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Volunteerism: when paid time away pays off

With Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays right around the corner, it’s that time of year when we think about giving back to the community and others. This is something that begins in our personal lives. For instance, growing up, my family always put together a box of old sheets, dry food, and toys to donate to our local SPCA in December.

Yet more and more, we’re seeing businesses provide outlets for their employees to give back to the community as well. Some sponsor or hold volunteerism events, while others find ways for employees to provide free services to the local community. Not every business can offer broad-based programs to give employees these types of opportunities. But by offering some paid volunteer time, even smaller companies can empower their employees to give back to the community without setting up a formal volunteerism program.

Sustrana is a company that does just this. We’re pretty small right now and don’t have the resources larger companies have to create company-wide service events. But we do have a community service policy that allows all full time employees 2 hours of paid time per month (24 hours annually) for volunteerism during the workday. This means that I get paid to give back to my community during 3 work days—and this doesn’t cut into my allotted vacation time!

In a way, this type of policy is the best of both worlds. It designates time for volunteerism, as companies with larger programs would do, but it also gives me flexibility. I get to choose the days that work best for my schedule, as well as the type of community service that most appeals to me.

Volunteering for organizations that I feel strongly about is what makes me feel the most fulfilled. I’m using one of my volunteer days next month to help out in a local soup kitchen. This particular organization also provides health, social, and legal services, and even an art studio to foster a growing sense of community. This comprehensive approach is something that is particularly important to me, because as I’m serving food and washing dishes, I will feel like my impact is part of a bigger picture rather than just a discrete meal.

I find the work I do at Sustrana already incredibly meaningful, but being able to physically volunteer my time provides a new perspective— almost a different kind of meaning. My workplace is not only encouraging me to express my own personal values, but paying me to do so.

It might seem counter-intuitive that paying employees to not show up for work ends up paying off for the company. But for me, knowing this benefit exists and being able to act on it increases both my satisfaction and engagement at work.

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