• Concerns raised over Conservatives' three-day volunteering pledge

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  • 10 Apr 2015
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Details of funding for staff time-off still to be disclosed

Ahead of a policy announcement by David Cameron today, to get more employees involved with volunteering activities, research by the CIPD shows strong support from employers around the benefits staff gain from working in their local communities.

The CIPD and others have registered concern about how organisations will handle proposed new volunteering freedoms that would be brought in under a future Conservative government.

David Cameron is pledging to give all public sector workers, and anyone working in a company with more than 250 staff, three days’ paid leave each year. The move would make paid volunteering available to more than 15 million workers, and introduce 360 million volunteering hours into communities.

The CIPD report – From Big Society to the Big Organisation: the role of organisations in supporting employee volunteering – found that a significant 93 per cent of employers report that volunteering gives staff heightened personal development opportunities. These include teamwork (82 per cent) and communication (80 per cent).

However, although the CIPD finds strong support for the benefits volunteering brings back to organisations, it also finds just 39 per cent of companies currently have a formal volunteering policy, and according to Peter Cheese, chief executive, CIPD, there is concern about how this new pledge will be managed by the majority of employers who don’t offer paid volunteering.

He said: “We are pleased to see this [volunteering] agenda being championed, and we will be producing additional resources for members seeking to introduce corporate volunteering into their own organisations. But today’s announcement raises important questions about how the three volunteering days will be administered and resourced. “We look forward to consulting with our members about the details.”

Lisa Nandy, shadow minister for civil society, also raised concerns about the pledge: “Giving every public servant three extra days off could cost millions of pounds but there’s no sense of how it will be paid for.

“If just half of public sector workers took this up it would be the full time equivalent of around 2,000 nurses, 800 police and almost 3,000 teachers."

Volunteering has already increased in recent years, with 42 per cent of people in employment formally volunteering at least once a year, according to statistics from the NCVO UK Civil Society Almanac. However, data from the Third Sector Research Centre also reveals a relatively small subset of people is responsible for most volunteering. It found that a third of the population are responsible for 87 per cent of volunteering hours. Cameron's promise is designed to widen the spread of volunteers as part of his emphasis on the 'Big Society.'

Mike Rake, chairman of BT, described corporate volunteering as a “triple win”. He said it was “a win for the community, a win for individuals doing the volunteering and a win for companies”. 

Cheese said: “Corporate volunteering benefits businesses and their employees, as well as the communities in which they work. Not only does it help businesses build stronger roots in their local communities, but it also gives employees an invaluable opportunity to develop new skills and give something back. It can also form part of a new relationship between organisations and their employees, helping them to attract and retain the right talent to meet their wider business objectives.”

Michael Powner, partner at law firm Charles Russell Speechlys, said: “Our experience is that larger employers are often flexible already in terms of allowing people time off to attend governor’s meetings or for charitable works as part of a wider corporate social responsibility type policy, so the proposals may simply bring some clarity and consistency around something that is already happening.

“As ever, of course, the devil would be in the detail. For example, it could get complex and time-consuming, especially for part-time and casual workers, to calculate this extra leave pro rata and well as in determining what counts as genuine voluntary work in the community.”

Charles Cotton, CIPD research and policy adviser, reward, said: “Before these proposals become law, the government would consultant on the details on how the scheme would be administered and funded.”

He said the institute would seek clarification and/or making recommendations on: what volunteering activity would be permissible; whether the employer could require any volunteering to take place at a certain time of year; whether there should be a volunteering kitemark; what information would be required to ensure that the employee was actually off work volunteering; and what would happen in the small number of cases where the employee fell ill or was injured while volunteering.

“Obviously, we would prefer a light-touch regime for employers and employees to come to agreements over the what, when, how and why,” Cotton added.

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Comments (5)
  • I worked for a small charity who recruited volunteers to do marketing calls when a need arose for action as a result of violent weather, war knocking out vital services etc. It worked very well and took little or no training because a script was given and on the first session an experienced caller sat with the new volunteer. There is always something to do in a charity, even if it is making the coffee and tea, sorting the day's post etc. Go on, make someone's day including your own!

  • If we assume the average wage is £26,000 and employees are to be paid an extra 3 days per year holiday, this would equate to about £300 per employer per year, and in a company of 250 this would equate to an additional £75k on the wage bill. Who will be footing that? Also what if people don't want to volunteer, will it be compulsory? Is not doing it going to be a disciplinary offence? Will those who want to do volunteering be able to take the non volunteers 3 days?

    Laura has made some excellent points which need addressing.

  • A great number of public sector staff already volunteer in the form of the regular unpaid overtime they undertake to deliver healthcare services, education and other front line services. This shows how out of touch this government is with what public sector work-life balance is really like.

  • I'm amused by the 'concern' that many companies don't have a volunteering policy and/or a process for managing that volunteering; as if somehow this implies a problem for the Government in terms of having the legal requirement. Given for many years those that do encourage volunteering have provided evidence of its positive benefits (e.g. 93% of those doing it reporting personal/team developmental benefits) then it's about time they did! The opportunity for statesmanship in the community, giving the organisation a positive identity and probably some publicity too pays dividends. This is akin to the grumbles and resistance to the non-smoking legislation that has proven to be so important in terms of individual and social welfare. Bottom line is, get on with it and make it happen as it will be good for you!

  • Have they considered the impact of accommodating volunteers into voluntary organisations from the voluntary organisation's perspective?

    Is it genuinely going to be valuable to them to have to prepare tasks that are suitable for volunteers, coordinate this, supervise them and feedback on their impact? All of that takes time and resources.

    Many organisations working with volunteers invest in volunteers that are brought on for longer periods, perhaps because of particular experience or interests that are required and then work with them to develop their skills, providing ongoing supervision and training.

    As a smaller organisation we often struggle to accommodate groups of volunteers unfortunately as this way of volunteering relies on the task:

    1. meeting a need that is outside of our business as usual activity but which is known to us a fair while in advance and is able to be carried out at a very specific time

    2. requiring many hands for a concentrated period (as often people like to volunteer in groups)

    3. being able to accommodate a mix of skills

    It also requires the organisation having the capacity to accept those kinds of offers (undertake the liaison and planning involved - including risk assessments, internal buy-in, preparing a discrete deliverable task brief etc).

    I can see this may benefit many organisations, but perhaps not those who may need support most (the smaller ones who don't have the capacity to develop the infrastructure that would be required to properly benefit).