UK workers want to volunteer but expect employer support

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The increased sense of community created by the coronavirus pandemic has meant many of Britain's workers are keen to volunteer their professional skills to charities, but new research from business skills charity Pilotlight has found that they need the time and support from their employers to do it.

The study found that 21% of employees – around six million people – are already putting their work skills into use on a voluntary basis and a further 50% would like to volunteer using their professional skills.

Pilotlight said this represents a huge employee development and engagement opportunity for businesses, and has launched a campaign to ask businesses to 'Give Back Better' by creating more opportunities for staff to volunteer their skills to good causes.

Of employees currently involved in volunteering their professional skills, around half do so with the support or knowledge of their employers.

Among the half of workers saying they would like to share their work skills with good causes, 69% said they struggled to find time while 38% said they needed guidance on how to do this – barriers that Pilotlight said employers are able to lift.

The majority (77%) of employees said they believe that employers should be supportive of their staff taking time to volunteer, while 64% believe that employers have a moral duty to help their communities and wider society through support for volunteering.

During lockdown, professional services firm PwC offered 40 volunteer staff to help man helplines at Advice NI and Age NI.

Speaking to HR magazine, David Adair, head of community engagement at PwC, said: “Volunteering allows our partners and staff to experience things from a different perspective by putting themselves in other people's shoes. They then bring that perspective and innovation back into the firm. It also allows us to share our skills and expertise in the communities where we have a presence.

“Nearly half (49%) of our volunteering is skills based, such as mentoring social enterprises, digital upskilling, or running employability sessions as part of our social mobility programmes. We feel it’s important as a highly skilled workforce to share our skills and resources in the community.”

Adair also said that volunteering gives employees the chance to develop their soft skills which are critical in a highly-competitive job market like the one under the pandemic.

He added: “Three quarters of our partners and staff that volunteer say they have developed soft skills such as empathy and listening skills through volunteering. While they receive a lot of technical training it’s important that they’re also given an opportunity to develop their softer skills and volunteering provides a perfect avenue to do so. It also increases staff engagement.”

Pilotlight CEO Ed Mayo, told HR magazine that the health and wellbeing volunteering brings should not be underestimated either. He said: “That has been known for a long time and it stands to reason that there is a strong sense of fulfilment and connection that comes with helping out.

“The more recent evidence, confirmed in this new research, is that done right, volunteering is also a great way to learn and develop your skills. Done with care, it is good for the business.

“What we want out of work is changing. With more varied careers, we all gain from an exposure to different contexts and different challenges and if you are using your professional skills through pro bono work, you are reinforcing those skills by using them in a new setting.”

He added that the most important form of support for employers to give their employees is a permission slip to suggest volunteering.

“You won’t know what ideas your colleagues have if they don’t know that it is OK to ask whether they can.

“Employee supported volunteering is where flexible working was ten or fifteen years ago: growing interest, diverse practice, but with no clarity for staff on what to expect. There is no right to request when it comes to volunteering but employers can give an option to suggest volunteering and increasingly they do.”

Populus conducted the survey of 2,144 UK adults for Pilotlight in August 2020. Of those 1,197 are currently in work.

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