Two side-by-side profiles of women smiling at the camera.
Claire Byrne and Nicole Mahon. Image: Mastercard

Can volunteer opportunities help companies retain staff?

21 Mar 2022

Two Mastercard employees talk about their experience of volunteering through their jobs, which can give workers a greater sense of purpose.

The ‘great resignation’ has been talked about extensively in recent months, with a variety of factors causing employees to rethink their careers and working lives.

While some have given greater focus to work-life balance and flexibility, others have taken the time to consider the real and true meaning of the work that they do.

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One of the ways employees can feel a greater sense of meaning at work is through volunteering and community activities – something that can be done with an employer to give staff a stronger sense of purpose.

This can in turn benefit the company that provides these opportunities. A study from Deloitte in 2017 indicated that creating a culture of volunteerism in the workplace may boost morale, workplace atmosphere and brand perception. The report also found that 89pc of respondents surveyed believe companies that sponsor volunteer activities offer a better overall working environment than those that don’t.

This could give employers an advantage when it comes to the ongoing talent war, especially at a time when a meaningful working life has become more important than ever.

Mastercard offers its employees five fully paid volunteer days each year. To find out more, SiliconRepublic.com heard from project manager Claire Byrne and software engineer Nicola Mahon.

Byrne, who co-leads the Mastercard Dublin office’s volunteer committee, said volunteering provides employees with the opportunity to connect with others as well as a range of other benefits.

“It helps to build self-esteem, personal growth, and provides the opportunity for the volunteer to learn something new and to make a difference in another person’s life,” she said.

“We have organised various in-person and virtual volunteer events to appeal to all Dublin tech hub employees, working with some fantastic organisations around a broad range of activities,” she said.

Activities have included cooking meals for families who are staying at Ronald McDonald House because a child is ill in Children’s Health Ireland at Crumlin, collecting for the Irish Cancer Society, providing mentoring support for unemployed people and working with Age Action Ireland to help older people get online.

Mahon is one of the employees who worked with Age Action Ireland, having started volunteering with the organisation while studying computer science at TU Dublin.

“The Getting Started programme pairs older learners who want help navigating technology with more experienced volunteers who can guide and teach them to become more confident with technology,” she said.

“When I started with Mastercard in 2019, I wanted to continue this volunteer work and found out that there were many colleagues in the Dublin tech hub who had a similar interest. This led me to joining the Dublin MC Cares volunteer committee, where I added the Getting Started programme to our existing opportunities.”

Mastercard is also enabling its employees to help out with the current state of emergency in Ukraine. As well as donating millions of dollars to relief efforts, the company is offering a 1:1 match for employee donations to Red Cross and Save the Children.

“Employees are also getting directly involved,” said Byrne, with New York employees packing medical supplies and hygiene kits to be shipped to Poland. “Also, employees in Waterloo, Belgium, donated eight pallets of goods – from clothes to dry food and medical supplies – to be shipped to Ukraine.”

Moving volunteering online

While there are many volunteering options available, the Covid-19 pandemic presented challenges when lockdowns forced many in-person activities to be temporarily halted.

But Mahon said it pushed the MC Cares volunteer committee to rethink how events were run. “We have pivoted to more online initiatives. Whereas once we would have met charities in person, we now offer the same volunteer effort to them virtually,” she said.

“This has been made possible in part by the incredible work that so many leaders in the charity sector have done to enable virtual volunteering opportunities.”

For her work with Age Action, she said moving to the virtual space presented challenges as volunteers could no longer simply point to a learner’s screen to explain something.

“We had to figure out an entirely new vocabulary to assist our learners as best we could. There were additional challenges in trying to ensure learners did not experience confusion or fatigue over a virtual call,” she said.

“Our goal was to build their confidence, answer all their questions and move at their pace so that they were completely supported in their learning.”

Retaining talent

Sam Allen, executive vice-president and COO of Salesforce.org, wrote about the great resignation for Fortune last year. In his piece, he suggested that companies can attract and retain employees by offering options that give staff a greater sense of purpose.

“The workforce has evolved into one in which workers value organisations that offer three specific things: meaningful work, opportunities to make an impact, and environments that foster wellbeing,” he said.

“Business leaders who ultimately aren’t able to meet this moment, or ultimately choose not to, are the most at risk as the post-pandemic workforce takes shape.”

Mastercard’s Byrne reiterated the value that volunteering opportunities at work can bring. “I believe it benefits the person, charity, or organisation you are choosing to help, but also that it is good for the volunteer’s soul,” she said.

“There are few things you can do to truly show that you value a person or even an animal, giving your own time to help them in some way is one of them.”

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Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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