Volunteering for businesses: how an innovative approach can unlock the potential of a busy workforce

M&S Merthyr at Adref - PILOT 1_blog image.jpg

01 June 2018

Published last month

Volunteering, it’s not just for retirement. There’s a popular misconception that people with full time jobs haven’t got the time to volunteer. Not only do they have to work full time, but the time it takes to research and organise an opportunity can put people off.

However, it is certainly not how we see it here at M&S. Yes, our priority is to ensure the shop floor is always fully staffed, yes, we need to make sure the customer service centre is always manned and the website can never go down. But with good planning and thinking differently about how we deliver volunteering opportunities, it can be used to motivate colleagues and bring out the best in them.

Volunteering opportunities add value in many ways - teaching new skills, helping people learn how to problem solve, fostering social connections and ultimately improving job satisfaction and wellbeing. When we surveyed colleagues that took part in our week-long volunteering push last year, 90 per cent said it made them feel happy and more motivated. 96 per cent said it is an essential employee benefit.  

So it’s definitely worth doing, but in a busy, consumer-facing business how do we match community need with the volunteering opportunities that work for colleagues?

We run two schemes that are available to every colleague. Every M&S employee is entitled to a paid day’s leave to volunteer. For this, colleagues choose the opportunity themselves and the only criteria is that it must be for a registered charity.

We also run a focused week every year, organised by a central team, where we have mass mobilisation of thousands of colleagues across the country. Inspired by programmes like DIY-SOS, small teams across the country come together to deliver transformation challenges by local charities.  The social network for social good, Neighbourly.com, help us digitally and quickly connect with local charities allowing them to put real challenges forward that work in the timeframe available and make a difference to the communities we serve. Almost every charity that takes part tells us it is a really positive experience which makes them more positive to the M&S brand and helps them understand our commitment to the community.

To support colleagues that can’t get involved in either the volunteering day or the week-long event, we run a number of bespoke volunteering events for M&S teams. 

Some great examples ….

Silverline … at our national customer service centre in Chester every week 33 colleagues fit in a 30-minute call into elderly person who benefits from the social interaction and the fun of chatting freely with a motivated colleague.

Royal Voluntary Service … we found a way for our colleagues in our cafes to participate by hosting tea parties in our stores for the RVS which meant that colleagues could only do a few hours volunteering either side of their normal working shift without having to travel to other locations in the community.

Charity hackathons … for the last two years our data analysts community have joined forces with Datakind to run charity hackathons which has been a great way to boost training and development while at the same time helping charities solve real life challenges.

And in the case where the work required is so specialist our colleagues have still found ways to spend a few hours supporting other volunteers either by sorting food bank store rooms, providing catering for community park transformation projects or giving an hour styling and interview advice for young people going for job interviews.

All in all, our people volunteered at over 600 projects last year and colleagues delivered over 30,000 volunteer hours and we’re aiming for more this year.

Volunteering is too good to wait for retirement. It can be something you do once a year, once a month or every week whether you are working full time or not. That’s why this volunteering week it’s important that businesses support their people and find flexible ways to make it easier and more enjoyable to volunteer. Ultimately, it is a great way of building strong social bonds and helping more people live healthier, happier lives. A good reason to celebrate this Volunteers’ Week.

Read more from this author