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The Business Case for Launching a Volunteer Time Off Policy

Eric Christophersen headshotWords by Eric Christophersen
Leadership & Transparency
Volunteer Time Off Policy

Employees are a company’s most valuable asset – they are the individuals on the front lines delivering services or selling products. As such, it is important for organizations to have a strong value proposition so that employees feel fulfilled by their careers. Increasingly, employees are looking for companies to provide opportunities to enrich their work environment with volunteerism—and when those companies deliver, the result is increased employee engagement and higher levels of employee satisfaction, which leads to stronger outcomes. To that end, your organization should consider launching a volunteer time off (VTO) policy if it has not yet done so.

A volunteer time off policy can engage employees

A recent survey by Deloitte on volunteerism found that 89 percent of employees believe that companies who sponsor volunteer activities offer a better work environment than those who do not. The survey also revealed that only 38 percent of respondents said that their employers provide opportunities for volunteering, while 69 percent shared that they would like to volunteer more. It’s not a coincidence that most companies cited as “best places to work” offer some version of a volunteer time off policy. These results suggest that it is imperative for organizations to act.

Northwestern Mutual is one of many companies who recently recognized the importance and impact volunteer time off provides employees, as well as communities, and created a formal program for employees in 2018. We were thrilled to see that employee volunteerism increased by 20 percent—over 36,000 hours—in its first two years. Beyond the numbers, we knew the program was effective when we heard the feedback from our employees. “Working for an employer that offers volunteer time off allows me to connect and bond with children and their siblings who are affected by childhood cancer during daytime hours, which is an experience I wouldn’t be able to have otherwise,” said one employee when asked for feedback.

Volunteering together can have positive impacts on team building and networking internally as well as recruiting and retaining talent. For existing teams, volunteering offers an opportunity to get to know colleagues in a different setting to help develop interpersonal connections and deepen company culture. Volunteering as a team also offers an opportunity for managers to observe employees natural strengths and talents in a different light, which can open new doors for business opportunity and growth. Additionally, candidates are looking for companies that offer volunteer benefits because it speaks to a companies’ culture and values.

The financial benefits of having a VTO

Take a moment to think about your hiring costs, factoring in onboarding and training time, learning and development. Now, add in the cost of time with an unfulfilled role. Employee turnover rates are expensive for companies and take a toll on morale overall. Retention is key to reducing personnel costs and enacting policies that support what employees are looking for is a simple way to reduce those costs. On top of retention efforts, these policies can help recruit and attract new candidates to your organization as well.

A 2018 survey found that 79 percent of those who volunteer with a nonprofit also donate to that organization. Supporting employee volunteer efforts could mean that your company is making a positive financial impact on organizations most in need of support as well. In the first two years of offering the VTO policy, over 1,850 Northwestern Mutual employees took the time to volunteer.

A VTO is one way companies can pay it forward

While we don’t have exact numbers on how many of those employees were driven to donate after volunteering—you can begin to imagine the impact that large companies can have on nonprofits by offering these policies. For causes related to childhood cancer, those donations could mean funding critical hours of research towards a cure. For causes related to education, those donations could make the difference in helping a child graduate high school and going on to college. The potential benefits are infinite—and they can all start with company volunteer policies. 

It’s one thing for companies to encourage volunteerism, yet it’s another to drive it as part of the company culture. Our commitment to giving back is evident across the company and it starts with our enterprise leadership group. These leaders contribute as board members to more than 30 organizations, supporting a variety of initiatives and causes including education, health and children among others. We believe that when leadership “walks the walk,” it helps set the tone for a culture that values and recognizes the importance of giving back. As leaders, we empower our employees to volunteer and we implore teams to follow suit because we know that together, we can make a lasting impact in the communities where we live and work. 

Image credit: Pexels

Eric Christophersen headshotEric Christophersen

Eric Christophersen is President of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation; he is also Vice President of Strategic Philanthropy and Community Relations at Northwestern Mutual.

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