Reap the rewards of giving something back

As companies strive to be seen as more "socially responsible", a trend is emerging for employers to encourage staff to give time, skills and money to help the local community or charitable causes.

As companies strive to be seen as more "socially responsible", a trend is emerging for employers to encourage staff to give time, skills and money to help the local community or charitable causes.

At Best Places to Work award winner Barclays Assist, formerly Barclays Service Point, there is a thriving programme of charitable projects.

Volunteering and fundraising activities at the bank's Poole-based helpdesk have ranged from collecting Christmas boxes for Romanian orphans to raising money for the Boxing Day tsunami appeal.

"Barclays is an incredibly committed corporate player in the community and recognises that this takes time and investment to run," said Barclays Assist customer services manager Claire Wilkinson.

"Last year the bank dedicated £32m to community programmes worldwide and has a designated team in London and a small regional community team in Poole, which manage the funding and volunteering. We were also proud recipients of the 2004 National Business Award for Corporate Social Responsibility."

One of the team's most high-profile volunteer activities was Barclays Assist's involvement with Comic Relief. "It was probably the most inspiring," said Wilkinson. "We ran a call centre for Comic Relief collecting telephone donations from the public - it made a huge impact internally and was very emotional. We set up the call centre to take calls all evening, from 7pm to 12pm.

"In total, 100 Barclays staff volunteered from departments all over Barclays House. We organised it but the response and involvement from every department was incredible.

"We also took on some administrative work for Comic Relief to reduce its internal costs. And we burnt the discs for their fund-raising video." In addition, Barclays Assist held events that raised £7,500 for the charity.

As well as national projects, Barclays Assist is involved in the local community. "We have a charity champion in the department and she gathers suggestions each year as to what we would like to become involved in," said Wilkinson. "At a local level we are left very much to do what we feel will make a real difference for our particular region and town."

Staff commitment to the community programme can also include personal development opportunities.

"I am going to be a life coach for nine months for a community regeneration scheme," said Wilkinson. "I did a course on the bank's time and I will soon be assigned to mentor an 'at risk' youth aged l6 to 25. The scheme is run by a charity, Youth at Risk UK, and I know it will be a life-changing experience."

Although it is clear what the community and charities get out of such activities, does the employer benefit?

Definitely, said Wilkinson. The obvious benefit is the publicity from participation in community activities, plus the enhancement of brand recognition and reputation. But there are other, more subtle benefits. "You see people grow in their roles, in their teams and in our culture," she said.

"It is win-win. What the bank invests in its people and the local community also demonstrates that community investment is a crucial part of the way in which it fulfils its responsibilities as a business. What we deliver comes back, whether that is through a more talented and motivated employee base or through the goodwill and thanks of our community partnerships."

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