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Trending: Volunteer Sabbaticals

Posted on September 7, 2016
Image of raised hands with the word volunteering above

Providing volunteer opportunities to employees is nothing new. Years ago while working at Bank of Boston, I was pulled from my normal day-to-day responsibilities to manage the annual United Way Campaign. Many companies participate in blood drives with the American Red Cross, while others have partnered with the Big Brother Program, or Fall food drives. The employee, however, had little or no choice in the choice of a charitable organization – their only choice was to participate or not (in some cases the latter was not an option). However, as Dylan sang, times they are a-changin’.

Today, there is an increasing trend to offer employees paid time off to volunteer. In a March 16, 2015 Forbes article, “These 21 Companies Will Pay You to Take Time Off,” Colleen Kane highlights the options available at companies such as Pricewaterhouse Coopers, REI, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, The Cheesecake Factory, The Container Store, and Adobe Systems. While each company’s program is different, they all offer this type of paid time off to volunteer, and the employee can choose a charitable organization that aligns with their interests.

The idea is that employees who take a month off to volunteer will return to the company rejuvenated and excited, and much more likely to bring a new perspective to his or her position. According to Michael Stroik, the Manager of research and analytics at the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), “A highly engaged workforce is more likely to exert extra effort and have lower turnover rates, which can be linked to increased output, sales, and profitability.”

There are, of course, benefits to the employee as well. Most workers, regardless of rank or level, are unable to take a month or two off unpaid to share their talents with a charitable organization. Sure individuals can volunteer after hours and on weekends, but many charities operate during normal business hours. And employees with other commitments simply don’t have the extra time. This makes it difficult to contribute in a meaningful way. The paid-work release or volunteer sabbaticals offer workers the opportunity to dive in deep and utilize their skills and talents for the betterment of an organization in need. The employee reaps the reward by leaving feeling fulfilled and energized. looked at the paid-release experience of Debbie Feit, a senior copywriter at a marketing firm in Michigan. Debbie had two children and little time to volunteer. When her company offered her an opportunity to take a month-long sabbatical to volunteer at a charity of her choice, Debbie didn’t hesitate. “It was a rare chance to marry what I do for a living with the life I am living.” She opted to volunteer at the Association for Children’s Mental Health and the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. She used her writing and marketing skills to boost their social media presence, and wrote a grant, which awarded the nonprofit $20,000 to develop a new website. After she completed her 30 days, Debbie said, “MARS could have just sent money to the organization, but instead they also devoted my time to something I felt passionate about. I was very touched by the experience.”

Paid-release doesn’t have to be as weighty as the case outlined above. Even small companies can participate in this practice. Giving an employee one day off a quarter, to volunteer can bring about significant rewards for the employee, which ultimately translates into better morale and higher productivity. Furthermore, it is a practice the company can highlight on their website, push through social media channels, etc. to enhance or develop a reputation as a company that cares and gives back. Volunteer sabbaticals are a win-win for everyone!

With the millennial generation seeking employment with companies who are engaged in, and with, their greater communities, I believe we will see this trend continue to develop. If your company offered you paid-release to volunteer, where would you share your talents and skills?

Anne Converse Willkomm
Director, Graduate Studies
Goodwin College
Drexel University
Posted in innovation-workplace