This is a subject I’ve been tripping over quite a lot recently, so I decided to investigate further, not only for professional reasons, but because I too volunteer, as a leader for the Scout Association. I wanted to know if all those hours of getting cold and wet whilst camping or hiking, could actually be good for me.
Several research studies have found quite a few benefits of volunteering, including to mental and physical health, not to mention a way to add more flavour to your CV – an extra edge that could just land you an interview. However, in this age of eternal busyness, should we make the extra effort to give our valuable time over to volunteering? It seems the answer is ‘yes’.
So what is Volunteering? Basically, it is spending time doing an unpaid activity, which benefits others, the community or the environment, often supporting not-for-profit organisations, friends or neighbours. Importantly, the activity is not for financial gain beyond basic expenses, with your time and energy freely given. To get the most out of volunteering you need to do something you are genuinely interested in and you are truly motivated to help others, rather than yourself.
MENTAL AND PHYSICAL HEALTH BENEFITS
Volunteering usually engages the mind and body in a different way to your normal life routines. Various research studies in the UK and US have shown significant benefits to mental and physical health, such as reduced rates of depression, lowers stress levels, lower blood pressure and even contributing to increased life expectancy. Individuals have reported improved self-esteem, happiness and life satisfaction, plus it has been found that helping others releases the ‘feel good’ hormones called Endorphins
It is believed that the beneficial effects of volunteering are due to social interaction, being active, learning new skills and doing something that makes a real difference to people’s lives. A growing body of research is showing the strong correlation between positive emotions and experiences and improved mental/physical health. Also, the importance of real-time, face-to-face engagement with others and its’ impact on our health, rather than remote messaging on our various technologies. It seems volunteering is providing the positive social experiences that helps us to relax, be more creative and recharge our batteries in a way that is vital to our well being.
For those who are retired or unemployed, volunteering is a reason to get up in the morning and keep their lives from stagnating. It gives them a sense of purpose, pride and identity. For stay-at-home mums, volunteering mitigates the feelings of isolation, maintains social bonds and keeps a sense of self.
Volunteering is an excellent way to explore potential new career options, develop your networks and boost your confidence, all of which can benefit your current work role, or help you find a new one. According to one survey of 200 leading businesses in the UK, 73% of employers, when recruiting, would prefer a candidate who had volunteering experience over one who hadn’t, with 94% believing that volunteering enhanced skills. Both employers and employees felt that volunteering had developed useful abilities such as leadership, management, communication, organisation and team working.
In the case of people with physical or learning disabilities, volunteering provides an opportunity to showcase their capabilities to potential employers, help change negative perceptions and open more doors to employment opportunities.
As a professional CV Writer, I am surprised how many times clients never consider the relevance of their volunteering experience, yet have revealed really interesting stories and valuable skills which I can use to enrich their application. When recruiting I have always found that asking questions based around volunteering and hobbies opens up the conversation, often revealing some extra, interesting, yet relevant, insights into that person, which would never have come to light otherwise.
Volunteering is a great way to add to your life experience and see things from a different perspective. When you are put in a situation outside of your normal scope of experience and knowledge, you are forced to learn and develop in new ways. Learning through experience and physical action is considered by some to be the key to personal and professional development.
One great advantage of volunteering, is that you meet a diverse range of people from many backgrounds and walks of life, all bonded by the same interests. These different interactions enhance your social skills and in a more relaxed environment, it can be easier to form meaningful, long lasting, professional relationships than would be possible in the workplace. These contacts can be a great source of future business, job opportunities or mentors. Those that you help and work alongside can enrich your life in many positive ways and be a source of inspiration for both personal and career development.
So next time my eyes are smarting from the smoky campfire or I’ve fallen out of the kayak into a freezing cold lake, I’ll remind myself that it’s good for my health and CV!