Ask a CSR Friend: Building the Case for Volunteer Time Off

Mar 6, 2024

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Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned pro, we know it takes a village to create vibrant workplaces where employees are empowered to contribute to the communities and causes they care about. So, when you need a trusted advisor to lean on, rely on Points of Light to be your CSR Friend. Each month, our experts share their wisdom and wit to address a specific but often universal challenge related to your work as a corporate social impact practitioner.

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Dear CSR Friend,

I lead my employer’s community engagement strategy and, each year, when my team contemplates improvements, a large portion of our conversation centers on increasing employee participation. While we have plans to double-down on communication and better understanding employee interests, we know we could improve by simply ensuring that every employee, regardless of their role, has an opportunity to take time off to volunteer during the workday. We say that supporting communities is a core value but, honestly, it feels like it’s only for the chosen few—those who have flexible schedules because they’re not on the sales floor all day. How can I appeal to senior leaders that now is the right time to explore an enterprise-wide VTO policy?

Vexed by VTO in Vancouver

Dear Vexed,

If I had a nickel for every question we receive around boosting participation, I would be the richest social impact expert on earth! But what you’ve hit upon is actually bigger than hitting participation goals and touches leaders like yourself no matter the industry or size of company they work for. And that’s the issue of volunteer equity and access. I’ve seen many companies in recent years lift up their corporate values around diversity and inclusion, start new programs and reinforce public commitments but, when you look under the hood, it’s easy to see they’re viewing the employee experience through a myopic lens.

Good news: it can be done. Senior leaders have bought into implementing a volunteer time off policy for all even where it feels like an impossibility such as in manufacturing and retail environments. They understand that the benefits of having an employee volunteer program aren’t fully realized if only some of the employee population can take advantage.

Here’s my advice on how to make the case for developing and implementing a Volunteer Time Off (VTO) policy:

  1. Understand Your Audience: Before presenting your case, understand the business priorities of your senior leaders. They each bring a different perspective to the table depending on what function they lead, so tailor your arguments to align with their goals.
  2. Research and Gather Data: Collect data on the positive impacts of volunteerism on business goals like employee engagement, job satisfaction and recruitment. Use statistics to illustrate how a VTO policy can lead to improved employee morale and productivity. You can also use proof points from Edelman that highlight the disconnection that deskless workers feel to bolster your argument.
  3. Highlight the Benefits for Employees: Emphasize how VTO can contribute to employees’ well-being along with personal and professional development. It provides them with opportunities to develop new skills, network and engage with the community, which can boost morale and job satisfaction. In fact, some of the unique skills these frontline employees possess are exactly what’s needed by your grantees and community partners.
  4. Connect to Company Values: Demonstrate how a VTO policy aligns with the company’s values and commitment to social responsibility and inclusion and belonging. Ensuring all employees – even those in diverse roles and work settings – are eligible to participate sends a values-aligned message.
  5. Address Potential Concerns: Anticipate and address any concerns senior leaders might have. Common concerns include potential productivity loss, scheduling conflicts, or abuse of the policy. Come to the table with solutions to mitigate these concerns.
  6. Present a Pilot Program: Propose starting with a small-scale pilot program to test the impact of VTO. This tactic allows the organization to measure the benefits and make adjustments based on the initial experience before rolling out the policy company-wide.
  7. Provide Details: Clearly outline how the policy could be implemented and maintained, including technology, communication plans and any necessary training for managers.
  8. Quantify the Current Impact: Showcase the impact that your existing volunteer efforts and associated policies have on business and community priorities and how they could grow by ensuring every employee has the opportunity to participate. This step could include metrics such as employee engagement scores, positive feedback from consumers and community partners, progress on social issues important to the company, and the correlated cost savings due to decreased turnover. Demonstrate that what you’re doing now is just the tip of the social impact iceberg.

Implementing an enterprise-wide VTO policy that enables equitable access to your company’s social impact initiatives isn’t just good for employees; it’s also a significant way of fostering a sense of inclusion and belonging and deepening the employee experience – all incredibly important priorities to senior leaders as they deal with recruitment and retention challenges. Of course, implementing the policy is just the first step; it must be accompanied by continual education and reinforcement at all levels. But that’s a story for a future column.

Until Next Month,

Your CSR Friend

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