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Employers opposed to Tory volunteering pledge

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More than six out of 10 (61%) employers are opposed to the Conservative pledge of paid volunteering leave, according to research from Jelf Employee Benefits.

The policy, pledged in the Conservative party’s election manifesto, would oblige all public sector employers, and private companies with more than 250 employees, to give workers up to three days a year off to volunteer.

But only a quarter (27%) of employers agree with the proposals, according to Jelf. The survey also found that 28% of employers already offered paid leave for volunteering to some (9%) or all (19%) of their employees.

Steve Herbert, head of benefits strategy for Jelf Employee Benefits, said that while the intention may be well meant, it overlooks the significant impact on employers.

“Workplace absence is generally accepted to be one of the largest employment costs for UK organisations, and this commitment would add further to this,” he said. “The proposed change would also pose major challenges for employers in recording this new absence type, ensuring adequate cover by colleagues, and also the administration necessary to ensure that the voluntary work qualified to be rewarded.

“The two sets of responses show a distinct correlation. Twenty-seven per cent of employers support the government’s proposal, and a very similar number already offer some level of paid voluntary leave for employees. The government may therefore face an uphill task persuading the majority of employers who don’t currently support volunteering that this is a sound and pragmatic policy.”

Writing for HR magazine in May, Sue Holloway, director of Pro Bono Economics, suggested that paying people to volunteer can actually disincentivise such activity. “There is evidence that if you pay someone to do something that they would have done for nothing, their motivation decreases,” she wrote. “If you oblige people to ‘volunteer’ the activity has effectively become paid work, and people’s motivation and therefore their productivity are likely to decline.”

Ann Pickering, HR director for O2, agreed that a wider culture of encouraging volunteering is more important than this activity being paid. She wrote: “You can implement all the policies you like but if the wider culture isn’t there they’ll soon fall by the wayside.

“Employers need to foster an environment that encourages people to view social responsibility as just as important as their daily tasks.”