People think I’m crazy – but I wouldn’t give it up…

Not some weird pastime or dangerous sporting activity, I’m talking about volunteering. I’m a volunteer and I want to share why, in my experience, volunteering is great for employers.

“Time is our most expensive commodity.”

Volunteering means hours away from loved ones, from other hobbies, from work (sometimes) and from leisure or relaxation time. The extent to which people volunteer varies widely. I am lucky enough to be a voluntary director in the organisation I chose, leading 120 volunteers. I look through our directory and figure out that 43% of our volunteers are employed, 38% of them full-time employed. Why do we do it? And why is it good for our employers that we do?

Why we do it?

Volunteering takes many forms – from elderly care, gardening, litter picking or providing emotional support via a telephone service. The reason most volunteers continue to volunteer is the feeling of reward for achieving something that helps others in some way.

There is a social aspect – often people who volunteer for organisations care about the same things. I have made many great friends through my volunteering experience – one of my best friends being a 70-year-old woman whom I would never have met in my normal working life. It has opened my eyes to experiences and people I wouldn’t have had access to before. I think there is something special about Samaritans in that way (yes, I am biased) – the ideology of being non-judgemental and having empathy. The people there are incredible and so alike and not just from one branch.

The age old saying: “I want to give something back” – people often volunteer for those organisations who have helped them or family members in the past. They feel in some way they want to repay the service for the help they have offered. This too gives a great sense of self; a feeling of making a difference, even if only in a small way.

Why it’s great for employers

Some employers offer workplace-based volunteering roles or remuneration to charities for each hour spent volunteering by their employees. Here, I refer to employee selected volunteering outside of working hours. In my view, the main benefits to employers are:

Training

If you think managing services delivered by employees is hard, try managing volunteer led services. A world of difference sets them apart. Training by voluntary organisations in how to manage is often exceptional. Voluntary organisations cannot afford to lose volunteers and therefore they ensure retention through choosing their leaders carefully.

In my personal experience, the training I have received through my volunteering has been exceptional and it has been free! I’ve received training in management, recruiting, first aid, health & safety, active listening, emotional health, empathy, bid writing, how to ask for money and how to deliver training professionally. If I had paid for the courses I have attended this would have cost thousands.

The training I have received has changed my outlook on many work activities. Working in HR, I found that difficult conversations became much easier. I was able to use some of the techniques I learned in those training sessions in my daily working life – a huge benefit to my employer.

Empathy

Ok, so this one may be slightly unique to certain types of volunteering but developing empathy is important for professionals. Empathy is important for sales, customer service, for issue resolution and complaints and for working well with others.

Yes, it is possible to have empathy without being a volunteer but often those who would give up their free time are the kind of people who would naturally display empathy. Do you know who the people are in your organisation who volunteer?

Confidence

A big impact for volunteers is increased confidence. Often people choose to volunteer in areas that are completely unrelated to work. Learning a new skill can be an incredible boost of confidence. Volunteers often work in teams, too. I have met volunteers who, at the start of the recruitment journey are shy and sit back. After 10 weeks’ training, they are different people and that spills over into home and working life too. A sense of pride boosts confidence and morale.

Employee Engagement

Volunteering is often cited as important for employee engagement. Why? Senior leaders in business are expected to role model behaviours they expect from their teams. Social responsibility is an expectation that employees have of their employers, in particular younger employees. Allowing employees to volunteer in work time or releasing teams to volunteer together allows those people to learn and develop outside of the normal working environment. Think about allowing a team of people to be released to collect food for a food bank for a day. What would they learn? Perhaps, how to ask for something for free, how to sell an idea or how to show gratitude. Before volunteering, I didn’t know how to ask people for money (although my mum might disagree).

Teamwork

Voluntary work is not usually lonely. Being part of another team outside the workplace is extremely beneficial. We have another peer group to learn from. Volunteering gives you a sense of pride and identity and being part of a team enhances those feelings. A particularly unusual aspect of volunteering is the breadth of people you will meet in a team such as working alongside people who you would never normally engage with in your working life. One of my greatest allies at my volunteering is an 82-year-old lady who I have the best time with! You strengthen your community and your social network when you volunteer. You make connections with the people you are helping. You cultivate friendships with other volunteers and often those connections are useful in business, too.

Health and Wellbeing

No, I’m not making this one up. Studies have found that when you stop thinking about your own problems and focus on someone else, your stress levels start to decrease, your immune system is strengthened and your overall sense of life satisfaction increases. This is because helping someone else interrupts tension-producing patterns and replaces it with a sense of purpose, positive emotions and high confidence levels. Healthier employees are more productive employees!

There has been a revival of an old song lately on the Hyundai advert. It goes something like:

“Lucky, lucky, lucky me. I’m a lucky son-of-a-gun. I work 8 hours, I sleep 8 hours. That leaves 8 hours for fun”.

It made me chuckle when I heard this for the first time – for someone who doesn’t quite have that balance, I think I’m pretty lucky anyway.

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