Want happier and healthier employees? You can enhance your team’s dynamics, increase engagement and improve mental health with “give back” or employee volunteer days.

Studies have shown just how impactful volunteering can be: A recent United Healthcare study found nearly 80% of people who volunteer say that it has made them feel healthier and lowered their stress levels. In addition, nearly 95% found their mood improved and their sense of purpose enriched.

Why start an employee volunteer program at work? Getting employees involved with company-wide philanthropy is a strategic, affordable and health-enhancing way to boost employee morale, engagement and retention. Although many companies give one to two optional volunteer days, few employees take advantage of them. Employers should actively encourage them to take the days.

Here are actionable steps that can help employers with this goal.

Get leadership involved. A fully inclusive program of any kind in a corporation — be it a wellness or volunteer program — simply must have the full support and participation of its leadership team. A fragmented volunteer program will not work. Nothing spurs on enthusiasm and camaraderie more than employees participating in events alongside the company president and management team.

Add recognition. There are so many ways to recognize staff efforts, and celebrate employees’ involvement and success by making a difference in your community. Ideas for recognition can include:

· An end-of-the-year award presentation that includes some sort of bonus or cash/gift card incentive for the employees that consistently participates in your employee volunteer program or other philanthropy efforts year-round.
· Lunch brought in as a company-wide treat to wrap up a particular volunteer event.
· Posting photos, giving individual shout-outs and event updates on the company intranet site, newsletter and bulletin boards, or on your company’s social media page.

Add incentives. Affordable and appreciated ideas can include:

· A drawing where all volunteers enter for a prize from a locally sponsored business for a free lunch or dinner, free movie, or massage, etc.
· Provide flexible work schedules to allow employees to meet for planning meetings and organizational activities with events.
· A company bonus in the form of money or time off for the top employees who put in the most hours involved in an event or over the course of a year.

Creating a volunteer program can also strengthen relationships among remote workers. As flex schedules, remote workers and outsourcing continue to grow, it is important to find ways for everyone to stay connected — and not just in the virtual world. Volunteer days provide a great opportunity for remote workers to reconnect with the on-site team.

Got the idea? Not only can your organization make a positive impact on your local community and society, but you’ll be actively developing a fun, positive and engaging place to work — a win win.

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