Why we want to work for free

Thursday 3rd April 2014

Penny Pyror

Corporate philanthropy has moved way beyond the occasional company donation, raffle or charity gala. It is now a very real staff retention policy with as many as 35 per cent of organisations offering volunteering leave.

Westpac was one of the first banks to offer volunteering leave in Australia and Samantha Brown, head of community involvement, says that anecdotally its one of the things employees love most about the company.

“That's one of the reasons why they join our company,” she says.

“I’ve even heard that from a board member, who was choosing between a few companies.”

“It is about employee engagement.” Samantha Brown, Westpac

Westpac research has found that around 63 per cent of employees take part in volunteering or fundraising activities over a year, with around one third of those activities taking place in work time.

Brown stresses that Westpac’s approach and its style in this space, is very much around supporting employees in their causes and charities of choice, rather than offering a structured program.

“It is about employee engagement,” she says.

As well as it being a way for the company to demonstrate its values, there is also a real business case for Westpac. By providing a popular benefit for employees, they are more likely to stay with the company, and staff turnover, which presents a cost to the company, is reduced.

Westpac also offers the opportunity to participate in secondment programs through partnerships with organisations like the Jawun Indigenous Corporate Partnership in Cape York that centre on mentoring work. These secondments are for six weeks to three months. Brown says that through the program, employees get the opportunity to further their professional development, as well as contributing to the Cape York community.

“AMP's volunteering program is one of the popular benefits of working at AMP.” Fiona Wardlaw, AMP

AMP and the AMP Foundation, are also industry leaders in the corporate philanthropy space.

“AMP's volunteering program is one of the popular benefits of working at AMP. It's one our employees step up for time and time again,” AMP's group executive people and culture. Fiona Wardlaw, says.

The AMP Foundation organizes and funds the volunteering and fundraising and one of the activities it is involved in is the Corporate Day program at The Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross.

The day involves an educational morning, where participants learn about The Wayside Chapel, what they do and the issues their visitors face and then they cook and serve a community lunch for those that use the Wayside’s services. Up to 10 employees may be part of the corporate day, and they are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There is a cost to the company of $950 to cover administration and food.

“You can almost visibly see them, as [corporates] look at people on the way in, and they are thinking - why don’t you work, why don't you just work as hard as I do.” Graham Long, The Wayside Chapel

Graham Long, pastor and chief executive officer at The Wayside Chapel, says the relationship is one of those very rare win-win situations.

“I think it’s great for the company because the politics of life in some of these companies is very two dimensional and there is no substitute for meeting someone face to face,” he says.

Marcus Ross, Wayside community educator, says that they have corporate groups through quite often twice a week, but at least once a week. The program started in 2007 in response to companies coming to the organisation and asking for ways to become involved. The result was a “hands-on frontline activity” that provided educational opportunities for the employees as well.

Long says it is really important for people to actually meet the people and understand their perspective on life, particularly if they are in middle management in offices with “marble floors and shiny desks”.

“You can almost visibly see them, as they look at people on the way in, and they are thinking - why don’t you work, why don't you just work as hard as I do,” he says.

“Once they actually meet someone who is rough sleeping, and someone who is an ice addict, and someone who is prostituting themselves, then everything changes.”

Last year, AMP employees donated more than 19,000 hours of their time to community organisations and activities like the Wayside corporate day.

“We've found that their motivation for volunteering is driven by the idea that a lot of people working together can do more, and that volunteering with their team is an enjoyable way to contribute to the community,” Wardlaw says.

Encouragingly, over 87 per cent of AMP employees say they were likely, or very likely, to volunteer again.

The Mercer Australian Benefits Review for 2013 found that 35 per cent of organisations now offered some kind of paid charity leave. The 2013 survey collected data from 353 organisations across all major industry groups and sectors in Australia. Interestingly, the review found that while one day was offered in quarter one that had increased to two days in quarter three.

As workplaces become increasingly flexible, and employees demand more than just monetary remuneration, the number of organisations offering volunteering leave is expected to increase, and its value as a retention policy to rise.

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