For eight years, I worked for a city government. Near the end of my tenure there, I was asked to sit on a committee that was tasked with creating an employee volunteer program (EVP). My initial thought was: “How are we going to do this? There are nearly 1500 people in this organization!”
The second was: “How are we going to do it and still keep the public happy?”
Neither question is easy when dealing with charitable contributions of any kind, a diverse group of employees, and a public constituency that watches your every move, waiting for a misstep. This second question becomes even more important if you’re a Federal entity. Even if you’re the local branch of the Post Office, you still have the entire country watching you.
How then are you expected to improve employee engagement through an EVP without ruffling too many feathers? First of all, remember the old adage about pleasing all the people all the time. It’s not going to happen. Second, follow some of the tips I gleaned from my experiences.
Know Your Limitations
Federal employees are encouraged to volunteer regularly. In 2006, the director of the United States Office of Personnel Management (OPM) released a memo detailed incentives for employee volunteering and pointed to the regulations regarding time off, reimbursements, and rewards.
The OPM provides employers the opportunity to award their employees the President’s Volunteer Service Award (PVSA), which is a great way to recognize an individual’s efforts. Because you are not awarding employees time off for their work, or giving them any other monetary reward for the time they put into their charitable contributions, you are in keeping with the OPM’s guidelines on employee volunteerism.
Keeping the limitations of how you can recognize your employees and whether or not you can offer paid time off for them to volunteer is the first step in building your EVP. While you can’t offer PTO, you can allow employees to take vacation days or use other scheduled time off or alternative work schedules to compensate for volunteering. Working these policies into your EVP are key to making it work.
I worked for a city entity that offered multiple business units with a wide array of skills. There was a Parks and Recreation department, a Building Department, even a Public Works Department; therefore, we built our EVP around the skills-based volunteering model.
This model allowed our business to be involved with more than one charity through the skills of an individual, the skills of a particular business unit, or the skills of a group of employees. The contractors of the Building Department were encouraged to participate in Habitat for Humanity. The arborists in the Parks and Recreation department volunteered their time doing extra clean-up in the state’s parks.
Many Federal agencies already partner with larger service organizations to offer relief during disasters or emergencies. However, using a skills-based model to create an on-going EVP benefits not only the organizations involved but also the constituency.
Instead of cherry-picking a charitable organization to support, a municipality or Federal agency can support multiple organizations. This, in turn, can support the entirety of a community. We did not offer paid time off for volunteering, because we couldn’t, but our Human Resources unit
Recognize the Hard Work
Applying to be part of the PVSA is a perfect option for entities that have volunteers who contribute time regularly. It does, however, take more than a tangible reward to recognize the efforts of your employee volunteers.
Be sure to include the employees in any kind of EVP, reward program, or combination of the two. The simple act of letting employee volunteers know that their efforts are not going unnoticed is sometimes enough. When I joined the city’s EVP committee, I’d been with my charity of choice for three years. Being asked to help build the EVP was recognition in and of itself for me.
Those of us who work for Federal agencies and municipal entities want to do good in our communities. We always have to be cognizant of the fact that we are not only representing ourselves, but our entity when we’re volunteering. Whether as a group or as an individual, we are the face of that entity. A skills-based EVP that lets individuals and groups of employees choose their charitable organizations wisely is a great way to do that.