By Emily Hinck

Volunteer Time Off (VTO) is a growing trend as an employee benefit offered by companies. The main driver behind this is corporate social responsibility (CSR), specifically with those companies who participate in Pledge 1%. Pledge 1%, lead in part by Salesforce.com, is a commitment by companies to give 1% of time, 1% of equity, and 1% of product to their communities. Pledge 1% provides a tangible model for companies to participate in corporate social responsibility.

More and more, customers are demanding that corporations have authentic corporate social responsibility programs. The 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report found that 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally sustainable brands – this is up from 55 percent in 2014 and 50 percent in 2013. In addition to supporting CSR through purchasing dollars, consumers also want to see the results – real metrics. Consumers are holding corporations accountable for the triple bottom line (financial, social, environmental).

There are numerous quantifiable metrics for a company that participates in Pledge 1%. For example: dollar amount of grants given, amount of product donated, and number of hours volunteered. But, there are many positive impacts for both the company and the employee that are not tangible. For example, consumers may have more brand loyalty or there may be a higher retention rate for employees because they also feel loyal to your brand. Some of these benefits are impossible to quantify. One benefit that is nearly impossible to quantify is spending time volunteering – and being given volunteer time off to do so – might make you better at your job.

I know, it seems like an impossibility. How can volunteering (in other words, working less) make you better at your 9-5? You’re not reading emails, attending meetings, or pushing paper. You’re not attending training sessions on the latest widgets or learning how to become a better manager. VTO means valuable time lost from an employee’s productivity and resource planning standpoint – right?! I disagree. Here are a few ways that volunteer time off benefits you (the employee) and your employer:

  • You’ll be happier.
  • You could be more creative – or at least have some more creative moments or ideas.
  • You will build connections and networks with your community and your co-workers.
  • You will be a better leader.
  • You will disconnect from email and screen time for a few hours.

Let’s dig into each of these benefits a bit more.

Happiness

We all know that volunteering is hard work. But, chances are that when you finish a volunteer shift, you feel good about what you’ve accomplished and contributed. These are rewarding feelings – and they make us feel happy!

There are many social theories about why volunteering makes us feel happy (ie the controversial selfish gene theory), but regardless of the reason why it makes you feel happy the outcome is the same. And, when you feel happy your overall well-being increases. You are more pleasant to be around, you smile more, you have something cool to talk about over lunch.

You become a good coworker. Everyone notices a happy coworker. This in turn benefits your employer. Happiness is contagious and happy employees are more productive employees.

Creativity 

Regardless of the volunteer task you are assigned, new problems or situations are going to get thrown your way. You are literally forced outside of the box. And this has big rewards.

When you’re at the office, your are likely focused on specific tasks. This causes your brain to censor creative ideas. You need to free up some brain power in order to be creative. New, unfamiliar tasks challenge your brain to build new connection pathways.

In the same vein, when you perform a monotonous task, you free up your brain for creativity. Some volunteer work – for example filling up goodie bags for the local 5k – are pretty monotonous, freeing up your unconscious for other work. With your actions are on auto-pilot, your unconscious is free to work on other things – to meddle with free association (see related research). This is often why folks will go for a walk to “clear their head” or why the “shower epiphany” is a thing.  Let’s call this the “volunteer epiphany.”

In addition, volunteering puts you in a good mood (see above: Happiness). This typically means you are a bit more relaxed that you are in the office. These two feelings – happiness and relaxation – are key ingredients for one of the best creativity stimulators of all time: the every-powerful dopamine. A little jolt of this neurotransmitter is known to boost creativity as well.

Connections & Networks

Rarely will you volunteer in a vacuum. Chances are, when you volunteer you are interacting with other people. It might sound shallow – volunteering in order to network. But, think of it more as a by-product and not a motivator. If you are volunteering independently (not with your company), regardless of where you are or what you are doing, there is always a possibility that you will make some community connections that come in handy later. This is part of being an active and engaged community member. You’re building a network of people who have at least one thing in common with you. You’re likely to find other things you have in common as well.

And that is just one side of the connections you could make. If you are volunteering WITH your company, you are spending quality, non-work time with your coworkers. You might get to learn interesting things about them and you will have shared experiences. These experiences build relationships that come into play in the office environment.

So often our coworker interactions are in a few categories: work or downloading over coffee/lunch/drinks. Volunteering together provides you with a positive, informal environment for team building. This is a huge benefit to you and your employer, who now has a more cohesive and collaborative team. 

Leadership

Let’s start this section with the definition of humility. Humility is the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people. Humility is also a key indicator of a Level 5 leader. That means that the best leaders are humble. They are able to keep their ego in check.

When volunteering, you are in a totally new situation where someone else is in charge and is the expert. You are not the boss. And, sometimes, volunteer jobs are tasks that if asked to do as part of our 9-5 job, our reaction might be “I don’t get paid enough to do x, y, or x”. (Think, volunteering at the local humane society and cleaning out cat crates).

The scenarios in which we volunteer – for example a soup kitchen or homeless shelter – also prompt us to be humble, thankful, and perhaps less concerned about our material possessions. Again, this benefit is not only a huge reward for you, but also a benefit to your employer. They are essentially investing in capacity building by providing VTO!

Disconnecting

This is perhaps my favorite benefit of volunteering – disconnecting from phone, email, social media, etc. And, it probably seems like the least beneficial side-effect for your employer. You are not checking or responding to emails, and you’re not even tweeting about how awesome your employer is for giving you VTO with great pictures of you and your colleagues bonding over rebuilding a local stream.

Research continue to show that screen time is just straight up harmful. Too much screen time can cause grey matter atrophy in the brain – areas affected included the important frontal lobe, which governs executive functions, such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, and  impulse control  (“getting stuff done”).

Light from TV and computer screens can disturb sleep and the natural rhythm of metabolic hormones – and disrupted or insufficient sleep can increase risk of obesity/overweight. And, studies show that adults spend at least half of their leisure time in front of a screen. And that’s just leisure time! The statistics are just downright scary. Give your eyes and your brain a break – go volunteer (and put your phone away while you to do).

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that volunteering and VTO is beneficial for you AND your employer! What are you waiting for?! Go volunteer already!

You may also be interested in reading about how our our team utilizes our VTO policy:

Emily Hinck

Emily Hinck