Employee-supported volunteering and the changing workplace

  • Employer-supported Volunteering (ESV) is where the employees of an organisation take paid time off to volunteer during work hours.
  • Employees can choose to use their volunteering time to support a charity or community group of their own choice, or to take up an opportunity provided by their company.
  • At Zurich, our programme is delivered by the Zurich Community Trust. Here they share their views about how the workplace is changing and what that means for ESV.

Many companies recognise that supporting employees to get involved in the community is good for business and for good causes as well as good for the employees who volunteer.

NCVO’s report Time Well Spent says that roughly one in four adults volunteer at least once a month for a club, society or organisation. Yet employer-supported volunteering (ESV) only makes up a small proportion of volunteering overall.

A further NCVO report looks at what better ESV might look like. It says that employers and volunteer-involving organisations should work together to make the experience of getting involved a good one, as a bad experience of volunteering will deter future involvement.

ESV at Zurich Insurance

At Zurich UK our community programmes are delivered through an independent registered charity, the Zurich Community Trust (ZCT). Created in 1973, ZCT facilitates corporate and employee giving in all its forms. Volunteering is part of Zurich’s culture. It comes from the top and is cascaded down to all levels so everyone is encouraged to get involved. For many, it forms a crucial part of what it means to work for Zurich in the UK.

At ZCT, we build relationships with a huge variety of voluntary and community organisations across the country, everything from soup kitchens to community gardens. Typically, this starts with a grant then the team explores other ways of giving support.

We have been brokering volunteering opportunities for Zurich UK employees for over 30 years. One example of this is our Challenge Programme. Listening closely to the needs of predominantly small community and voluntary groups, the programme offers employees the opportunity to complete an array of practical projects – each of which has value for the organisation or the client group we are working with. Since the start of the programme, over 4,500 projects have been completed.

We also have programmes employees can join where they give their professional skills to our charity partners. And there are programmes such as Age UK’s ‘Call in Time’ telephone befriending scheme which employees can join.

Changing work patterns

The world of work is changing. In time, people won’t work in offices alongside colleagues doing the standard 9-to-5. According to a YouGov survey, four in ten (42%) already work flexibly in some form or another, such as job sharing or compressed hours.

What does that mean for ESV programmes and in particular, team volunteering programmes? Will companies want to allocate time to team volunteering exercises if teams are virtual or transitory (with part-time, freelance or contractor staff)? Or will they become even more important?

We may find that demand for our own challenge programmes reduces. Or that more people want to volunteer outside office hours or virtually using technology. We need to be ready to change with them and to be able to offer flexible, virtual or micro ways of volunteering in person, from home or at work.

Developing skills

We know that Zurich employees see that the benefits of ESV extend beyond team volunteering. Many of our employees will possess professional skills that are of value to community groups. As such, we are constantly looking at ways to share these skills in the most efficient and accessible way.

We need to be able to give our employees opportunities to use their professional skills in ways which work for them and where they can see the impact they are making. Some of the skills-based volunteering opportunities need to be accepted more widely as a more mainstream way for employees to develop and grow.

Serious about wellbeing

Wellbeing is now crucial for the future of work. Volunteering can touch each one of the five ways to wellbeing developed by the New Economics Foundation. We believe that our ESV programmes play an important part in being a good employer. As teams and working patterns change, it is vital that we show current and prospective employees that we care about their wellbeing. One way to do this is by making it easier for them to be able to contribute to their local communities, whether through the ZCT programmes or via opportunities they have found themselves.

The future of ESV at Zurich UK

Here are some of the things recently done at Zurich and through ZCT to increase employee engagement in ESV and to ensure that we are giving maximum benefit to those we are seeking to help:

  • Extended the amount of time employees can spend on paid volunteering from one paid leave a year to three days.
  • Repackaged this to focus on hours rather than days to encourage employees to think about how they could use their time more efficiently.
  • As suggested in the report, ZCT are switching their focus away from the number of volunteers engaged / hours volunteered, to the impact and reach of volunteering.
  • We listen to our employees to understand what motivates them and how we can create opportunities which they want to get involved with and are of value to the organisation we are working with.
  • Through ZCT we are developing Knowledge Sharing Days where organisations are invited to come to one of our offices to learn about a range of topics during the course of a half or full day.


Further reading


Photo credit: Zurich Community Trust.