· 2 min read · Features

How volunteering creates a win-win-win situation

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Volunteering can benefit individuals, businesses and society. But there’s no such thing as a selfless act, right?

On 3 November university spin-off company Robertson Cooper hosted its annual wellbeing event, the Good Day At Work Conversation. This year’s event marked the launch of a movement to make wellbeing part of everyday life for everyone, everywhere.

As president of that movement I was involved in a series of debates about how we can build wellbeing, resilience and social health into our society. While this is a multi-layered issue, I believe that volunteering can play a key role by creating more ‘good days at work’ than bad ones.

Volunteering is win-win-win

We all have the power to give wellbeing to and take it from other people. This is a huge responsibility – one that we shouldn’t take lightly, either as individuals, employers or as a society.

We already know that employees with a heightened sense of wellbeing are more likely to perform better at work. When we feel happy and healthy we’re more engaged, more creative and more productive.

And this is where employers come in. Wellbeing at work presents businesses with a potential win-win-win situation. If companies can create and organise opportunities for employees to volunteer and connect with their communities they empower their staff with positive emotions that lead to improved wellbeing. Meanwhile, they stand to benefit from the health and wellbeing all this volunteering generates – and the community benefits too.

Volunteering creates psychological wellbeing and resilience

When we volunteer we’re more likely to increase social contact and broaden it beyond our usual social networks. In this way volunteering provides great opportunities for connecting (and reconnecting) with our communities, as well as building the social support networks we need to help us maintain our own wellbeing.

Julia Hobsbawm, the world’s first professor of networking and a social health expert, appeared at the Good Day At Work Conversation 2015 with me. She said: “The benefits of social networks are well known: people, ideas, and relationships all thrive when connected in person or online. An individual, organisation or society that has social health is resilient enough to make space and time to help others. When that happens you have something incredibly healthy and positive: you can create change.”

There’s no doubt that the focus on relationship-building, as well as the new experiences volunteering exposes us to help to build confidence, empathy and social skills. Rising to new challenges gives us confidence in our ability to learn and adapt. In turn this makes us more likely to stretch ourselves beyond our comfort zone in other contexts, both in our personal lives or at work.

Volunteering in the workplace

Staff who are allowed to volunteer during work time are more likely to take pride in and be loyal to the company they work for. So employers have a huge opportunity when it comes to harnessing the psychological and social benefits of volunteering. But if they do so it’s vitally important that they integrate it with their wellbeing and CSR strategies. The impact of volunteering is amplified when it’s part of a coherent set of activities that have clear long- and short-term objectives from a business and employee perspective.

When it works everybody wins. The community benefits, employee morale and engagement increase, and the business builds a reputation for doing the right thing. Win… win… win!

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