Is it CSR or is it HR? Employee volunteering may seem like a philanthropic activity but it is becoming more and more an HR responsibility as organisations see it as a big engagement tool, especially in a workplace teeming with millennials. For this cohort, purpose matters more than pay cheques and if the company offers them a day in a week where they can go teach in a school, or get involved in a skilling initiative for the underprivileged, chances of their staying on in the firm are higher.

Now, add nation-building to the mix as well. On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched a new app — Self4Society — for employee volunteering, urging companies and professionals to devote time to social work. Developed by MyGov after discussions with IT companies, the app has features that foster inter-company collaboration on volunteering initiatives. So far 85 IT companies, including TCS, Infosys, Tech Mahindra, Accenture and Google India, have registered on the platform.

“Employee volunteering is not just seen as altruism, but promoting inclusive growth and seen as a retention tool,” said Aditya Nagpal of Goodera, a platform that helps organisations plan and execute employee volunteering programmes, during a panel discussion at the recent SHRM annual conference

A Goodera survey on employee volunteering in India, titled Vista 2018, shows that only 26 per cent of corporates here have a formal volunteering policy. However, with the launch of the self4society app, more companies could help their staff take up causes. Right now, the government app has started with IT companies, but plans are to bring aboard other sectors too.

The millennials factor

The Goodera survey, in which close to 170 organisations participated, has some interesting pointers. One of the trends observed is that in at least 50 per cent of the companies, the employee volunteering programme is led by HR. In the rest it is led either by the CSR department or by corporate communications or by a business division. Firms are increasingly leveraging employee volunteering as a tool to promote team collaboration and alignment (53 per cent), learning and development (49 per cent) and align workforce to their organisation’s purpose (49 per cent).

The study finds that among the organisations that support employee volunteering, 57 per cent employ more than 50 per cent millennials. The finding is that the greater the millennial population in a company, the more likely it is to support employee volunteering programmes.

The top five causes that organisations support are education (72 per cent), skill development (66 per cent), environment conservation (56 per cent), health and well-being (51 per cent) and women’s empowerment (47 per cent).

The top reasons that companies cited for not having an employee volunteering programme was lack of team bandwidth to initiate, execute and sustain these programmes (33 per cent). About 29 per cent said that lack of leadership buy-in was a reason.

Finally, there is some bad news on the budget front. Employee volunteering budgets have mostly remained stagnant in the last two years. Could the government push in this direction change things?