2012 VolunteerMatch Client Summit Insights: DIY Method Demonstrating the Business Value of Employee Volunteering

Jul 2, 2012 6:30 PM ET

Volunteering Is CSR

At the 2012 VolunteerMatch Client Summit in San Francisco we welcomed a handful of experts and thought leaders in the fields of CSR and employee engagement to hold “Best Practice Café” sessions with our client attendees. Stay tuned as each Café leader posts recaps and additional thoughts to help you internalize and implement what they shared at the Summit.

Guest post by Bea Boccalandro, Veraworks

Want to show that your employee volunteering adds business value? If so, I have what appears to be a relatively easy fail-proof method: Quantify the relationship between participation in company-organized employee volunteering and the ubiquitous management concept of “employee engagement.”

Employee engagement is the degree to which an employee is willing to do more than their job minimally requires to help their employer succeed.

Not only do existing measures of employee engagement make it easy to measure this business outcome in relation to company-organized volunteering, but doing so appears to consistently conclude that employee volunteering is associated with higher employee engagement.

Is it possible that the business case for employee volunteering could be this simple and accessible to all? It sure is. Let me explain.

Establishing the Link

Employee engagement is the degree to which an employee is willing to do more than their job minimally requires to help their employer succeed. Studies consistently find that engaged employees are better at serving customers, safer, less likely to leave their employer and, yes, more productive.

Indeed, every modern executive seems to be aware that their engaged employees are more productive than their disengaged employees – to the tune of producing between 15 percent and 50 percent more, depending on the study. And all these business effects translate into profitability: Gallup finds that companies with highly engaged employees have 3.9 times the earnings per share than those with lower engagement scores.

In my own research, I have helped a dozen or so companies to quantify the relationship between company-organized volunteering and employee engagement. And every one of them has uncovered that participants of company-organized volunteer events are more engaged to a statistically significant degree than non-participants (at the 95% confidence level, using the Pearson Chi-square test or Student’s t-test for you quantitatively-inclined readers).

It’s true that this “perfect record” is from a small group of companies. Yet the results are consistently and unequivocally positive despite a wide variation in employee volunteer programs and corporate contexts, suggesting that these findings represent a generalized dynamic.

Indeed, these measurement findings substantiate what my work with dozens of companies over a decade has led me to suspect: Enhancing the everyday workday with meaningful contributions to societal causes transforms the workplace experience so profoundly that it elevates employee enthusiasm, commitment and loyalty to their employer and thus increases employee engagement. How volunteering can have such a powerful workplace effect is beyond the scope of this article, but fortunately Chris Jarvis from Realized Worth wrote an excellent piece that explains this link.

Quantifying the Relationship

Quantifying the relationship between company-organized employee volunteering and employee engagement appears to be a productive way to show positive business value.

Here are some easy steps for measuring this relationship quantitatively:

1. Use the same measure your company already uses (or as close as possible) to measure employee engagement.

Chances are your company already measures employee engagement, typically once a year through an all-employee survey. Use it! It most likely has been validated for your workplace, is credible to management and saves you from reinventing the wheel.

The easiest way to piggy-back on your company’s engagement measure is to convince HR to add a question to its all-employee survey that distinguishes participants in company-organized volunteer events from non-participants.

Here is a question that has worked in several companies: “In how many volunteer events organized by [company name] or [company name] employees have you participated in the last year?” [0, 1, 2, 3 or more, NA]. Once you have this question in the all-employee survey, it is simply a matter of comparing the employee engagement scores of company-organized volunteer event participants to those of non-participants.

If adding a question to the all-employee survey is not possible, come as close as you can to your company’s method for measuring engagement. For example, administer your own survey that includes the HR employee engagement question and the participation question. You can administer this to a subset of employees. Try to make each of the two groups (participants and non-participants) no smaller than 500 so it shows statistically significant findings. Alternatively, give HR a list of 500 known participants and 500 similar employees (in terms of gender, tenure, age, position, etc.) who are non-participants and ask HR to give you the average employee engagement scores for each group.

If HR can’t help you, don’t give up. This has been the case with several companies I worked with and it didn’t stop them from succeeding. Simply administer this standard question for measuring engagement to a group of participants in company-organized employee volunteer events, and to a similar group of non-participants: “I am willing to do more than my job requires to help [company name] succeed” [strongly disagree, disagree, neither agree not disagree, agree, and strongly agree].

2. Make sure you compare employee engagement in employees who volunteer in company-organized employee volunteer events versus those who do not.

When doing the comparisons described in step 1 above, distinguish participants from non-participants in accordance to their participation in company-organized events, specifically. Several companies have found that the volunteering employees do on their own without work colleagues is not related to higher employee engagement scores – even if they are using company paid time off to volunteer. In other words, the uptick in employee engagement appears to happen only, or largely, from volunteering that is part of the employee workplace experience.

3. Compare employees who participated in two or more events to other employees.

You will naturally compare employee engagement scores of employees who participated in one or more events with those who did not participate in any. However, several companies discovered that employees who participated once in company-organized volunteer event do not show any, or as great, an increase in engagement as those who participated multiple times. Therefore, make sure you also compare the employee engagement scores of those who participated in multiple events against those who participated in one, and against those who participated in none.

4. You're done!

If you followed steps 1-3 above you are very likely to be able to say something like “Employees who participate in two or more company-organized employee volunteer events have 11% percent higher employee engagement scores than those who do not participate in any.”

Of course, from the steps above alone you cannot conclude that the volunteering led to the higher engagement scores. It might be that more engaged employees are more likely to volunteer. Showing causality requires an extra, more complex, step not covered here, consisting of controlling for other factors that could account for the difference in scores.

Provided they have demographic data on the survey respondents, whoever analyzes the all-employee survey can likely perform this step. If not, though, positive correlational findings still make a compelling case that company-organized employee volunteering increases employee engagement, just not a definitive case.

Indeed, business managers routinely draw conclusions from the combination of a correlational relationship and logical case even if the metrics do not establish the causal link. This is the case with most findings regarding which marketing campaigns increased sales or which announcements raised stock prices, for example.

In any case, a correlational finding is a good first step to making the business case for employee volunteering. At the very least, it will make your internal stakeholders seriously consider the possibility that employee volunteering adds business value.

Why not contact HR today to implement the above steps? Before long, you might be proudly displaying a striking bar graph showing that those employees who participate in company-organized volunteering have higher employee engagement – and thus productivity – than non-participants.

This approach has helped establish the business value of many employee volunteer programs – including those of Aetna, Bank of America, Barclays, HP and UL (Underwriters Laboratories). You can be the next employee volunteer program to show business return!