Firms offering volunteer leave see more using it

Firms offering volunteer leave see more using it
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Companies that offer workers paid leave to volunteer have seen a gradual rise in take-up rates, but those who use it remain in the minority.

As early as 15 years ago, some companies started offering between one and five days of such leave. They will be joined by civil servants next year, who will get one day of leave a year to volunteer at a charity.

Among companies that have paid volunteer leave is Standard Chartered Bank, which started this in 2007. In 2010, it raised such leave from two to three days a year.

A bank spokesman said that, since 2013, an average of 40 per cent of its staff members have been using this leave. This is a jump from about 28 per cent in 2012. The bank attributes the rise to a growth in the culture of volunteerism.

Ms Lee Woei Shiuan, the bank's executive director for governance, said having paid volunteer leave has raised participation in the bank's volunteering events. Besides using all of such leave since it was implemented for activities such as a food distribution exercise, she has helped to launch other bankwide employee volunteering events.

"It is helpful for people to be able to volunteer on weekdays," she said, as welfare organisations tend to see more volunteers on weekends. "The leave gives employees a chance to try out volunteering, and embeds this in company culture."

Real estate company CapitaLand, which formalised three days of such leave in 2006, saw the numbers pick up in recent years.

Group chief corporate officer Tan Seng Chai said 31 per cent of staff took the leave last year. This is nearly six times its take-up rate of 5.3 per cent in 2007. Those who apply for the leave have to provide details such as the name of the organisation they are volunteering at and activities they plan to take part in, he said.

Activities may include fund-raising events such as charity runs.

Singapore Pools said it has seen a rise in take-up rate among its 600 staff, from about 32 per cent in 2010 to about 43 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, OCBC Singapore said about 1,100 employees took part in weekday volunteering activities last year, up from about 450 in 2010.

At Citi Singapore, the number of employees using such leave has not changed from about two years ago.

About 100 employees took it in the past 12 months, said head of corporate affairs Adam Rahman.

He believes, though, that the take-up rate alone does not reflect staff involvement in volunteerism. "Many employees volunteer over weekends and, as a result, not many use their paid volunteer leave."

Companies here continue to introduce volunteer leave. Maybank started giving one day of such leave in January to encourage staff volunteerism. This was in response to requests from staff and feedback from volunteer welfare organisations, which get more requests to host weekend activities, said head of human capital Wong Keng Fye.

While there may be manpower costs in granting paid volunteer leave, Mr John Quek, project consultant of human resource consultancy firm Worklife Solutions, said: "It may be negligible if such a policy brings about a positive change in the employee's attitude, which can lead to better performance."

Ms Linda Teo, country manager of recruitment firm ManpowerGroup Singapore, said that when volunteerism is a strong part of company culture, "the goodwill generated by the support of such causes is invaluable".

This article was first published on October 24, 2015.
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