Volunteerism and Retirement

Ensuring that retired volunteers are able to share their skill set with employees who want to develop new skills could be the perfect match of ensuring healthy retirees and retaining great millennial employees.  

They say money can’t buy happiness, but apparently giving it, or your free time, away might. Studies say that retirees, in fact almost two thirds of them, say retirement is the best time for making donations and for volunteering.  And this number is rising. According to Merrill Lynch, retirees comprise a little less than a third of the population, they account for 45 percent of all volunteering hours.


Volunteering uses the two greatest areas where retirees have excess capacity: time and skills. And volunteering, as an activity, may have the best rewards for retirees. Studies show that volunteers have significantly lower risks of mortality rates than non-volunteers. A report by Merill Lynch found that retirees volunteer or donate were significantly more likely to report they were happy and healthy. Volunteering keeps retirees connected to social networks, a key indicator in predicting health and wellness in aging populations. It also provides a sense of purpose.  Volunteering can also help put whatever troubles or stresses the retiree currently faces, such as learning to live on a limited budget, in perspective. This idea of understanding other’s suffering as a way to put your own suffering in perspective may explain why volunteers report lower blood pressure than other groups of retirees.


Interestingly, Millennials, as an age group, also highly prize volunteering as an important element of life.  Studies show that Millenials value corporate sponsored volunteer time. Other studies show that corporate support for causes employees are engaged in have higher retention rates. Some corporations, like the Gap, Inc., provide a certain number of paid volunteer hours per year per full time employee.


If retirees do better when they volunteer, and companies do better when Millennials feel supported in their volunteer activities, then it may be that companies, through their charitable giving or social responsibility programs may be able to combine the two age groups. Many companies already have charitable giving programs. In fact, twenty percent of charitable giving in the United States comes from businesses and foundations.


Moving from charitable giving to employee volunteer programs may be as easy as setting up events and inviting both groups. By using the contact information in retirement plan databases to invite all retirees to specific volunteer day or volunteer programs, companies can encourage volunteering among retirees and thereby boost their wellness. Inviting back volunteers to causes Millennials are engaged with can help Millennial workers feel supported in their interest. That feeling of support, in turn, can help retain those millennial workers.


So how can employers pull off the proverbial stone in one hand maneuver? Many companies have service days where employees can choose from different volunteer activities. Soliciting input from both retirees and other workers as to places in need of volunteers can help signal to both groups that the company cares. Many company sponsored volunteer programs, where the company pays employees to volunteer (not just pays for transportation or food) were only found among larger companies. Now that frequency is changing to include smaller companies as well. And many companies, like Cox Communications, see company sponsored volunteerism as a business imperative.  In 2014, 59% of companies offered a paid volunteer hours to employees. And of those companies that didn’t have paid volunteer programs, 66% of employees wanted their companies to start one.


What are the best practices of those companies who currently have paid volunteer time? First, they use business hours for the volunteering activities, making child-care arrangements easier. This is also a boon to retirees who may need assistance with transportation. Second, consider physical limitations for all employees, retired or not. If a particular volunteer activity, like painting a school mural or cleaning up a park requires lengthy time on your feet, make a list of activities were volunteers who cannot stand can be of assistance, including checking in volunteers, manning supply stations, seated work creating pieces to be used in larger installations. Third, ensure that retired volunteers are able to share their skill set with employees who want to develop new skills. If a retired volunteer was an excellent project manager, teaming that retiree up with an up and comer who needs to develop that skill set could be the perfect match.

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