The healing power of volunteering at work

Getting involved in a charitable project can be a great way to help you and your colleagues connect and feel better about yourselves and each other.

Helping others doesn’t just make the world a better place; it also makes us feel good about ourselves.

As former US President Barack Obama said: “If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.” 

Feel better about yourself

Numerous studies show that helping others reduces stress levels and makes us healthier in general, which is why the NHS recommends volunteering as a way to improve your mental health and wellbeing.

“Giving to others and co-operating with them can stimulate the reward areas in the brain, creating positive feelings,” it said.

“Helping and working with others can also give us a sense of purpose and feelings of self-worth.”

Connect with your colleagues

Joining forces with your colleagues to support a good cause will allow you to share positive experiences outside the office – creating a more collaborative working environment.

If you are new to a company, volunteering is also a great way to meet people from different parts of the business and develop stronger links to the local community.

“The opportunity to make a connection that boosts organisational wellbeing while helping neighbours is too good to pass up,” said Ali Payne, an employee engagement expert at consultancy Gallagher.

Sharpen your skills

Volunteering is also a great way to develop new skills, and hone your existing ones.

You may, for example, be able to gain valuable work experience by offering accountancy or bookkeeping services to a local charity.

National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) research manager Amy McGarvey said: “Lots of smaller charities struggle to find people with finance expertise, for anyone in accounting, becoming a charity trustee is also a great way to get board-level experience and insight into a different organisation.”

Other examples of skills volunteering can help you improve include:

  • Event organisation
  • Public speaking
  • Marketing

Many people also report feeling more confident as a result of volunteering at work.

How to get started

From organising lunchtime litter pick-up walks to setting up fundraising pages to support local or international causes, there are lots of ways to get involved with volunteering at work.

If you work for a large company, you may well find there are schemes already in place.

And if not, offering to start one will show initiative and should be welcomed by most employers.

“If your company doesn’t have a workplace volunteering programme already, most will be more than happy for you to establish something,” McGarvey said. 

Either way, choosing a cause you feel strongly about will boost your chances of having a rich and enjoyable experience.

Three steps to get started with volunteering

The NCVO suggests following these three steps:

1. Think about what interests or excites you

This could be something you enjoyed doing before, or something completely new.

2. Think about what time or skills you can give

With so many opportunities to choose from, it’s a great idea to narrow down the choices by deciding what you’re willing to give.

3. Start researching!

There are a number of websites dedicated to helping you find the right volunteering opportunity. Examples of these include:

Tips for first-time volunteers…

Encourage your employer to get on board

Many companies now offer volunteering schemes. If yours doesn’t yet, try explaining to your boss that offering volunteering opportunities is a cost-effective way to increase employee engagement. Ways they can support your efforts include providing flexible time or paid leave for volunteering and ensuring initiatives are effectively communicated.

Look for inspiring local causes

Volunteering for local causes can create a real sense of community within the workforce, and a quick online search should throw up plenty of inspiring ones to support. You might, for example, be able to arrange regular group visits to a nearby retirement home or animal sanctuary.

Organise a fundraising event

Ask your employer for permission to organise a fun day where employees can support a good cause by baking cakes, setting up games, or selling second-hand items such as books and clothes. Other options include pub quizzes, football or rounders matches, and raffles with prizes donating by local shops and businesses.

Get active – together

Training for an event such as a fun run after work or during your lunch hour can be a great way to get fit while building stronger links with your colleagues. Fundraising websites such as JustGiving and GivePenny make it easy to set up donation pages.

In summary

Taking the time to help a good cause by volunteering at work can be good for your career as well as your soul.

It’s a great way to meet people, learn new skills, and build stronger relationships with your colleagues.

For employers, the benefits of offering volunteering opportunities in the workplace include a happier, more productive workforce, and a better reputation in the local community.

If you’d be interested in volunteering as a member you can find out more here (login required).

For more on volunteering at work:

Jessica Bown is an award-winning freelance journalist and editor.

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