Pro Bono Economics were supported by the Bank of America Charitable Trust to deliver a piece of research focused on the question of: “How cost-effective are employee volunteering schemes as a way of improving staff wellbeing?”

This project, delivered using the input of our own skilled volunteers, was completed in two phases:

Phase 1 incorporated a rapid evidence review to identify studies that established a link between volunteering and wellbeing.

Phase 2 built on this evidence review to assess how the wellbeing cost-effectiveness of employee volunteering schemes might compare to other initiatives to improve wellbeing.

Key findings from our analysis:

  • There is now relatively strong evidence that volunteering improves wellbeing, however, there is insufficient evidence to differentiate the impacts of employer lead volunteering, or skilled volunteering, compared to volunteering in general.
  • There is potential for corporate volunteering schemes to be cost-effective ways of improving employee wellbeing once indirect cost savings from reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover are incorporated.
  • These benefits could be particularly important at the current time when people may be feeling particularly socially isolated.
  • However, there is currently significant uncertainty around our estimates and more evidence is required

Phase 1: Who benefits the most from volunteering? 

A number of volunteer characteristics have been linked to increased wellbeing impacts from volunteering:

  • Older people benefit more: there is evidence that those over the age of 55 tend to benefit more from volunteering compared to younger people, and even evidence that volunteering regularly could be associated with lower health outcomes for those that volunteer regularly below the age of 30.
  • Lower income groups benefit more: those with personal incomes below £10k per year tended to experience greater benefits from volunteering than other groups.
  • Those with the lowest levels of initial wellbeing tend to benefit more.
  • Those with limited social interactions are likely to benefit more: increased social interaction has an important role in explaining the link between volunteering and wellbeing, and there is evidenc that volunteering more frequently appeared to promote the development of new social networks.

Phase 2: Who benefits the most from volunteering? 

The evidence from Phase 1 suggests that volunteering “a few times per year” is likely to generate around a 0.06 point improvement in Life Satisfaction, on a scale of 0-10. This is a small but meaningful improvement compared to the impact of other factors that affect wellbeing. However, in order to understand whether this makes corporate volunteering schemes worthwhile we need to understand “Are employee volunteering schemes likely to be a cost-effective way of improving staff wellbeing?". To answer this question, we have used a wellbeing cost-effectiveness analysis and concluded:

  • There is potential for employee volunteering schemes to be cost-effective ways of improving employee wellbeing once indirect cost savings from reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover are incorporated.
  • This cost effectiveness is likely to be higher if a scheme targets: older members of staff, skilled volunteers are demonstrated to deliver bigger absolute productivity impacts in the workplace or volunteer scheme management costs are spread across more volunteers.
  • These benefits could be particularly important at the current time when people may be feeling particularly socially isolated.
  • However, there is currently significant uncertainty around our estimates and more evidence is required – we outline a potential approach to strengthening this evidence going forwards.

PBE is grateful for the support of Charlie Courtney, Thomas Dooner, Richard James and William Lobo who volunteered their time on this project.

Read the report in full