Group of friends during a volunteer garbage collection event in a park at sunset - Millennial having fun together - Happy people cleaning area with bags - Ecology concept

Over the past two years we’ve seen a distinct change in how corporations view their employees’ well-being. The pandemic and its economic ramifications have been linked to higher rates of stress, anxiety and depression, which in turn affect how we operate in the workplace. The sudden interconnectedness of home and work life found some people unmoored, while others thrived being close to their loved ones.

Working from home has both perks and challenges. 

It can be difficult to read the mood of a colleague from behind a screen. Often, mental health issues or internal workplace conflicts go unnoticed digitally or are communicated passive-aggressively through messages or tense video calls. Additionally, some employees missed the interpersonal elements of a physical workplace, like a daily coffee, a chat in the boardroom or a simple “good morning”.

For others, working from home allows for more quality time with family. There is less pressure to complete work quickly without a manager constantly looking over your shoulder, and thus, work was of better quality. Plus, the flexibility to work when you can, rather than the typical 9-5, has been embraced by many.

This has resulted in employees now wanting to work from home 2.5 days a week on average. Managers are struggling to get people back to the office more than ever. And, for those that do come into work, there may be an anti-climax. The introspection caused by lockdowns and the focus on mortality has made people question their role in both work and the world. Many people have realised life is short and subsequently are seeking more support or more fulfilling life paths. Over 77 per cent of millennials in 2020 said “a sense of purpose” is part of the reason they chose to work for their current employer.

Introducing wellbeing managers, a role that involves the delivery of workplace wellbeing strategies and the measuring of employee mental health over time. Whilst these roles existed few and far between before the pandemic, they’ve certainly seen a boom in the past two years as leaders try to re-engage their teams and ensure emotional care and overall satisfaction. In fact, there are over 1421 wellbeing manager roles up for grabs on LinkedIn in Australia alone.

Some of the most common tactics employed by wellbeing managers include buddy systems, various health incentives like a paid health coach or a free gym, and more paid days off for mental health. Whilst these are all beneficial tactics, they are expensive for companies. But we do have alternative methods, like corporate volunteering. Why is corporate volunteering, a low-cost and inherently rewarding activity, such an untapped resource by wellbeing managers?

It’s not like corporate volunteering hasn’t proven its effectiveness in boosting employee morale, productivity and its ability to strengthen team dynamics. One survey found that 64 per cent of employees who volunteered said it strengthened their work relationships. 90 per cent agreed that contributing business expertise to a non-profit was an effective way to develop leadership skills. The survey  also reported employees experiencing improvements in their mood, stress levels and overall health. With so many nonprofits struggling under the weight of the pandemic, it’s not as if there’s a lack of demand for volunteers in Australia.

Aside from the clear benefits volunteering poses to employee wellbeing and retention, it’s also beneficial for our economy. Volunteering is actually worth more than our mining industry, with people contributing over an estimated $200 billion annually.

While many companies struggled through the uncertainty of COVID19, so did the volunteering sector. In 2020, two out of every three volunteers stopped volunteering entirely, equating to a loss of 12.2 million hours each week of work. By the end of 2021, only one in five people were volunteering, even though opportunities had become readily available both online and in person.

Face-to-face activities like volunteering are also a way to ease hesitant employees back into office attendance through purposeful work that feels directed and visibly rewarding. Offers like free gyms or health coaches may be slightly intimidating to some employers and don’t really cater to everyone’s needs. Corporate volunteering is flexible, personalised and welcoming.

So, when wellbeing managers are looking at the latest wellbeing trends and are trying to budget them into an expensive internal communications plan, they should look to corporate volunteering: undeniably effective, visibly cost-efficient and inherently rewarding.

Victor Lee

Victor Lee, Communiteer

Victor Lee is the Founder and chief executive of Communiteer More by Victor Lee, Communiteer

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