“From next year, all civil servants can take one day of leave every year to volunteer in a registered charity of their choice” (Civil Servants Get One Day Off To Volunteer At Charities, Charissa Yong).
As well-intentioned as the endeavour may be, for civil servants to be given a day off – on top of their annual leave – “to volunteer in a registered charity of their choice” (ST, Oct. 16), little seems to be achieved beyond signalling “the commitment of the country’s largest employer to building a culture of volunteering and caring”. Individuals who have already worked with non-profit organisations on a regular basis at their own time may not necessarily require these arrangements, and encouraging a culture of volunteerism and caring has to go beyond the one day of leave or the symbolic adoption of 50 charities.
In this vein, it may be useful to first ascertain the state of volunteerism amongst civil servants: how many are involved in community service, in what capacities, and what is the frequency of their engagements? A representative survey can be useful. First, samples can be taken from the other sectors or industries to compare the rate of adult volunteerism in the country, beyond general findings from surveys conducted by the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre. Second, the effectiveness of this new endeavour – the day off to civil servants – in raising the rates of volunteerism can be traced through longitudinal surveys. Third, in a more substantive manner, explanations for the inability or unwillingness of individuals to volunteer can be aggregated, thereafter influencing how policies can be crafted.
If the lack of time and the need to spend more time with their families are cited as reasons, for instance, service projects with the non-profits could be designed with the family in mind, involving members in different responsibilities at the same time. Synergies could even be developed with schools, where the Values in Action programme is emphasised. If the lack of information or companionship are reasons, then service sessions could be organised within departments, after conversations with the social workers to determine the needs of the organisations, and the help sought.
With the growing emphasis on corporate social responsibility, companies in the private sector have also executed these one-day efforts in the past: beach clean-ups, celebratory visits to children or the elderly, or mass distribution exercises. But criticisms centre on the lack of sustainability, the pragmatic nature of these activities – often to present the companies in a positive light, for corporate communications – as well as the inherent lack of interest amongst employees. The same could be said of the potential initiatives from the public sector too.
Perhaps the notion that “volunteering is still very much on a voluntary basis” is most accurate, and unless the aforementioned outcomes can be determined, this endeavour to give civil servants to be given a day off for community service will yield little.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.