Proving that people can make the biggest impact of all, one company is shutting down its business for an entire day to let its employees make a difference in their own communities.

On its upcoming Impact Day on Sept. 26, Deloitte — one of the largest professional services firms in the world — is giving its employees the day off from work to go out into their local communities across the globe and volunteer their time to help people in need.

In an industry where the bottom line rules all, it’s almost surreal to think that an entire company would encourage its employees to skip work and hand out food or renovate a shelter instead. Yet Eric Girard, a Deloitte partner and national chair of Impact Day in Canada, says that’s exactly what the ritual, entering its fifth year, is all about.

“Last year about 80 per cent of our people left the office, rolled up their sleeves and helped out in their local communities across Canada. This year we’re pretty much shutting down our business to participate,” Girard said.

For 2008’s Impact Day in Canada, close to 5,700 employees built a skating rink for at-risk youth in Saguenay, Que., handed out free lunches in Prince Albert, B.C., and mentored new immigrants on interview, resumé and job-hunting skills in Toronto, Ont., among hundreds of other projects. This year’s event will see more than 460 projects completed across the country.

With employees strewn across the world, the global presence of a large company like Deloitte is uniquely suited for humanitarian efforts because it lets employee volunteers have a global reach. During Impact Day in 2005 for example, employees of Deloitte Grand Cayman helped rebuild residences in the Cayman Islands for victims of Hurricane Ivan and the Deloitte office in Cyprus helped lead blood donation clinics within that country.

Markus Navikenas, senior tax manager with Deloitte in Calgary, has coordinated several previous Impact Day outings in his office and says the best part is seeing employees’ self-motivation in action.

“It’s been an eye-opener for a lot of the staff as well — they really bring all the hard work and enthusiasm to Impact Day that they bring to their day jobs,” Navikenas said.

Girard believes the true impact of Impact Day even goes well beyond the one-day affair as many employees often continue to volunteer after Impact Day is over, citing the experience as having changed their perception of volunteering.

Vanessa Vidas, an associate partner with Deloitte in Toronto, helped beautify public spaces in the city and cooked food at a barbecue for Community Living Toronto in the past two years during Impact Day and found the experience greatly affirming.

“The best part is seeing what a difference we make in people’s lives. It’s just so rewarding — it makes all the hard work worthwhile,” Vidas said.