Employers are struggling to find solutions to boost both their employees’ wellbeing and their productivity, as the UK economy fights to pull itself out of the doldrums. Growth is sluggish at best, and the nation’s failing health is holding it back. The number of lost working days due to sickness absence has risen dramatically since the pandemic and this has significant costs for employers. The total cost of sickness absence to UK employers was around £24 billion in 2022.

Workplace volunteering – where employers use policies and processes to support their employees to participate in volunteering during work time – offers a potential triple dividend that could help to tackle this challenge: it can help employees' wellbeing; support higher productivity for employers; and help charities to tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society. 

Yet between 17 million and 23 million employees do not have access to workplace volunteering opportunities. If these opportunities could be rolled out to these employees, then it could support between 1.5 million and 2.8 million additional people to participate in workplace volunteering.

This would drive up the wellbeing of those who participate. Evidence has shown that volunteering leads to an increase in wellbeing that is roughly the same as the difference in quality of life experienced by moving out of an area with sewage odour problems and into one without. This improvement in wellbeing has an economic value of between £800 and £1,300 per additional volunteer, based on HM Treasury’s guidance. This means that expanding workplace volunteering opportunities to cover all employees in the UK could generate £1.2 billion to £3.6 billion in wellbeing benefits per year to the individuals themselves.

There is also a hard-nosed business case for employers when it comes to skilled volunteering. Ensuring all employees have access to volunteering opportunities could save between 1.4 million and 2.5 million working days of sickness absence. Beyond this, workplace volunteering has been shown as likely to drive up productivity through better health and improved skills, as employees learn from the experience. Even after deducting the costs of lost time and administration for volunteering schemes, these benefits could amount to net productivity gains of between £1.6 billion and £2.8 billion to the UK economy. From the employers’ perspective, workplace volunteering schemes such as those run by Pilotlight could deliver between £1.50 and £3.60 of benefits for every £1 spent.

Beyond the benefits to employees and employers, charities gain too. Right now, charities are facing staff burn-out due to rising demand for services, and challenges recruiting both volunteers and staff. The third substantial benefit of a roll-out of workplace volunteering would be an influx of new volunteers who could provide much needed additional capacity at a critical time for the sector. This would ensure that these organisations can continue to do what they do best ­– making a difference in our communities, tackling social injustices, and improving our environment.

Skilled volunteering offers a wealth of untapped potential for employers, individuals, and social sector organisations. A step change in employers working in partnership with charities to ensure that their employees have the opportunity to participate in volunteering activities makes good business sense for everyone involved. 

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