The cynics among us will insist that working with the local community is just another PR exercise another bid to improve the employer brand. However, it can be of real business value. And not least to the HR function.
Catherine Sermon, community impact director at Business in the Community, says: “Getting staff involved in the community is a powerful source of skills training and personal development, and we know that employees report improvements in direct work and softer skills as a result of their volunteering. Many professional services firms now link their continuing professional development programmes to their pro bono work.”
It is also an opportunity to observe staff outside the workplace, and possibly even identify some future stars.
Working with a local community is also a strong motivational tool. According to Sermon, a survey carried out in 2007 by a major retailer found that 86% of employees who strongly agreed that the company was active in the local community felt a sense of belonging to the company, compared to only 41% of employees who didn’t recognise the company as active in this way.
It is also a fantastic opportunity for people to bond across departments and functions. A group of London employees of City media giant Bloomberg volunteered with homelessness charity The Simon Community over Christmas 2007, and ended up meeting and becoming friends with people they might otherwise never have met.
The biggest impact a company can have in their local community is, of course, by employing local people. Some companies are proactive in recruiting people who usually face barriers to work – for example, homeless people and young people with convictions.
“These companies often discover that, with the right support, these people can prove reliable, skilled and highly motivated employees,” Sermon says.
Of course, to reap these benefits you need to pick your partner well. Make sure you opt for an organisation that is truly local, rather than a branch of one of the big charities. Pick one whose ethos is similar to your own, and ask them what they want and need.
Maybe even offer your staff the chance to suggest or vote for a charity. And make it a long-term project. Encourage staff to take part, and consider flexible working and even extra paid leave specifically for voluntary work.
In The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks claims that volunteering not only gives us “a heightened sense of wellbeing”, but even “speedier recovery from surgery.”
While this sounds a bit far-fetched, and something of a generalisation, there’s no denying that working with your local community can have considerable benefits. And what’s wrong with feeling all warm and fluffy once in a while?
How employers see volunteering…
- 73% of employers would employ a candidate with volunteering experience over one without.
- 94% of employers believe that volunteering can add to an employee’s skills.
- 58% say that voluntary work experience can actually be more valuable than experience gained in paid employment.
- 94% of employees who volunteered to learn new skills had benefited either by getting their first job, improving their salary or being promoted.