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If you fill out a timesheet at work, you probably keep track of paid time off - sick time, or vacation. But what about the time you spend volunteering; say, at an animal shelter or a nursing home?

More and more companies are paying workers to volunteer on company time. They say it's good for business, as Annie Baxter reports from Minnesota Public Radio.

ANNIE BAXTER, BYLINE: You probably won't find too many bankers wearing the old stereotypical green visors these days. But at U.S. Bank, some employees sport hairnets, at least when they're serving breakfast.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: You want sausage?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Good morning. How are you?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Eggs?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: A cereal?

CORNISH: Every Friday morning at a soup kitchen in Minneapolis, a group of U.S. Bank employees stands elbow to elbow doling out French toast, sausage and other breakfast goodies. Most of the people getting free breakfast are homeless men who lug their belongings in plastic bags.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Good morning.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Thanks for feeding us less fortunates.

BAXTER: At her normal job, Lisa Eriksson manages vendor relationships for U.S. Bank. But today, she's the French toast lady. Eriksson says if U.S. Bank didn't give her this opportunity, she'd never volunteer.

LISA ERIKSSON: I'm a mom - full-time mom - and work full time. And so having this added into my day has been a good thing. When we start seeing the faces of the people that we're serving, everyone is very happy and grateful. And it's a very human side of it. It's pretty emotional.

BAXTER: U.S. Bank employees can draw up to 16 hours of pay per year, for doing stuff like serving breakfast to the homeless or reading to kids. This kind of thing is happening at lots of other companies nationwide. Every year, the Society for Human Resource Management surveys employers about their benefits. And this year, about 20 percent said they give their workers a bank of paid time off specifically for volunteering. And that number is increasing.

JEFFREY PFEFFER: Companies love to have their employees believe that they're engaged in meaningful and important work.

BAXTER: Jeffrey Pfeffer teaches organizational behavior at Stanford University. He says while it may seem odd that companies would let workers volunteer during office hours, consider that the legal profession has done it for years. It's called pro bono work, and it gives lawyers the chance to pursue cases with social impact.

PFEFFER: Studies of the legal profession show, oftentimes, that the pro bono work is the work that people enjoy the most and therefore, I think, helps law firms retain lawyers.

BAXTER: Pfeffer says ideally, people's daily work would be fulfilling. But if that's not the case, volunteer programs can help make workers feel more engaged and keep them from quitting, which is really costly. That's a big deal at a time when many employees are really unhappy with their jobs. A recent Gallup report concluded that 70 percent of full-timers in the American workforce feel disengaged.

Now, you might think the simplest way to placate those workers would just be to pay them more. But HR consultant Jason Averbook, of the firm Appirio, says fun often outweighs pay.

JASON AVERBOOK: If I like what I do - I'm excited about getting up in the morning; I like the people I work with - I'm going to stay, even if my merit increase is not what I would expect it to be.

BAXTER: U.S. Bank says employee satisfaction and enthusiasm have never been higher, though it's unclear how much of that can be attributed to the bank's paid volunteer program.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #4: Hash browns?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #3: Absolutely. Coming right up.

BAXTER: Back at the soup kitchen, Lisa Eriksson says the volunteer program does make her feel more connected to the bank.

ERIKSSON: I mean, it's really a nice thing just to know that the employer you work for is so invested into the community. It feels very good.

BAXTER: And for the bank, it costs a lot less to let Eriksson help out the homeless for a day or two per year, than it would to replace her if she quit.

For NPR News, I'm Annie Baxter in St. Paul.

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