Companies pay employees to volunteer

New generation of workers motivated by making a difference

By Sean Lavin - Producer

ORLANDO, Fla. - Companies in Central Florida are now paying their employees for time spent volunteering off the job.

It's a growing nationwide trend, gaining in popularity as a new generation of workers searches for more than just traditional benefits like 401K and a paid vacation.

"Lots of young graduates are looking for places that they can give back, and worried about the profit, but also that's worried about, you know, 'how are we making a difference and changing the lives of people in the world?'" said Jasmyne McDonald, an operations specialist at CIGNA.

McDonald gets eight hours of company time each year to "do good." Perks for volunteering are being offered by more and more companies, including some right here in Central Florida, as competition for the best workers grow.

"It's really important for me to work for a company that allows their employees to have paid time off to volunteer," McDonald said.

Web Extra: Giving back through work

Here in Central Florida, Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and Red Lobster, pays employees at its Orlando headquarters for time volunteering at local charities.

Timberland, with factory outlet stories in Orlando's tourist corridor, pays employees up to 40 hours a year to volunteer. And Walt Disney World will donate between $100 and $1,000 directly to certain local non-profits where a Disney employee volunteers.

Nationally, a survey shows 20 percent of companies pay workers to do charity work. That's up from 15 percent just four years ago. The number is expected to keep growing, and Paul Sanford, vice president at CIGNA, says it's easy to see why.

"There's a war for talent and and one of the things that good people, great, talented people are always looking for is a company that aligns with their commitment to the community," Sanford said, adding that he's found giving paid time off to volunteer improves performance on the job.

"I've seen employees that volunteer actually become more productive," Sanford said. "I've actually seen that build team camaraderie."

There are costs for companies to offer this perk. Experts say their type of programs can cost a Fortune 500 company as much as $2 million a year. But for McDonald, who loves being able to serve both her community and company, it's worth it.

"I just make sure my work gets done," McDonald said. "I have no problem load balancing after work, or whatever the case may be, or whatever is necessary to allow me to volunteer."

Most of these programs require management approval and are handled by the human resources department.

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