Generous volunteering programs can make the difference when a candidate is considering two comparable offers, say hiring agencies. A flexible Volunteer Time Off (VTO) policy is a favorite “perk” attracting Millennials, but mature job-seekers also say corporate community service influences their assessment of a potential employer. Every year, the Society for Human Resource Management surveys employers about their employee benefits. In 2019, about 21 percent of U.S. organizations offered paid time off for volunteering, according to Kate Kennedy, Media and Public Affairs Manager. While the corporate out-of-pocket costs can be significant, the benefit in employee satisfaction is largely intangible. And that’s why VTO programs range widely. Read on to learn why CEOs have chosen Global Volunteers’ service programs as an investment in employee retention and satisfaction.
“Magic.” It’s how Roma Molding CEO Tony Gareri described volunteering for a week on Global Volunteers’ Appalachia Service Program in West Virginia. “It’s an experience you keep forever.” These experiences, industry leaders say, is a new “special sauce” for attracting and keeping high-quality employees in today’s market.
As CEO of InVentiv Health, Gregg Dearhammer strongly promoted volunteer time off (VTO) as a way to stimulate meaningful employee engagement. “I’ve found the incentive to participate in service travel increases the level of satisfaction on the job.” The company financed ten VTO groups to five countries – including multiple USA trips – with the international NGO Global Volunteers since 2012. “Our staff told us the trips are life-changing. They come back with a new perspective.” Some corporate volunteers subsequently volunteer independently on future teams.
Syneos, the company formed by InVentiv’s merger with INC Research, has continued this employee benefit – sending a group to the Blackfeet Reservation in summer 2018 and another to Tanzania in the fall.
“I tell them the benefits of employees volunteering together go beyond the experience and strengthened relationships,” says Dearhammer. “The bonds go across teams and miles.” Because people in the multinational healthcare industry often see each only through their computer screens, meeting coworkers face-to-face in service enhances inter-departmental cohesiveness, he said.
Employees at all levels gain a substantially different perspective of their role within the company from outside the office. For Gareri, this perspective is personal. Pacing himself on site and allowing projects to unfold naturally was satisfying, but a stretch. “It was a very big learning experience for me as it relates to my work style,” Gareri said. “I’m a type A personality; I like to get stuff done. Tell me where the goal line is, and I’ll score.” But, slowing down to the speed of service can force more personal introspection than team accomplishment. “I had to reflect on that,” he said.
A Cost-Benefit Analysis
Toronto-based Roma Molding underwrote a large portion of employees’ costs for the one-week U.S. service program with Global Volunteers. Each volunteer paid $120 “to have skin in the game,” Gareri says. They drove a van full of managers and staff to Beard’s Fork together in one day to meet the rest of the volunteer team. The road trip itself was the beginning of the “employee bonding,” chuckled Gareri.
According to a Forbes article on the subject, over a third of Corporate Responsibility executives surveyed in a 2016 joint Junior Achievement (JA)-Corporate Responsibility Association (CRA) report said return on investment is hard to measure.
Dearhammer doesn’t have direct figures on the impact on employee satisfaction resulting from these programs. “I know the program is well-received across the board. It’s hard to measure these ‘high-touch’ efforts. Just in general, we assume that an engaged, highly motivated staff leads to better business.”
All Roma Moulding staff are eligible for the annual volunteer trip. Employees complete a questionnaire and a committee selects 8-12 people based on their responses. “We try to be cross-functional and get people from all departments and locations.” But, not every employee is a good candidate for VTO. “We leave it up to each person to decide if it’s a good fit,” Gareri says.
Choosing the Right VTO Program
VTO programs range from an afternoon for group service at a community food shelf, to weeks-long trips abroad. Employers agree that program relevance and community impact are primary considerations. All Global Volunteers VTO programs start at one week and can extend up to three-week commitments.
In the JA-CRA survey, CR professionals reported that identifying meaningful volunteer projects that are appealing to and accessible to the greatest number of employees is difficult. That’s what sold Dearhammer on Global Volunteers, founded in 1984, with 17 programs worldwide. “I knew because of the great experience (my son) Robbie had on his Global Volunteers program that this would be a quality experience for our employees.” He directed managers of all international divisions to recommend candidates, and a selection committee chose the final participants.
Screen Pilot of Denver offers a $500 Personal/Professional Development Stipend per year, as well as three extra days of PTO for volunteering efforts to all employees. Becky Dibble, Chief Cultural Officer says the company’s VTO policy cultivates employee development as well as job satisfaction. “We’ve always believed that these opportunities lead to personal growth. We don’t want a stagnant team, so this has to be the greatest benefit for both employee and employer. Allowing our employees a benefit that a host of companies do not, means we not only attract potential new team members, it can also help to retain our existing talent.”
Gareri believes group service can draw the type of employees the company seeks, and also serve as a valuable training opportunity for current employees.
What Employees Say
Gabe Hoffman, Screen Pilot Account Executive, said his VTO week on the Blackfeet Reservation was “a trip of a lifetime… that will stick with me forever.” He has “tremendous respect” for his company’s new VTO policy. Dibble adds: “Work life balance at Screen Pilot is super important. We all work hard, so we don’t want our team to burn out.”
Sandy Edwards, Syneos Senior Clinical Research Associate, has been on several medical missions, and said her group service trip with Global Volunteers was a highlight. “I try not to have too many expectations prior to a trip, but those I did have were not just fulfilled, but exceeded.”
Meredith Fulford was one of 16 Medtronic employees who volunteered together in Peru. “I wanted a chance to give back to people in need on behalf of our organization, as well as to be able to meet and network with people within the company who I otherwise wouldn’t have interaction with.” In this regard, she met her goals. “I made amazing friendships with the other women who I volunteered with. There’s nothing like getting your hands dirty to help people and at the same time, form solid relationships outside of the office!”
Jade Skidmore, who started Medtronic’s Community Outreach program in 2014, has participated on six employee volunteering trips. “Giving back to others is essential to one’s happiness. I’m always inspired to do things to help out the less fortunate and my community. I recommend all employees to do it. It’s a wonderful experience. But, make sure to set clear expectations for the group. For example, they need to know that there may not always be AC. You have to be adaptable.”
“On a mission trip, it’s really beautiful,” Gareri sums up. “Building relationships is far more important than getting things done. We’re all individuals, helping like everyone else. That’s priceless.”