Volunteering results in higher productivity, higher employee morale, and can aid in retention, recruiting

September 13, 2011

Kevin Sharp volunteers by helping at Opening Eyes 2011 in Michigan.

Americans have discovered a penchant for volunteering. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 60 million Americans volunteer annually. Volunteer-ing makes people feel good about themselves and their contributions to their communities.

In recent years, an increasing number of employing organizations have begun encouraging and supporting employees in their volunteer efforts. The organization and the individual stand to gain numerous benefits from employer supported volunteerism.  

The benefits of volunteering for an individual are many.  Volunteerism matches an individual with a need in the community. It offers the volunteer an opportunity to make a meaningful and long-term difference within the community — an experience that is often very rewarding and sometimes life-changing. 

These opportunities may give the volunteer a sense of pride and community, often building self-confidence and self-esteem while also providing a chance to learn and develop new skills.  An active volunteer record may also become an important feature on his or her resume.

Since many of us have volunteered ourselves, the benefits for the individual are fairly easy to recognize, but what benefits does an organization achieve by supporting employee volunteerism?  Research has shown that consistent, employer-supported volunteering results in the development of leaders. It promotes more understanding of the community, sensitivity, and leadership skills as well as learning through experience, which may have more of an impact than traditional classroom or workshop training. 

Volunteerism may expose employees to situations they would not encounter in their normal everyday lives, taking them out of their comfort zone and challenging them to grow, adapt, or solve problems. 

Consistent volunteering also results in higher productivity, higher employee morale, and can aid in retention and recruiting. 

A 2010 survey of more than 4,500 adults in the United States found that 76 percent of the nearly 2,000 who volunteered in 2009 felt better about their employer because of its involvement in their community. 

Twenty-one percent of those who participated in the survey admitted that if it were not for the encouragement of their organization they would not have become a volunteer.  However, only 25 percent of volunteers surveyed volunteered through employer-supported opportunities, while 57 percent of those surveyed indicated their employers did not encourage or support volunteering. 

In the last decade, colleges and universities have witnessed a shift in student opinion regarding employers.

Students still want to make money while doing a good job, but they also want to be able to contribute to society. 

According to Dianne M. Durkin, a professor from the MBA program at Plymouth State University and Daniel Webster College in Massachusetts, students prefer to seek employment from organizations with records of philanthropy in their communities.  

Companies offering charitable donations as well as those who offer paid volunteer time to employees ranked highest among students. 

Philanthropic work creates a positive image in the public and aids in brand recognition. It also leads to employee loyalty which often encourages customer loyalty.  Volunteering creates relationships in the community, promotes opportunities for networking, and may result in new or prospective clients or patients.

Health benefits of volunteering are also being recognized. In an eight-year study conducted by Purdue University, results indicated that formal, or structured, volunteering has a positive cumulative effect on mental and physical activity as we age. 

The study, led by the director of Purdue’s Center on Aging and Life Course, Kenneth Ferraro, Ph.D., revealed that “older adults who were engaged in regular volunteering had slower increases in physical disability, and they stayed independent and physically active for a longer period of time.” 

Dr. Ferraro attributes these results to the benefits of social engagement achieved through volunteering.  Empirical evidence supports that those who volunteer on a regular basis have better cardiovascular health, less depression, and lower blood pressure than those who are not involved in volunteerism. 

How can your organization get started?  Office managers play a large role in starting the programs and getting employees involved. 

Develop a written program that addresses what circumstances will be considered volunteer time and defines any rewards or incentives.  Indicate that employees who volunteer on company time will be paid their normal pay rate and that volunteer time is considered time worked, even when computing overtime for nonexempt employees.

Encourage employees to share their experiences with other employees and the public through stories, journals or articles posted on the organization’s Web site. 

Offer organization-wide days of volunteerism to create a positive image in the community and boost employee morale. 

Many employees often continue volunteering on their own time. 

Consider offering a charitable donation to organizations that employees support as an incentive to keep them actively involved in their communities.

The AOA’s Commission on Paraoptometric Certification (CPC) and Paraoptometric Section (PS) has volunteer opportunities available to optometrists and paraoptometrics.

Some volunteers participate as commissioners with the CPC or as council members of the PS. Numerous volunteers serve on committees or assist with special projects with the Commission or Section. 

For more information on volunteer opportunities, contact the AOA at 800-365-2219 ext. 4135 or 4222.

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