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Yusi Turrell of the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire participates in a roundtable discussion hosted by New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsibility focused on how businesses can promote and engage employees in community outreach. The event was held at Timberland's global headquarters in Stratham. (GRETYL MACALASTER/Union Leader Correspondent)

Timberland encourages workers' volunteer spirit


STRATHAM - At the center of Timberland's culture is a spirit of giving back to the community.

Full-time employees are given 40 hours a year paid to use toward volunteer work and part-time employees are given 20-hours, but only about 40 percent of the hours are used each year.

"Most people say, '40 percent, that is awesome,' and it is, but the way I look at it, there are 60 percent of our hours left on the table every year, and that could make a huge difference," said Atlanta McIlwraith, senior manager of community engagement for Timberland.

How to get employee buy-in for such programs, and how to better connect employee's skills with the needs of nonprofit organizations was the topic of the evening during a roundtable discussion hosted by New Hampshire Businesses for Social Responsiblity at Timberland's global headquarters in Stratham on Tuesday night.

The title of the event was "Values in Action: Getting Everyone Involved," and discussion focused on how businesses can promote and engage employees in community outreach.

Often, at Timberland, employees use their volunteer hours on dedicated days of service set up by the company, including an Earth Day event and "Serve-A-Palooza."

Timberland has offered paid time to employees for volunteering in the community for more than 20 years.

McIlwraith said that barriers to participation include a cutback in the work force without a reduction in workload.

Since Timberland was bought by VF Corp. in 2011, the new leadership has offered a lot of support, she said, but like employees anywhere, many feel they can not take time away from their desks, or their families.

Employees worry that if they take time during the work day to volunteer, which is what Timberland encourages, they will have to spend more time later making up the work.

"But we find when they make the time and get into the habit . then they get it, and it's great. They get out of the office, do something fun, and it refreshes them, but getting people to take that leap is challenging," McIlwraith said.

She said she would like to see the statistics shift to 60 percent of hours used, which is essentially adding one more day of volunteer work for each employee, and they are working on various ways to do that within each department.

Timberland has a custom online volunteer management system to post volunteer opportunities for employees to pursue, but McIlwraith said she does not think many employees are in the habit of going there to find them.

Some attendees at Tuesday's session said there needs to be an effort to train nonprofits to better articulate their specific needs as the wave of corporate involvement moves toward skills-based volunteer work, including tasks such as graphic design, accounting and marketing.

NHBSR is hoping to take the lead on some efforts to help support businesses as they work toward offering more value-based programs.


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