Promoting municipal employees’ volunteer efforts
Are citizens in your community aware of city employees’ volunteer activities helping non-profit organizations and local charitable events? For years companies have realized the benefits of publicizing employee volunteer efforts to promote a positive image, improve community relations, and attract customers. Additionally, research shows when companies support employee participation in volunteer activities, employees’ pride in the company increases, as well as employee engagement, performance, commitment, and job satisfaction.
Municipalities may support employee volunteerism, yet public recognition of employees’ efforts is often overlooked. Tracking employee volunteerism participation and promoting those contributions can help cities and other public agencies create a more positive image of their employees and improve community relations. This summary offers suggestions for city leaders to track and promote employee volunteerism to reap the positive outcomes.
Our study found 62% of city employees in Decatur, Alabama are volunteering frequently in more than 36 unique volunteer activities, e.g., participating in United Way organizations, food and clothing drives, backpacks and school supplies, blood drives, recycling efforts, supporting youth sports programs, holiday gifts for children, and fund raising for other employees faced with difficult circumstances. Some companies provide employees paid time off to volunteer. Our findings indicate this is also occurring in Decatur in jobs where the volunteer action is related to the job such as Coffee with a Cop or the City Police Academy.
Other examples cited by the City’s Human Resources Director, Richelle Sandlin, include volunteering for Decatur Youth Services and their annual backpack event. “This all-day event touches over 2,000 children. The police, fire and other available staff generally provide support that day either in shifts or all day. Because it is a City department community event, as staff are available, they are permitted to go to the event to provide support. Another example is the Police Department’s summer block party community event; other departments allow staff to assist with booths, serving food, etc.”
Another City official reported that the benefit to the community sometimes outweighs a few minutes of work time such as donating blood. “As long as employees are completing their work assignments and if the department can spare the employee, they can volunteer with the events and activities they want to help. We think this also helps boost employee morale. Everyone likes to help others if they can.”
Due to the positive outcomes realized through employee volunteerism and based on corporate practices, Director Sandlin identified suggestions for municipalities to consider in supporting volunteerism efforts.
- Collect volunteer data, ask how your employees are volunteering both at work and on their own time. An online and/or paper questionnaire can be completed each quarter or annually during working hours.
- After compiling the results report findings in internal newsletters, email blasts, or employee team meetings. Using more than one method is better and including photos increases the impact.
- Rather than trying to formally support all initiatives – focus on those that can be realistically supported by the city and employees. It is best if the initiative is relevant to the whole community and perhaps rotated to support a different initiative each year.
- Decide whether to develop a formal or informal program. Formality depends on the climate of the organization and current workloads. If a new system is being integrated there may not be time for volunteering to take place during work hours in specific departments. Informal volunteering allows more flexibility but might not be as attractive to some employees due to family responsibilities. If a formal volunteer program is instituted, limit the program to a few initiatives. If informal opportunities exist, communicate this information to employees who may have the time and availability to support those outside of the workday.
- Decide who will drive the initiative. Allowing employees to lead helps develop and utilize their leadership skills beyond skills they use in their jobs, but the initiative must be supported by top city officials.
- Formal recognition should be put in place using a variety of recognitional forms such as plagues, news stories, thank you cards, and appreciation luncheons.
- Share the news – let the entire community know how employees are contributing by using social media and press releases. Invite newspaper reporters and radio, and television reporters and celebrities to events where employees are volunteering. News outlets are always interested in heartwarming local stories.
Companies often receive recognition for supporting volunteer programs, which are essential to providing support to local causes and citizens in need. Findings of the volunteer study conducted in Decatur, Alabama confirm that municipal employees are volunteering in a wide range of activities to help others in their community.
We extend a thank you to the employees at the City of Decatur for their support and participation in this important study and for permitting us to share the results. City leaders are to be commended for allowing the array of volunteer activities taking place during work time. This speaks to the apparent compassion and understanding by leaders of community needs and the positive impact volunteerism has on employees and the community.
We are confident that sharing the results of the efforts in Decatur will encourage other municipalities to support volunteerism, collect data on employee volunteerism so that employee efforts can be acknowledged at work and in the community. Promoting volunteerism will be assist communities and allow municipalities to reap the benefits of engaged and committed employees who are proud to work for their cities.
Dr. Sheila Diann Hammon is an Assistant Professor of Accounting at Athens State University. Richelle Sandlin is the Director of Human Resources in Decatur, Ala.