Covid-19’s spike in volunteering – can organisations help employees to ‘keep up the good work’?
By Jo Faragher on 21 May 2020
You only have to look at the numbers of people that signed up to the NHS volunteer responder scheme in the first day alone – some 400,000 – to see that the coronavirus crisis has sparked a fresh wave of enthusiasm for helping others across the UK. The scale of volunteering has ranged from furloughed workers offering their specialist expertise to charities to neighbours popping to the shops for those isolating in their communities.
The fact that workers who have been placed on furlough due to the impact of coronavirus on their employer are allowed to volunteer has provided a huge boost to organisations in need. As long as the workers do not provide services that make money for or on behalf of their employer (such as simply ‘volunteering’ to do their usual role), this is not in breach of the job retention scheme.
Connecting skills to charities
In April, Hello Fresh co-founder Hamish Shephard and accountancy firm director Sam Tasker-Grindley saw this opportunity and set up Furlonteer – a not-for-profit initiative that connects charities and other causes with skilled and willing people who are currently out of work. Anyone that signs up to be a ‘furlonteer’ is also offered free mental health support and/or life coaching. So far, the site has attracted well over 1,000 volunteers for a broad range of charities.
Tasker-Grindley says he hopes that, going forward, more employers will create CSR-specific teams to help employees volunteer, and it becomes more integral to organisations’ cultures. “Currently it is fairly common for employers to offer employees some time off to volunteer with a good cause. However it would be great if this new spirit of giving encourages employees to offer their skills on a more regular basis so they can become real assets to the charity as well as offering their physical help for a few days a year. We’re hoping that from this business volunteering will transform into something much more than painting a fence!”
Good for wellbeing
Voluntary sector body NCVO also argues that there are advantages to nudging furloughed staff into an unpaid role for a while: “We know volunteering is good for wellbeing and makes a huge difference to communities across the UK. Helping staff members who want to volunteer is a responsible thing to do,” it advises. “This can range from setting up fast-track volunteering with a charity partner to simply providing a reference to help speed up someone’s recruitment.” D&I professionals are likely to be well placed to connect with charity partners, so if periods of furlough are likely to be extended for large portions of your workforce, this may be something to consider.
Volunteering could have a vital role to play in improving the fortunes of those who were potentially about to enter the workforce. The Institute of Student Employers recently found that employers will cut entry-level jobs by almost a quarter this year, while 15% may also cut graduate and school-leaver roles in 2021. Gaining experience through a volunteer role could help graduates and school leavers to build a story to tell at an interview, argues ISE chief executive Stephen Isherwood. “What students can do now depends on individual circumstances,” he advises students. “If you can volunteer or get part-time work, then that’s great. Whatever you do, be proactive.”
Purpose and inclusivity
For employers looking to support furloughed workers (or employees perhaps working reduced hours), its 2019 report on workplace volunteering, the NCVO found that it had the most impact when it was purpose-led. On occasion, employers might have been “more motivated by wanting to fulfil their own CSR strategies than a genuine desire to help”, the research found, or employees felt it was equivalent to a ‘day off’ rather than helping a worthy cause. Karl Wilding, director of public policy and volunteering said at the time: “The message from our research is clear: employer-supported volunteering needs to start with why people want to volunteer, involve each of the different groups to work together in making the experience of getting involved a good one, and remember the reasons we are all doing this at the end of the day: to make a difference to the causes we all care about.”
Tasker-Grindley believes that doing voluntary work or being involved with different causes can “help companies to develop a more broad-minded and inclusive ethos”, so can be an important component in wider D&I initiatives. He concludes: “Volunteering brings everyone to the same level and can be a great tool to mix those on all levels for a greater cause.”
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