All in a good day's workMay 2013
The positive effects of employee volunteering on the community sector have long been recognised but there is less understanding of the benefits that volunteering can bring to a business and exactly how this happens.
Liz Jones reports
Employee volunteering is a key part of CR strategy. And no wonder. Its impact today is wide ranging, touching on multiple crucial business issues including employee engagement, corporate reputation and community cohesion to name but three. Its role has transformed accordingly. No longer are companies simply sending employees out into the community to dig over gardens and paint neighbourhood playgrounds. Volunteer programmes are more diverse, more sophisticated and more targeted than ever before. And this is where it’s heading, says Nick Wright, md of CR and Community Affairs, EMEA at Swiss bank UBS.
“The argument is now won: that there are genuine benefits on both sides [to corporate volunteering], that argument is now accepted. Volunteering is moving into the business mentoring space. It’s becoming more about knowledge transfer,” Wright believes.
At UBS, there are two themes to its community investment affairs: education and entrepreneurship. Its flagship programme is with the Bridge Academy, a state secondary school in Hackney, an area of London with challenging characteristics. At the school, 50% are eligible for free school meals.
Retention & recruitment
Last year, 30% of staff took part in our volunteering programmes; half of whom volunteered at the Bridge.
“At the Bridge we are engaged in a huge range of activities ranging from numeracy and literacy projects to work experience and drop down days where staff will run a workshop on maths, for example, with a trader. This year, in its Sixth Form, UBS staff are being career mentors – 85 staff are involved in that alone.”
Wright says he wants more staff to sign up. “There is a correlation between performance and volunteering. The level of engagement was at 25% for a good few years. Now the needle has moved [to 30%] and we need to look at how we move the needle even further. Volunteering retains and recruits the staff we want.”
To promote volunteering, Wright uses every communications avenue he can: posters, presentations, email. The governance is at a local head of department/division level and they are key to driving it through. “We also have 55 Volunteer Champions – selected within the bank – who help the community affairs team to drive awareness and help structure what we do,” Wright explained.
Another trend Wright sees is that “we’re increasingly developing volunteering within HR and integrating community affairs into this offering”. The fact that some skills can be developed through a volunteering option is now being recognised and that’s growing.
Volunteering within UBS is also promoted through awards and also ‘shamelessly pinching ideas from elsewhere’, Wright says. “Like the ‘seeing is believing’ model from BITC. The chief exec will lead a morning to visit some of the partnerships and hear about their challenges and what volunteers are doing. It has proved remarkably successful.”
For UBS, the most significant benefit to corporate volunteering is the internal dimension, says Wright. “Given the challenge in the sector over the last few years, the morale and continuing professional development gained through the wider involvement in society has been very important and valuable to staff. We know that recruits to the firm find it so too. The most visited part of our website (after the ‘Apply here’ section) is the CR and Community Investment part. It provides a window into the values of the firm.”
Marie Sigsworth, Aviva’s Corporate Responsibility director agrees: “At Aviva recognition sits at the heart of our employee promise. We want every employee to be able to say, ‘At Aviva I am recognised for who I am and my contribution matters.’ We also know people want to work for an organisation that is contributing to wider society, an organisation they can be proud of.
This is why our flagship CR programme, Street to School is such a central part of our organisation. The programme champions the rights of street-connected children around the world because every child should have access to education as education is insurance for a better life. Street children are one of society’s most unrecognised groups, and we believe we have a responsibility to help the most excluded individuals in our communities, and few are more excluded than street-connected children.”
Since 2009 when Aviva made a 5-year commitment to championing street children’s rights, the international insurance group has clocked up 55,000 hours of volunteering with employees themselves having raised £3m.
David Schofield, head of CR at Aviva says that initiatives like Street to School really bolster he group’s employee engagement scores: “We’ve seen a global uplift of 14 per cent in employee engagement since we started and we’re ranked highest among the financial institutions. It’s a really important part of our CR activity. Authenticity in our efforts in engagement is crucial. Employees do value what they do.”
British business charity Business in the Community’s (BITC) most recent Employee Volunteering Check-Up data found that while half of the companies who took the check-up either proactively encourage employees to volunteer and 40% of companies have senior/board level support to champion their programmes, many companies still find it hard to measure the impact of their programmes with 45% saying they currently have no mechanism to capture the outputs of employee volunteering activity. Other challenges BITC identifies are the facts that 38% do not understand why a business should support employees volunteering in work time; and 1 in 5 companies do not currently engage staff with employee volunteering which means that there is no encouragement or communication from the employer on potential opportunities to do so.
Changing Tomorrow Day
Astellas Pharma Europe Ltd, the European Headquarters of Tokyo-based Astellas Pharma Inc, one of the world’s top 20 pharmaceutical companies, has recently celebrated its achievement of donating over 9,000 employee volunteering hours to their local communities, equivalent to 390 full working days of time, following the completion of its third year of the Changing Tomorrow Day (CTD) programme.
In 2012, 518 employees across 18 countries took part, volunteering 3422 hours, making a combined total across the three year programme of 9383 hours of working time with charities supporting children, young people and the vulnerable.
Changing Tomorrow Day was designed and launched by Astellas in 2010, as an annual initiative, with events taking place across Europe, Asia and America. Last year, for at least one working day between July and the end of the year 2012, hundreds of employees from Astellas supported various charities for children and vulnerable people in their local communities to help overcome barriers to education, play and healthy lifestyles.
Joe Barker, senior manager for internal communications at Astellas Europe and its European Foundation, told Ethical Performance: “While Changing Tomorrow Today is growing across all our offices internationally, we are mindful that there are cultural differences where volunteering is not, as yet, part of the norm. In the UK we take it for granted that everybody volunteers but in other parts of Europe, it is a first experience for many. Volunteering is perceived very much as an Anglo-American style programme. It isn’t part of Scandinavian culture, for example, because the state gives a lot of support to the care sector and any volunteering is usually done privately, as a good citizen, and not collectively in a group.”
In the UK, last year 60 employees took part in eight different initiatives. Working with local groups like White Lodge (a care home for young disabled people) located very close to Astella’s new European headquarters, employees helped out with art classes, cooking clubs and grounds maintenance. “We identify the charity groups to support carefully because some are reluctant to work with business,” says Barker. “They need to see that we provide something useful. Many can regard such involvement as a burden.”
“Because we are a pharma company and our core mission is to deliver innovative pharmaceutical products, we obviously bear health in mind in our projects,” explained Barker. “For example the cooking day at Buckland School in Staines is based around learning about nutrition and the importance of a healthy diet.”
Astellas also helps fund the school’s regular cooking club.
A key part of getting employees to sign up to volunteering is to ensure that senior managers participate, maintains Barker: “It takes the risk away of volunteering by telling staff that we really want them to do it.”
In the UK, Ken Jones, president and ceo of Astellas Pharma Europe took part in CTD for the third year running, helping teach local children to cook at Buckland School.
Barker’s aim is to get a quarter of the workforce involved in volunteering next year.
“Employee feedback shows that 65 per cent say that participating in CTD is a great way of building relationships with colleagues and making Astellas a better place to work,” he said. “ As a result of CTD, we have a very high employee engagement score. We see the corporate benefit as part of becoming an employer of choice with volunteering perceived as an employee benefit.”
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