Many people would love to volunteer, but when it comes to actually doing it, time is a major concern. How can people give their time when they spend so much of it at work?

Cisco Systems Inc. has given its employees a chance to use some of that time to volunteer. In 2015, the information technology giant, headquartered in San Jose, Calif., introduced its formal volunteering policy, Time2Give. It provides all employees, regardless of service, seniority or location, with five days of paid leave annually to volunteer at a charity or non-profprofit organization of their choice.

Formalizing the approach

“We didn’t have a formal policy,” says David Heather, the company’s vicepresident of human resources for Canada. “Employees were volunteering on their own time and taking some time off personally. We wanted to make the commitment to our employees that they could have five days’ paid leave that wouldn’t affect their benefits.”

Employees can use the time any way that fits for them. For example, they can take it as a five-day block, in increments of two hours every other week or any other combination to attain five days. As for dealing with the absences, the company simply asks employees to ensure their managers are aware of the timing and to input the volunteer day into its tracking system. When employees are out volunteering, they’ll often ask a colleague to assist with any urgent matters, similar to the way things work for vacations.

The volunteer projects vary, from building schools in Africa to helping local organizations. “We leave it open to our employees,” says Heather. “It’s their passion; it’s their choice.”

Heather reports that, to date, there has been good uptake of the program, with Cisco actively communicating the policy through company-wide manager and team meetings; employee emails; digital signage; and newsletters. The company also has a website and a portal where employees can share their experiences by posting photos of themselves volunteering and discussing projects they’re passionate about.

Other ways to give

The company has another volunteer program that predates Time2Give. If an employee volunteers at one of the charities designated by Cisco, the company will donate $10 an hour for the time spent.

It also has a program to match donations to certain organizations. “There are some caveats to that,” says Heather. “We have to make sure we abide by the tax laws of various countries. But if an employee makes a donation [to a charity] that meets the rules of the scheme, Cisco will match that donation.”

Besides the personal and social benefits, there are also upsides for companies that facilitate volunteering. Studies have found volunteers say their activities help them with their interpersonal skills and they may not get sick as often due to the positive effects on their health. Other benefits include a greater sense of purpose, which can help to reduce stress and depression.

“It creates a culture where people can see that we’re trying to do the right thing in a complex world at times,” says Heather.

“And that makes a difference to people.”

Brooke Smith is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in Benefits Canada.

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