Three Reasons Skills-Based Volunteerism Supports Retention

Driven by the economy, the need to pivot quickly to respond to market demands and perhaps most of all, by a workforce that’s recently been through a recession, employee engagement has a decidedly different face than it did even ten years ago.

Here’s a sobering statistic, according to Gallup’s poll of Americans: 68% of workers are not engaged or actively disengaged. Though this number is actually the lowest reported since Gallup started polling in 2000, many problems are associated with lack of employee engagement, including poor performance, low morale and lack of interest in advancing. But the ultimate problem with disengagement is that it can drive turnover. Especially for companies with professional, skilled workforces, this can have financial implications. Because of the investment that a company places in a worker beyond his or her pay and benefits, including ongoing training, losing an employee earning $50,000 annually can create a cost anywhere from 20% to 49% of his or her annual salary, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. At the executive level, the losses are on par with about two years’ salary.

While this is indeed sobering, it isn’t the extent of total drawbacks. Other challenges include lost productivity while the departed employee’s replacement is trained; the cultural impact of seeing coworkers of whom we’re fond leave for greener pastures; and the loss of that employee’s expertise, especially that which was developed as part of company-sponsored training. And getting a new employee in the door has costs, too, from the recruitment process to training.

While retention is a complex problem necessitating an entire toolbox of solutions, don’t overlook the value of volunteerism. Here are three reasons skills-based volunteerism in particular can help your company lessen the burdens of turnover:

Volunteering = purpose, which is relevant to Millennials. And Gen X. And Boomers. Basically, it’s relevant to all your workers.

As Millennial grow into middle manager roles, they are still more susceptible to feel a job-hopping itch than older generations. A sense of purpose helps to recruit and retain this group, who just expects their employers to help provide purpose, through meaningful work, volunteering and more. But it’s also important to Gen X and Boomer workers, who are often unhappier at work due to feeling locked into their careers. According to the director of Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute, Philip A. Pizzo, “When people get to their mid-career phase, they want to give back and do something meaningful.” He goes on to caution that people who volunteer haphazardly and without purpose just to feel that they are giving back will not feel fulfilled.

Volunteering drives engagement, which aids in retention.

Research from True Impact showed that 94% of employees surveyed believed volunteerism was a positive influence on job satisfaction. What’s more, a University of Georgia study found that employees who volunteered were “more willing to help out their colleagues, talked more positively about their companies and were less likely to waste time on the job”—all marks of being engaged at work, not to mention better performance [7]. Employees that are more engaged with their work and with the company in general are less likely to leave.

Volunteering supports corporate learning and development—if done right.

Companies invest a lot in learning and development: an average of $1,208 per employee, as reported by organizations surveyed by Association for Talent Development in 2014. There’s also a cost associated with having employees away from their desks and in training (or volunteering): $1,798 per employee per hour. Thus, it’s worthwhile to leverage volunteering time to as an opportunity to support ongoing professional development outside regular job duties. For example, middle managers participating in leadership-track training could practice leadership skills by serving on a nonprofit board. Similarly, staff members being trained in social media skills could help a nonprofit maintain its Facebook or Twitter feed before conducting this work on behalf of the company.

Skills-based volunteerism programs that support learning and development aren’t the panacea to address retention challenges, but it’s certainly a worthwhile place to start, both in terms of seeing ROI on dollars invested in training and reaping the benefits of engaged employees.


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