can also help attract talent. A 2015 report found that 65% of those surveyed said they would be more likely to work for an organisation which supported employee volunteering, and in 2016 The Body Shop featured on a ‘Best Perks’ list by the Independent with a mere five day paid volunteering allowance.

Will It Work for Your Business Structure?

For unlimited volunteering policies to succeed, employees need to be in roles with flexible working arrangements that allow them to manage their own time. This simply is not true of many businesses where it is necessary for employees to be in the workplace on a regular schedule for operational reasons. If this is you, try exploring a more time structured volunteering scheme instead.

Things to remember if you want to make it work: 

Simply introducing an unlimited volunteering policy does not guarantee a work utopia. Firstly, serious, constructive engagement with potential partners in the non-profit sector is needed to ensure employees can access the kind of opportunities which benefit both them and the business. Secondly, systems need to be put in place to ensure that schedules do not clash and requests for voluntary leave are treated fairly.

You will also need to take steps to ensure that employees feel able to take advantage of an unlimited volunteering policy. For example, one criticism of unlimited holiday policies has been that employees may avoid taking advantage of the policy because of concerns it will reflect badly on them.  In the context of unlimited volunteering, this can be a double-edged sword, with the potential for employees to either feel they are taking too much time off to volunteer, or that they are not doing enough.

The most important thing to remember is that an unlimited volunteering policy is not a gimmick. Unlimited volunteering requires a great deal of work to ensure the scheme is a success. However, done properly, it can be a great way to ensure employee wellbeing, retention and development, improve your public image, and provide greater appeal to jobseekers.

Are you ready to take the leap?

Photo: Flicker Creative Commons

Originally published on Giving Force.

Corporate Responsibility

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