Sep 23, 2019
The power of service
An explosion of company-wide volunteer days is proving a boon to companies seeking higher workplace engagement, communities and nonprofits in need of help on key projects, and employees who see a boost in their own social well-being, experts say.
“We are all social beings and we also know giving helps us feel positive. Volunteering together combines these two key elements in mental health,” says Dr. Ken Duckworth, medical director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness and director of behavior health at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, whose Service Day draws thousands of employees to volunteer projects in Massachusetts every year.
Bringing people together around a common goal and giving them the opportunity to interact outside of the office and connect on a human level allows people to build real relationships and bonds, Duckworth adds.
“In addition to societal benefits, volunteering has been shown to lead to a variety of outcomes for employees who participate including: increased task variety, leadership development, social cohesion, a deeper sense of belonging, and deeper engagement with their employer,” says Katherine Smith, executive director of Boston College Center for Corporate Citizenship. “All of these outcomes contribute not only to better productivity at work, but also to improved wellbeing for the employees themselves.”
Volunteerism resonates with employees, particularly millennials who, surveys have found, are deeply concerned with ensuring that their company’s values align with their own. Deloitte’s 2017 Volunteerism Survey found that 89% of employees say company-sponsored volunteer opportunities provide a better working environment and 74% of think volunteering provides an improved sense of purpose.
According to the Center for Corporate Citizenship’s Community Involvement Study, 95% of companies who measure the relationship between volunteerism and employee engagement found that there is a positive correlation between volunteer participation and higher engagement scores.
That has proven true at Blue Cross.
“Service Day is known around our company as the best day of the year,” said Blue Cross CEO and President Andrew Dreyfus, whose not-for-profit health plan has been engaging in a company-wide volunteer day for nearly a decade, after an employee suggested it. “It has been so rewarding to see an idea that was generated by employees become a mainstay of our company and defining pillar in our community giving and business strategy.”
Projects range from meal prep for critically ill patients to planting trees in urban parks and cleaning campgrounds for underserved youth.
On Sept. 20, 3,000 employees -- approximately 90% of the company -- volunteered to support 52 community projects to improve the health of communities in Massachusetts, as seen in the interactive map and photos above. With groups of 30-100 employees volunteering for several hours at dozens of project sites, in total, associates contributed 20,000 hours of volunteer service and the company donated over $300,000 in grants to cover the cost of project materials.
The impact on nonprofits is powerful.
“Our volunteers were able to advance or complete projects that would, in some cases, take months or years for our staff to accomplish,” said Marc Mahan, volunteer manager at The Trustees, a land preservation group and long-standing Blue Cross’ Service Day partner. “With Blue Cross’ financial and volunteer support on Service Day, we can ensure that our miles of trails are accessible, and our property is clean and maintained for families to enjoy all year round.”
HEADER PHOTO BY FAITH NINIVAGGI | SLIDESHOW PHOTOS BY FAITH NINIVAGGI, ION SOKHOS, AND STEPH PAULOVICH