Volunteering programmes help boost employee mental and physical health

While still adhering to COVID-19 protocols, many South African employees still have volunteering at the top of their agenda. Ths year we can expect a great deal of the effort to be focused on helping people and non-profit organisations (NPOs) to rebuild beyond the pandemic. In fact, the recent Sage Foundation People Powering Change research study indicates that 43% of South African respondents believe their employer plans to increase support to local communities in which they operate in the wake of COVID-19. Yet volunteering has benefits that mean it shouldn’t just be about COVID-19 relief efforts or a feel-good factor.

Volunteering programmes help boost employee mental and physical health
Joanne van der Walt - Marketing Director: Sage Foundation

Volunteering programmes not only position companies as good corporate citizens and help communities in need, but they are also a great way of driving employee engagement. Study after study finds that volunteering programmes help to boost employee mental and physical health, enhance employee recruitment and satisfaction, and enhance collaboration.


To unlock these benefits, your business needs a well-designed and executed volunteering programme that boosts employee engagement and interest.


I’d like to share some of the lessons I have learned over the years about what helps to catalyse success.


  1. It needs to be about shared value


The starting point of a successful volunteering programme should be designed to create real value for everyone – the NPO or community partners, the company, and the employees who will participate. It makes sense for an organisation to choose volunteering programmes that complement its day-to-day business, whether that means playing to the strengths of its core business or addressing the needs of its local communities.


It’s also important to develop processes and policies for engaging with NPOs and communities that enable you to really understand their needs and context. This is about listening closely so you can provide them with the resources and skills that will really have meaningful impact on their operations. A good relationship with open communication is key.


  1. Good volunteering programmes should become part of the employee value proposition


Volunteering programmes can benefit employees by giving them a feeling called the “helper’s high”, a buzz that comes from doing good for others. It can also be a part of their employee value proposition.


In addition to being able to help others on company time, they could get opportunities to develop new skills and bond with their teammates. The best volunteering programmes are designed to offer opportunities for everyone to participate, no matter what their age, passions or personal interests are. It makes sense to offer a range of volunteering opportunities so each person can find something they are passionate about. 


  1. Give employees a voice


Volunteering programmes are most successful when people are personally connected to the programme or NPO in which they are involved. Offering colleagues an opportunity to play a part in nominating or choosing beneficiaries, and in the early stages of designing initiatives, can help get them more invested in volunteering.


  1. Measure and report on the success


Constant measurement of the impact of your volunteering programme is key. It can be useful to measure the outcome of every engagement and programme, as well as the entire volunteering programme to identify opportunities for improvement. Consider measuring impact across multiple dimensions, including employee engagement, outcomes for your business, and results for the partner.


Feedback from employees can help you see if they’re feeling engaged with the volunteering programme and help you optimise it. Sharing feedback from community or NPO partners and outcomes of their volunteering efforts can help them see how they are making a difference, driving more engagement.


  1. Design for scale


One of the major challenges is scaling up volunteering programmes so they can make a sustainable difference for each partner and help to start driving change across the broader society. Think about ways of maximising resources and learning from each engagement so you can replicate the success stories in different locations and with different partners.


A powerful way of connecting to employees


Volunteering programmes can be a wonderful way for companies to attract and retain employees, giving them an edge in competing for talent once the basic boxes of working conditions, salary and benefits are ticked. It’s a way of helping colleagues feel connected to the company and its mission by giving them the opportunity to connect to a higher purpose.