According to researchers at The University of Sydney, people who spend their free time giving others a leg up are generally happier than those who don’t.
Volunteers are reported to have improved physical and mental health, including relief from depression and chronic pain, lower blood pressure and greater control over their weight.
Helpers are also generally more satisfied with their lives and feel a sense of belonging and purpose within their communities, while enjoying higher levels of oxytocin, which encourages yet more virtuous behaviour.
With the Australian Bureau of Statistics reporting volunteers gave a whopping 489.5 million hours of their time the year prior to the 2020 survey – despite a global pandemic – it’s clear Australia is a nation of helping hands.
The ultimate team building exercise
It would come as little surprise to many leaders that leaning into this penchant for doing good deeds can be extremely advantageous for businesses. In fact, Volunteering WA Executive Manager of Engagement Traci Gamblin said it was certainly not lost on Western Australian companies.
“Many companies in WA are forgoing the traditional team building day for a day out volunteering in the community,” she told Workplace Conversations.
“Aside from providing a unique and enriching experience, corporate volunteering enables employees to explore new situations and challenges, provides opportunities for interactions with colleagues from other areas of the company, increases their awareness of community issues, has fantastic health and wellbeing benefits and assists the company and employees in making a meaningful contribution to the community.
“Better still, companies reap the rewards from such activities."
"Corporate volunteering leads to increased company pride, loyalty, morale, team spirit, better employee attendance and retention.
“It also leads to heightened and positive recognition by stakeholders, new skill development opportunities for staff and transformative relationships between the company and the local community.”
According to Ms Gamblin, the switch from traditional corporate team building to volunteer days can also have a measurable impact on a stretched not-for-profit sector.
She said community organisations reported the completion of major tasks in a fraction of usual timeframes, access to potential new ambassadors for their organisation and, in some cases, the opening up of new income streams.
Countless ways to help
Through Volunteering WA, companies can access a wide range of corporate volunteer programs, including building wildlife enclosures, painting houses, gardening, cook-a-meal programs, sorting clothing donations and conservation activities.
Among the companies leveraging the benefits of volunteer days is mining giant BHP, which has partnered with Foodbank to help feed approximately four million Australians every year unable to pay for food.
The BHP Team at Foodbank
One of its teams recently visited a Foodbank warehouse to pack meat hampers of chicken, beef and pork.
The team packed more than 315 meat hampers, which were distributed throughout Foodbank’s network, and enjoyed a productive and fun day combating food insecurity.
Similarly, Australia’s largest natural gas producer Woodside’s employees recently volunteered with People Who Care, a non-profit organisation that serves people with disability, people of old age and families rebuilding their lives after domestic violence or disruption.
The Woodside team visited a Dianella home owned by a man unable to maintain his garden and the staff spent the day clearing garden beds, removing overgrown ivy and cleaning pathways.
Within a few hours, the Woodside staff completely transformed the Dianella front and backyard for the thankful homeowner and enjoyed a significant lift in team spirit.
Doing it right
Ms Gamblin said employees felt a great sense of achievement after volunteering and they appreciated the growth in their personal skills and broadening their social perspectives.
"There is also evidence that the public expects businesses to commit good deeds and genuinely want to make a difference," she said.
“There is no doubt that corporate volunteering can result in good PR for the company involved,” Ms Gamblin said.
“However, studies show employees and community beneficiaries seek authenticity when it comes to corporate volunteering."
“The more genuine the commitment to the cause, the more genuine the response and interactions will be with the communities involved.”
Reflecting on the other key factors for success in these programs, Ms Gamblin recommended fully supportive and involved company leadership.
She said volunteering policies and procedures should be clear, the program should be well coordinated and specific resources should be allocated to cover any expenses.
Employee recruitment documentation and orientation packs should include information about corporate volunteering, and Human Resources teams are encouraged to include questions about the volunteering program in any employee engagement survey.
Ms Gamblin said it was important for corporate volunteering programs to consider appropriate team sizes, the work the community organisations needed done, health and safety issues that might arise and any material or equipment required.
“The activities we organise for our corporate partners are genuinely needed by our not-for-profit member organisations, and benefit both the community and the volunteer,” she said. “We ensure the community organisations are best prepared to utilise teams of corporate volunteers.
“And in turn the corporate group receives a comprehensive induction from the community organisation so they truly understand the impact their volunteering is having.
“They have recognised the many benefits of volunteering, not only for employee engagement, but for the community as a whole.”