The Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) field talks about employee volunteer recognition as either “employee recognition” or “volunteer recognition.” In terms of thought leadership on how companies are recognizing employee volunteers, we rarely see these two topics married. And that’s because they are treated like two different worlds – when they’re not.
Employee volunteer programs are becoming a normal and expected part of CSR programming at Fortune 500 companies in North America. Corporate volunteering is truly beginning to blossom in other parts of the world – Europe, Latin America, the UAE, South East Asia, India (to name a few). But is it always seen as an important part of CSR programming? Ask yourself: how important is your employee volunteering program in the grand scheme of your overall CSR programming? Are you elevating and supporting employees’ full potential – their passion for social good – by providing leadership opportunities through volunteerism? Is it part of new hire onboarding? Do managers support it? Is there appropriate budget behind it? Is it talked about at company-wide meetings and town halls?
Recognition and appreciation are closely tied to how important employees feel, and how companies demonstrate appreciation for their work. Employee volunteerism is hard work, and employees do it on top of their day-to-day work responsibilities, expectations from family and friends, and often by sacrificing social time. The thing is, if the employee volunteer program is perceived as important, it goes a long way to making the employee feel important. Employee volunteering can have far-reaching individual, workplace, and community impact. It can do a lot. But, it’s also asking a lot. So, it’s important that companies see this, and recognize it appropriately. The big question is – how?
Employee Volunteer Recognition Strategies:
1. Integration with Personal and Professional Development Programs
One of the primary indicators of an important employee volunteering program is integration with broader business objectives. Employee recognition and volunteer recognition are likely seen as two different worlds because employee volunteerism is often not integrated into company-wide employee appreciation systems. If employee volunteering and citizenship activity isn’t factored into personal and professional development as a minimum, your company is missing out on measuring – and telling a compelling story about – the potentially hugely impactful effects that volunteering and citizenship can have on:
- Retention & talent attraction
- Leadership skill development
- Employee engagement & motivation
- Inclusivity at work
- Employee health & well-being
The best way to start this conversation is by meeting and talking about what’s possible with measurement and with HR, ideally representatives in employee experience and talent retention. When you go into the conversation, have a clear idea of what you want the program to achieve for the individual employee, the company, and the community. Need some ideas on how to set people, company and community goals? Here are some current trends and recommendations from us.
2. Align with Company-wide Recognition Programs
According to a report on Trends in Employee Recognition by WorldAtWork, the top five employee recognition programs out of a sample size of 341 companies are:
1. Length of Service (85%)
2. Above and Beyond Performance (77%)
3. Programs to motivate specific behaviors (51%)
4. Peer to peer (49%)
5. Retirement (34%)
Work with the people who manage these kinds of programs to see where recognition of citizenship and volunteerism can fit in. Adding volunteerism or community-related work as criteria for receiving an award, or by having citizenship or volunteering as a category on its own makes prosocial behavior and activities part of company culture in a more organic manner.
3. Local Mentors
Establish an employee volunteer leadership network across the company to ensure that any employee who wants to volunteer has a local person with whom to consult. Providing a formal governance structure for employee volunteerism signals to employees that your company cares, that it takes citizenship and the causes employees care about seriously. This is an incredible way to recognize employees for their leadership and to help develop a more compassionate workplace.
- Employees who mentor: Mentors are usually people who have years of experience guiding and participating in citizenship and volunteering. Elevating employees to “volunteer mentor” status helps people improve leadership/people management skills, cross-company connections, and teamwork on top of creating social impact with colleagues.
- Employees who lead citizenship activities (mentees): Employees who want to lead activities, no matter if they’re just starting out or if they are experienced at leading events, have someone to go to for advice and support. Someone they know and trust and who can help them align who they are at work with the work they want to do in the community.
4. Ongoing Learning Opportunities
If we’ve learned anything from working with employee volunteers across the world, it’s that people who love to volunteer and lead citizenship are hungry to learn. Once an employee becomes deeply involved in citizenship work, they always want to know more about what they can do to help, or how to better understand social issues – both local and global. Providing things like implicit bias training, or courses on equity, diversity and inclusion, having a guest speaker come in to speak to volunteers regularly, or providing a lunch and learn with topics of interest are just a few ways you can give employee volunteer leaders more access to knowledge as a way of showing appreciation.
Full disclosure: we want you to use our employee volunteer leaders’ training to provide real value to your people and your program. Here’s an example of some work we’ve done. You can also reach out and we’ll tell you more about it!
5. Localized Storytelling
Most companies do a great job of telling stories internally and externally about employee community efforts, citizenship, and volunteerism. But one of the big misses we often see is the lack of localized storytelling. Not every company is equipped to be able to tell stories locally – either because of a lack of staff, or not having the right channels set up – but having volunteers locally whose focus is just storytelling can change the game. Ensuring that an office or even a specific business function shares what employees in that location or function are doing to give back to communities makes employees feel like their work is important and seen. Having an employee volunteer contact in strategic areas of the company who are responsible for finding and sharing stories can go a long way toward helping employees feel appreciated. These employees can also, if they’re comfortable, present to other employees on the benefits of the program and some of the success stories. You can equip these volunteers with everything they need to tell great stories (a kind of “advocacy toolkit,”) such as:
- Access to an expert: A contact in the communications or CSR department to guide storytelling
- Brand guidelines
- Photo and video guidelines and waivers
- Powerpoint templates with program talking points and success stories
- Blog and newsletter templates/guides
- Social media tips and tricks
- A guide to appropriate channels and internal online sharing spaces
Employee recognition events, volunteer appreciation awards, and friendly emails to managers letting them know the great work employees are doing are all useful in their own ways. But employee volunteer recognition that’s built and rooted into core business practices is what’s really going to help employees feel valued, appreciated, supported and recognized. Demonstrating that your company “walks the talk” when it comes to citizenship helps employees feel as if who they are and what they care about is visible at work, and supported by the company.