Employee engagement is crucial in the workplace – and as it turns out, you can develop it by encouraging your employees give back. Whether you give employees an afternoon to volunteer, or the opportunity to take a “volunteer sabbatical,” volunteer programs might help you keep your current employees or even encourage highly qualified candidates to join your ranks.


The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy, a CEO membership organization, annually studies trends in corporate giving. In its 2014 study, it found employee volunteerism programs can be helpful in many different ways. “Employee volunteerism is crucial to helping leading companies engage staff, boost morale, and improve overall job satisfaction,” the study found. It defines successful volunteer programs as those that are “supported and understood organization-wide and have specific, measurable goals that are tracked.”


The CECP found corporate leaders recognize that offering paid time for employees to volunteer can be one of the best ways to increase employee engagement, especially compared to other philanthropic programs, like matching charitable donations. Corporate volunteerism programs may be especially appealing for Millennial workers. “Increasingly, today’s employees are entering the workforce with an expectation that volunteering will be a part of their professional careers,” writes Michael Haberman for the Huffington Post. ”PriceWaterhouseCoopers discovered that 88 percent of Millennials gravitated toward companies with pronounced Corporate Social Responsibility programs, and 86 percent would consider leaving if their employer’s (program) no longer met their expectations. And according to the 2011 Deloitte Volunteer IMPACT Survey, 61 percent of Millennials said a volunteer program would be a factor ’when choosing between two potential jobs with the same location, responsibilities, pay and benefits.’”


Encouraging volunteerism can also keep employees thinking about the big picture, Stephanie Vozza writes for Fast Company. “Community volunteering is very important for employees who seek a higher purpose in life and look for meaning,” Vozza writes, quoting Khadija Al Arkoubi, an assistant professor of management at the University of New Haven. “Companies that allow it improve their employees’ engagement and well-being. They also develop their soft skills, including their leadership capabilities.”


In general, encouraging volunteerism could also lead to a more compassionate workplace – and that could correlate with higher employee satisfaction, according to a study by researchers at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and the George Mason University School. “The key is leadership,” writes Kira Newman for the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. “For decades, management scholars have encouraged leaders to take ownership of their cognitive culture. Similarly, leaders would do well to think about and take ownership of emotional culture.”