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Mental Health and Wellness - Volunteer Program

Corporate social responsibility is a sometimes-overlooked area of organizational policy. In addition to the benefits it has for the community and the world, there is a hidden mental health benefit to giving back. Studies have found that helping others has concrete effects, like reducing feelings of depression and lowering blood pressure. With mental health issues on the rise, now is the perfect time to create an employer-run volunteer program.


To create a volunteer program that gives back and promotes mental health.

What is a Volunteer Program?
Employer-run volunteer programs are programs that organizations provide. Sometimes they involve a formal organization of employees into volunteer groups and at other times they just provide an independent opportunity to give back. Employees are encouraged to provide their services at locations that need the help, with locations ranging from food banks to non-profits. Many large corporations like TD Canada and Home Depot already have existing programs that encourage volunteering. These programs are also gaining popularity. According to the American Charities Snapshot Report nearly 60 per cent of companies offer paid time off for employees to volunteer. In addition to helping the community, volunteering has been associated with many personal benefits like better stress management, improved health and increased psychological wellbeing, making it an excellent choice for promoting mental health while being socially conscious.

How does a Volunteer Program improve employee engagement and culture?
Most employees will feel a natural boost in their sense of personal satisfaction when they volunteer. This feeling directly translates into increased morale and consequently enhanced productivity and engagement with the organization. Moreover, as the company promotes volunteering, they are displaying their investment in a sense of corporate social responsibility which is something that staff will respect. It also allows the company to put its corporate principles into practice. Volunteer teams can further act as a way to bring together employees from different teams into a collaborative environment where they can network and get to know others, again contributing to their overall investment and engagement with the company. Lastly, giving employees time to volunteer provides them with a chance to develop skills that they can bring back to the workplace.

What are the benefits?
Improved mental health outcomes
Contribute to the community
Increased company reputation
Increased morale and productivity
Creation of teamwork and networking opportunities
Skills development

How do you conduct a Volunteer Program in the workplace?
A volunteer program is a deliberate strategy formed by employers to encourage employees to get involved with volunteering. Importantly, it aids in the creation of an environment that is open and encouraging of volunteer efforts. It can consist of donated time and contributions to a group of employee choice, a group endorsed by the corporation or can even exist as part of a broader work commitment. Getting employees to engage with the program can be difficult but this challenge can be overcome by adhering to key tenets. These include having a defined and company-tailored focus and ensuring that charities or causes chosen align with employee interests. Executive support is also vital.


Create a Volunteer Program

Define a focus. Consider why you’re creating this program, whether to drive engagement, act as an attraction tool for recruitment or to improve staff mental health. Now is also the time to assign a specific person or group to lead the program.

Choose a charity or cause. You may want to decide on a specific cause or non-profit for your volunteer program to focus on. Deciding on this may involve surveying employees for suggestions. It could also be as simple as looking at local charities and what the community around you needs. Multiple charities and causes can be chosen here. Other factors to consider include what skills your workforce has to offer and whether you want to align your cause with your company. For instance, the Hasbro toy company has volunteer programs specifically aimed at helping children. You can also allow employees to choose causes of their own volition.

Decide on the scale of the event. Now is the time to figure out how much time you want employees to devote to volunteering. This could look like a focused one-day event or could involve giving employees a set number of paid time off volunteer hours to use throughout the year. A combination of the two might consist of one-off events offered at specific places alongside the provision of paid hours. Groups like Habitat for Humanity are great for workforces to volunteer on single event days. Setting periodic event days can be a way of creating a volunteering tradition. You may also want to set specific goals like achieving a certain number of volunteer hours or having a set percentage of your workforce engage with the program.

Get executive support. With the details worked out, present to the executives your idea for the program. Be willing to negotiate on certain elements and make sure to emphasize the business benefits. If possible, getting an executive to sponsor the program can grant it greater legitimacy.

Promote the program. Make use of existing company communications, emails campaigns, social media channels, and fliers and posters. Make sure that employees are aware of the volunteer opportunities that you have decided to offer. Along with promotion you can ask staff if they have specific skills they can offer that would be helpful at the event. Be explicit about your goals.

Run the events. If applicable run the volunteering event. Otherwise wait for employees to take advantage of provided volunteer hours.

Ask employees to report back. Regardless of whether the program was a planned day or employees were independently volunteering have them report back to share their experiences with you. These experiences can then be shared across the company to drive engagement in the volunteer program.

Measure your results. With employees reporting back you can keep track of how much of your workforce is volunteering and how many hours are being contributed. You can also send out surveys to see how their engagement levels have changed and what skills or benefits they’ve reaped from the program. These stats can be helpful for informational reports and consequently for getting greater executive investment. This data can also be used to see if goals are being met.

Reference Material
Volunteering Is the Best Kept Secret for Mental Health
Volunteering in the Workplace: How to Promote Employee Volunteerism
Seven Practices of Effective Employee Volunteer Programs

Updated on: 08/18/2023

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