VolunteerMatch Summit Insights: Corporate Volunteering Does Not Increase Employee Engagement

At the 2015 VolunteerMatch Summit, held December 1-2 in Oakland, CA, we learned from corporate social responsibility experts about engaging corporate volunteers and partnering with nonprofits. In this series of blog posts, we’ll share with you the valuable insights offered at sessions and by speakers. Up today: A Radical Twist on Employee Volunteering: Job Purposing

Guest post by Bea Boccalandro

Bea Boccalandro discusses Job Purposing at the 2015 VolunteerMatch Summit
Bea Boccalandro explains the elements of job purposing to 2015 VolunteerMatch Summit attendees.

Eggs are great for dessert.

Sounds absurd, right? No chef lists “poached eggs” on the dessert menu. Here’s an equally absurd statement:

Corporate volunteering is great for employee engagement.

Employee volunteer managers should not state this. I’ve helped over a dozen companies measure the relationship between participation in volunteer activities and employee engagement, or willingness to do more than the job minimally requires. Evidently, most volunteering does not drive employee engagement.

Take volunteer grants, a common program among U.S. companies. Employers give a small grant, typically $200-$500, to nonprofits where employees volunteer a certain number of hours in a year, typically between 10 and 50. Do volunteer grants drive employee engagement? There is evidence from over half a dozen companies that it doesn’t. Similarly, there is evidence that using paid time off to volunteer in a manner otherwise disassociated from the company has no effect on employee engagement.

Fortunately, a small edit converts the above statements from absurd to sound:

Properly prepared eggs will result in a great dessert.

Blend cream and sugar into the egg yolks, do a few more steps and, tada! You’ve created Crème Brulée . Eggs are a key ingredient in a great dessert, not the dessert itself. Similarly, the corrected statement about corporate volunteering is:

Properly designed corporate volunteering will result in employee engagement.

Voluntary service to a societal cause is a helpful element towards, but not enough to, increase employee engagement. Academic research and data from several companies – including Caesars Entertainment, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and UL – finds that it’s necessary to blend employee volunteering with another ingredient to lift employee engagement, performance and retention. What’s the other ingredient? Work itself.

Most corporate volunteering does not increase employee engagement because it leaves work unimproved. When their spouse asks at the end of the day “How was work, dear?” the employee volunteer might say “Dull, as always… but serving dinner at the shelter was great!” Their day was improved by the volunteering. Their work was not. If the volunteering doesn’t change the job, it doesn’t change the job.

There is a specific form of employee volunteering, however, that folds volunteering into the job and, thus, transforms work. It’s called “job purposing” and looks like this:

  • FedEx drivers in Florida have the opportunity to attend a Nature Conservancy training on identifying invasive snake species that cause extensive damage to the Everglades. Once trained, drivers scan trees and branches as they drive. When they spot a Burmese Python, they use their company-provided GPS to notify the local authorities of the snake’s precise location. The authorities arrive and remove the snake from the environment. Thus, these drivers help rid the environment of a damaging species every time they show up to work. They are modern day dragon slayers. They have a purposed job.
  • Caesars Entertainment housekeeping staff has the option of collecting partially used soap that they deliver to Clean the World, an organization that sterilizes, recycles and distributes soap to impoverished families across the globe. Housekeepers have the option of helping, with every room they service, to build a world in which preventable infections no longer kill more than 8,000 children every day. They have a purposed job.
  • When call volume allows, LinkedIn call center employees can call donors of partner nonprofits to thank them. This frees the nonprofit from a time-consuming task and gives employees a joyful conversation that supports a meaningful cause. They have a purposed job.

You get the idea. When the spouse of an employee in one of the above purposed jobs asks over dinner “How was work, dear?” the response is likely to be “Great!”

Want to know more? Check out the slides from this presentation.


About the author:
Bea Boccalandro is the author of the Job Purposing Blog, teaches corporate community involvement at Georgetown University, is a frequent keynote speaker on the role of societal causes in corporate workplaces and, through her firm VeraWorks, helps many companies job purpose – including Aetna, Caesars Entertainment, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and PwC.

Follow Bea on Twitter: @bboccalandro.


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