Hot topic: Compulsory volunteering

12 May 2015

This article was written by Sue Holloway, PBE Director, for HR Magazine on May 12. View the original article here.

The Conservative manifesto proposed requiring public sector employers and companies with more than 250 employees to give staff up to three days a year for voluntary work. After the party's general election victory, organisations may be wondering how this potential new law will play out.

HR magazine asked two experts for their views.

"Motivation is key when it comes to volunteering. Twenty-three million people over 16 in the UK volunteer with an organisation at least once during the year, but not (for the majority) because their employer has told them to.

There is evidence that if you pay people to do something they would have done for nothing, their motivation decreases. If you oblige people to ‘volunteer’, the activity has effectively become paid work, and people’s motivation and therefore their productivity is likely to decline.

While the suggested three days a year may seem a lot to employers in terms of time lost, for the beneficiaries of volunteering  it may not add up to a great deal of input. We know that the 15 million or so people in the UK who volunteer formally and frequently (at least once a month) already give between 14 and 32 days a year on average. A massive contribution could be made by public sector employees, if each gave an extra three days, but there are risks if not done in the right way.

And there are plenty of reasons for people to volunteer without coercion and to be actively encouraged to do so by their employers. The 2006/07 Helping Out survey of volunteers found benefits included enjoyment, satisfaction and achievement, meeting new people and making friends, broadening life experience, boosting confidence, reducing stress levels, improving physical health and learning new skills. A recent poll by YouGov found that nearly all managers believe that workplace skills can be gained from volunteering.

At Pro Bono Economics our volunteers say they find the experience of using their skills to help charities really rewarding, as well as enhancing their professional development. And employers tell us of the benefits of being able to offer staff a wider range of experiences.

So inform, encourage and support your staff to volunteer, but keep volunteering voluntary."

Sue Holloway is director of Pro Bono Economics, an organisation that matches economists who want to volunteer with charities that need those skills.

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