"Everyone wants to be a worthwhile member of a worthwhile organization," asserts Colleen Myers, vice-president for community life at Tom's of Maine, a producer of personal-care products in Kennebunk, Maine. Easily said, but Tom's goes further than most to make employees feel their business is a socially responsible corporate citizen: it lets workers donate up to 5% of their paid time as volunteers in charitable efforts outside the company.

Tom's 65 employees can spend two hours a week or one day a month working for a cause of their choice. For employees who have the urge but lack focus, Tom's also offers a service that matches employees with a charitable effort. Often employees form their own volunteer teams to perform a task, such as preparing and serving a meal for the homeless at a local soup kitchen. Currently 33% of all employees use the opportunity to assist a worthy cause by working in schools, shelters, churches, or nonprofits.

Laudable as this concept is, it can also be disruptive and costly. Although employees pitch in to cover their colleagues' absences, the company still foots the bill for the loss of some 20 days a month in work time.

So, is being noble really worth it? Now in its fourth year, the volunteer program allows workers from different parts of the company to get to know and appreciate one another, says Myers. Participants also feel proud to be a part of Tom's and are happier with their own lives. "After spending a few hours at a soup kitchen or a shelter, you're happy to have a job," she says. "It's a morale booster, and better morale translates pretty directly into better productivity." -- Ellyn E. Spragins