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By Joanne van der Walt, Marketing Director: Sage Foundation

Even before the pandemic, employees were looking for more purpose in their jobs and higher levels of social responsibility from their employers. The COVID-19 economic and health crisis has amplified this trend, with people around the world expecting their employers to do more for causes and communities that matter.

Leading organisations are sitting up and taking note, recognising that corporate philanthropy and volunteering can have as many benefits for colleagues as they do for beneficiaries. A well-considered and executed volunteering programme can help drive higher levels of employee engagement, motivation, satisfaction and retention.

Sage Foundation’s People Powering Change research study found that 48% of South African employees, rising to 54% of 18 to 44-year-olds, see commitment to corporate philanthropy as a main driver to work for their organisation. Three quarters (75%) say corporate philanthropy is their reason to continue working for their employer.

This is not surprising since most people get a sense of purpose from helping others. Our research discovered that 90% of the South African survey participants considered their volunteering programmes to be useful for their local communities. Participating in these programmes offers them an opportunity to make a difference.

Giving makes people happy

To understand why volunteering can be such a powerful tool for engaging and motivating employees, it’s worth looking through the lens of industrial psychologist, Frederick Herzberg. He argued that ticking ‘hygiene’ boxes like competitive pay and benefits, good working conditions and decent job security can help prevent employees from becoming unhappy.

However, these basics are not enough to make people truly happy in the workplace. To achieve higher levels of satisfaction and engagement, employers need to focus on motivational factors such as giving people a greater sense of purpose and significance in their jobs. A corporate philanthropy or volunteering programme contributes immensely to an employee’s sense that their work is meaningful.

It’s a way for companies to help people connect to a purpose beyond chasing the next quarterly sales target or getting through a stack of paperwork. It’s also a great way of building rapport within teams, which in turn, fosters higher levels of collaboration and helps drive the organisational culture.

Reducing workplace stress

What’s more, volunteering can help reduce stress for employees during these difficult times.

Breaking from the office routine and doing something positive for communities can help develop higher levels of employee mental and physical wellbeing. Doing good for communities, releases endorphins in the giver’s body that leads to a feeling of exhilaration followed by a sense of calm. One study found that 78% of volunteers say volunteering lowers their stress levels.

These benefits can all help boost employee engagement as well as individual and team performance. This is why companies that are not involving employees in their volunteering programmes might be missing a beat.

While giving is always positive, volunteering has wider impact for the business, its beneficiaries and employees than writing donation cheques or running fundraisers.