Paid time off for volunteering gains traction as way to retain employees

August 11, 2013

In recent years, Max Lubarsky has volunteered all over the region. He’s cleaned up the bird exhibit at the National Zoo. He’s worked with Habitat for Humanity to build a house in Northeast Washington. He’s laid mulch for the Trust for the National Mall.

And Lubarsky, a junior analyst at District-based Carlyle Group, was able to do all of this during the workday without using any vacation time.

That’s because his employer offers two days off per year to do volunteer work.

“It’s been a great opportunity to give back to the community,” Lubarsky said.

And though he only learned of Carlyle’s volunteer work policy after he started working there, he said it’s a policy that has made him more loyal to the company. Lubarsky said it was important to him to work for a company where he could make a difference, both professionally and civically.


Marcia Baker paints railings at nonprofit’s building in Indianapolis during Schwab Volunteer Week. (Eugene Korolev)

“We need great people,” said Christopher Ullman, the private equity firm’s director of global communications. “And more and more, we’re finding that having a volunteer program is an important benefit that people seek.”

Experts and employers say it is becoming increasingly common for workplaces to offer paid time off to do volunteer work as part of an effort to boost engagement and retention among employees.

“Companies see these types of programs as something that will set them apart,” said Michael Stroik, senior research analyst at the Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy.

An annual study of employer benefits by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 20 percent of respondents offered this perk, and that figure has been steadily rising since 2007.

Two key factors seem to be driving this change: One is a perception that millennial generation workers want to give back to their communities not by writing a check, but by rolling up their sleeves. And amid a sluggish economy and tightened corporate budgets, Stroik said his organization has noticed that many employers are making noncash donations a more central part of their giving strategy.

At banking giant PNC, staffers are given 40 hours of paid time off each year to pursue charitable activities.

The hours can only be used to participate in activities related to PNC’s “Grow Up Great” initiative, which focuses on improving early childhood education.

“Because we’ve had this focused approach, we’ve seen a lot more success in being able to move the needle,” said Sharon Cercone, vice president of work/life strategies at PNC.

Brokerage company Charles Schwab officially offers eight hours off each year for volunteering. But it’s often at a manager’s discretion whether a staffer can devote additional work time to charitable projects, said Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation.

While employees are encouraged to volunteer throughout the year, there is a heightened focus during the firm’s annual Schwab Volunteer Week.

“What we try to do, just to stay within our strategic focus, is to pick nonprofits that are ultimately trying to give the skills or services that will ultimately make someone financially independent,” Schwab-Pomerantz said.

Sarah Halzack is The Washington Post's national retail reporter. She has previously covered the local job market and the business of talent and hiring. She has also served as a Web producer for business and economic news.
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