IT workers with heart

For a growing number of companies, employee volunteerism means improved collaboration and productivity on the job

You might think Steve Kranson, who works at Comerica Bank in Auburn Hills, Mich., is your average IT manager. But he's also been known to log hours dressed up like the Easter Bunny, to the delight of local kids.

Amy Crow, who spends most of her working hours as an IT project manager at Texas Health Resources, has been spotted stepping away from her computer to work on gardening and landscaping projects at nursing homes, organize donated linens and other household items for local disaster relief agencies and sing holiday songs at elementary schools in the neighborhood.

And Paychex Inc. employees Dan Canzano, vice president of IT operations and support, and Tammy Hall, director of enterprise service management, have spent some of their worktime polishing their poker-playing skills and raking in some big bucks for charity.

In all three cases, these IT professionals performed these activities with the blessing of their employers, who often allow workers to take paid time off to donate their skills, talents and time to charities and other nonprofit organizations.

Employers also benefit from these arrangements. In fact, they are increasingly more than happy to subsidize employees' volunteer efforts outside the workplace, because they've noticed an undeniable link between employee volunteerism and improved collaboration and productivity on the job.

"Outside volunteer activities afford workers an opportunity to view their co-workers through a different lens," says David Ballai, CIO at Reed Technology in Horsham, Pa.

"You see them assisting in the community and interacting in a different environment. When they come back to work, they have a more holistic view of their peers and can appreciate how they view the world," he says. "It's great for team-building."

Moreover, volunteerism can enhance a company's image in the communities where its employees and customers live. And offering time off -- either paid or unpaid -- for charity work can also help organizations attract younger, more community-minded and tech-savvy employees, experts say.

"I just interviewed two people under 30. They both asked about personal days for volunteering. Younger folks are asking about community involvement," says Marcia Riley, vice president of talent management and human resources at ESI International, an Arlington, Va.-based training and consulting firm. "I was not asked that question 20 years ago. Younger folks are demanding this benefit, and good employers are responding."

Anecdotal evidence indicates that an increasing number of companies are offering paid time off to employees who want to volunteer, either on company-sponsored initiatives or at a charity or agency of their own choosing. Comerica employees, for example, have donated more than 100,000 hours in the past two years, on personal time and company time, to volunteer activities in the communities the company serves.

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