Employee volunteers and engagement | S1 E21

First published: 27 October, 2020

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Series 1
Employee volunteers and engagement | S1 E21

Employee Volunteers and Engagement

In this episode of Engaging Internal Comms, The Big Picture People’s Craig Smith talks to Leader of the Volunteers Hub for Engage for Success, Vlad Levitsky. We learn about the positive impact that volunteering can have on employees, and why it can be a great strategy to boost employee engagement.

Engage for Success is a dynamic and volunteer-led movement promoting employee engagement as a better and more beneficial way for employees, teams, and organisations to work.

Vlad has a wealth of internal comms experience gained throughout his career: he was previously Internal Comms Lead, EMEA at AT&T, he held the position of Colleague Engagement and Comms Leader for Barclays, and also Internal Comms Manager at EMEA for Canon.

The relevance of volunteering

Vlad explains how promoting volunteer work, and encouraging employees to participate, can build and transform the workplace culture, and breathe life into the company’s values. Promoting volunteering within an organisation and its people delivers many benefits, most notedly:

  • Fostering a community spirit
  • Creating engagement in participants
  • Creating a sense of pride
  • Creating workplace collaboration
  • Promoting improved workplace culture

Working on volunteer work can benefit both the individual and the organisation. As Vlad points out, “There’s a lot of social interaction, visibility to senior leadership, networking in the workplace, building new skills or getting your work experience. All those reasons are really valuable and valid.

Joining the agenda of the company and the employee

Organisations must find a way to motivate their employees who wouldn’t normally take the time from their personal lives to carry out volunteer work.

So, how can an organisation encourage employees who aren’t motivated, to align with its values and join the culture of volunteering?

Vlad identifies that it is not the company who creates the way in which an employee can volunteer – it’s the employees. Simply put, if an organisation offers its people a ‘menu’ of different options, their choice will motivate them to spend time on something that means something to them, or that they will enjoy, and be proud of.

Providing diversity and inclusion incentives will also create interest and motivation amongst employees, particularly when they feel strongly about the subject.

People will step up because they might feel strongly, for instance, about women in the workplace; or they might want to form a black professionals group; or if you have an agenda of making your workplace a great place to work – then social teams and social groups are created to create a fun environment,” explains Vlad.

With the choice made, the company’s role is to provide a supportive culture that frees up people, time, and resources, “to do these things that aren’t necessarily reflected on the bottom line” – an important factor highlighted by Vlad. This isn’t about impacting the bottom line.

Vlad uses the idea of finding the ‘sparkplugs’ within your organisation – the people who create the motivation, and spark ideas for what they want to stand up for and achieve with volunteer work. “These are the people who are going to bring other people with them – and those other people become the doers and the regular contributors.

With the right people being allowed to ignite their passions by doing good, with the support and encouragement of their company’s efforts and time, a movement is born.

Recognising all forms of volunteering

The importance of volunteering is that of creating engagement. It’s creating a workplace culture that empowers people to step up and voluntarily take on responsibility, be it big or small.

Vlad notes how this can range from something as simple as creating a group internally. Even something as simple as an employee recognising that they love reading, and creating a Book Club within the organisation. They spend their free and unpaid time on organising a collaboration of likeminded people, which consequently brings colleagues together with social interaction.

Vlad emphasises what companies should be doing to encourage this good and rewarding spirit of its people: “You really do need to allow people to step up. It’s about creating that culture where not everything is top down.

The four pillars of engagement

Vlad believes that the four pillars recognised by the most successful organisations are mirrored in what is required for volunteering for engagement. These four pillars of engagement are:

1.     Strategic narrative

Successful companies strike a strong strategic story about their company, which cascades throughout the organisation.

In promotion of volunteering, this is demonstrated in a cause and its purpose. This is what the volunteers will sign up to and believe in.

2.     Engaged managers

For successful business, management must be engaged and engaging.

For volunteering, this is where permission comes in, allowing autonomy and freedom for employees to feel supported in their extra-curricular interests and voluntary work – support beyond the desk and KPIs.

3.     Employee voice

An organisation must accommodate two-way communication that encourages employees to have an input in thoughts for company structures, implemented strategies, and how their team develops.

With regards to creating voluntary opportunities, this pillar promotes the incentive for those who aren’t in leadership positions to become the ‘sparkplugs’ – giving them the opportunity to lead and collaborate a group interest or incentive.

4.     Integrity

The most important pillar of all. A successful company fills the gap between what is said and what is done.

With creation of engagement through volunteering, it’s important that the message is consistent, as is the support.

In all the same aspects of creating engagement, the same qualities and ambitions apply to create passion and meaning to volunteering, backed up with crucial and motivating support of your organisation.

Measures of pitfalls and success

Vlad points out the importance of measuring the impact of executing these four points. “I think it’s really important to measure the impact at the end, and then shout about the successes. So, the successes could be: how many people attended; or donated; how much money did we raise; what’s the impact to the community?

The effects of the voluntary efforts must be assessed so that both individuals and their organisation can decide how improvements can be made. Perhaps more time needs to be invested, or there were certain pitfalls that need to be evaluated and learned from.

Vlad identifies the pitfalls to consider:

  • Don’t expect too much from people who still have other priorities
  • Be patient – there may be a lack of experience, or expertise, from those who have volunteered, but their enthusiasm and commitment must be praised and supported
  • Create a loose framework – let the volunteers design and create, and avoid rigidness in what they’re allowed to do
  • Accept that people will withdraw – there will be constant recruitment for new volunteers, so have a pool of people available to simply ask for contributions of their time
  • Have a radar of employees’ qualities which they may not be aware of, and empower them to be utilised beyond the workplace – spark their imaginations
  • Provide some direction and tasks – without restraining their freedom

Organisations and employees must be aware of the pitfalls that will occur, but not allow them to overshadow the good spirit and collaboration of individuals who have stood up to the challenge.

Summing Up

Volunteering creates a rich culture within an organisation. Vlad has shown us how giving them the freedom to act in favour of what they believe in or enjoy, or the time to help where it is crucially needed and therefore rewarding, will enrich a company’s workforce tenfold. Employees will be engaged in their organisation and all that it supports: freedom, encouragement, collaboration, and pride – the golden ingredients for a thriving company.

As Craig perfectly summarises, “Managing volunteers is a great way to learn how to get the best out of people”.

Useful Links:

Vlad’s LinkedIn profile: https://www.linkedin.com/in/vlad-communications-marketing/

Website: https://engageforsuccess.org/

Email: vlad@marketingmuscle.co.uk

To inquire about volunteering opportunities at Engage for Success, email volunteer@engageforsuccess.org

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