Employee volunteering: The unsung hero of employee benefits

Having a visible volunteering commitment in your organisation is important for recruitment and retention, writes Sally O’Brien.  

Back in the day employee benefits might include health insurance, life insurance, staff car parking and sometimes even shares in the business. While those benefits are still in place for some, many New Zealand businesses are looking at other ways to add value to their employee packages, including a day of volunteering for their staff.

However, unlike some other employee benefits which are set and forgets, volunteering is an often overlooked opportunity. Opportunity for what? A day out of the office working out of the business? For nothing? On the contrary, volunteering is more than a feel-good PR exercise, and works for the business in many ways.

Without stating the obvious, team volunteering builds… well, teams. It helps to get people from a variety of different business units, backgrounds, and levels of management on an even playing field for a day, performing the same or similar tasks.   

When people volunteer together, they are showing up as themselves and stripping back corporate formalities. It starts with being seen in their casuals (gumboots, raincoats, sport-casual), through to managers naturally becoming more approachable in a relaxed setting. 

If one of your strategic imperatives is being a people focused business, practice this with your own people and show them you are not afraid to roll your sleeves up and walk the talk.

At the same time, managers get the pulse of their staff. Set aside employee surveys or performance reviews, volunteering is the time to get alongside people and really connect face-to-face. If you want to gauge the temperature of your team by engaging in a more personal way with your staff – volunteer together. And along the way you are giving your time to a community organisation that values your efforts. 

The 2016 Wellness in the Workplace survey released by Southern Cross Health Society and Business NZ reported that in 2016 New Zealand lost an average of 6.6 million working days to absence and, reflecting over the life of the survey, …the country loses an average of 6.1 million to 6.7 million days annually.

It’s not uncommon for staff over the winter months to get fed up and mentally drained by their workloads. We know the grind between Queen’s Birthday and Labour Weekend is a long one. Volunteering can replace the ‘mental health day’ but in a way that is still productive for the business.    

The good news is that there are plenty of great volunteering opportunities over this time. June to October marks the start and end of the planting season. If your business is serious about reducing its carbon footprint then volunteer for environmental not-for-profits over this time.  

Having a visible volunteering commitment is important for recruitment and retention. Many people, particularly younger people, look for a business culture that represents more than the sum total of its profit. If they are going to commit they need to know that the business fits with their values.   

Corporate social responsibility goals are an outward reflection of the business values. Sustainability, community, environment; volunteering plays a key part in reaching all these goals. People want to see that the business lives up to that.

If volunteering is offered in the package it is important to follow through on that value and not just offer it as lip service. 

Staff are unlikely to share ‘another day at the office’ with friends and family but they will talk about their volunteering days and how great it is that their business encourages staff to use that day. Volunteering encourages loyalty and commitment because the business is genuine about giving back.

If you want to see if your team members have potential leadership skills give them the job of organising a volunteer day out with their teams. Organising the day includes logistics, time management, measuring outcomes and getting people to work together.

A volunteer day is a great testing ground to see who has potential and can be directed into senior roles in the future. 

Employee volunteering staff benefits present unique opportunities for staff and the business alike. When embraced and executed well, employee volunteering can build resilient teams, reduce absenteeism, keep your best staff with you and help develop future leaders.  


Sally O’Brien is the employee volunteering coordinator at Volunteering Auckland, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to leading positive change in the community through the support and promotion of volunteering.

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