Viva La Volunteering: The Benefits of Service for the Workforce

Perhaps you saw the recent video of the 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin breaking out her dance moves when she met President and Mrs. Obama at a Black History Month event. Two weeks later, on the eve of her 107th birthday, Virginia was awarded the President’s Volunteer Service Award for Lifetime Achievement in honor of her 23 years of service in the Senior Corps Foster Grandparent program. Virginia is just one of the 62.6 million Americans who volunteer (Bureau of Labor Statistics), and one week in April is set aside to appreciate these volunteers and encourage further service in communities.

National Volunteer Week

This Monday, April 10, 2016, kicks off National Volunteer Week, which was first established by Richard Nixon in 1974. In his proclamation today, President Barack Obama reminds us that “People of all ages can volunteer, and anyone can, through the smallest of acts, do their part to improve the lives of others.”

Volunteering has numerous benefits—including improving health, reducing stress, increasing cultural and social awareness, and building community (UC San Diego)—and further benefits extend to the workplace, both for those seeking employment and for those already employed.

Job seekers can improve their chances of being hired by volunteering. According to a study by the Corporation for National & Community Service, “Volunteers have a 27 percent higher likelihood of finding a job after being out of work than non-volunteers” (“Volunteering as a Pathway”). But how exactly does volunteering help job seekers? Benefits include opportunities to:

  • Gain professional experience. Does the job you want require specific experience you lack? Find a volunteer position where you can gain the experience you need.
  • Explore career options. Wonder what it would be like to be a nurse or a veterinarian? Volunteer at a hospital or vet clinic to experience the responsibilities before committing to a specific education or career path.
  • Make connections. Is the volunteer section in your LinkedIn account blank? Volunteering not only supplements your professional profile but also can lead to networking opportunities.
  • Build skill sets. “Can you give us an example of when you worked well as part of a team?” If you’re a volunteer, there’s a good chance you can provide answers to many common interview questions by drawing on your volunteer experiences.

Employers can also create a more positive workplace and attract and retain talent by providing volunteer opportunities. Reports indicate employees want to work for companies that are invested in communities and these employees are often eager to contribute their time (Ford). Volunteer programs in the workplace offer chances to:

  • Create camaraderie. Have team-building games fallen flat? Instead of awkward icebreakers, consider scheduling an afternoon volunteering as an office—employees will get to know each other while working together toward a tangible outcome.
  • Increase employee satisfaction. Do your employees find value in their work? Employees have a 33% higher satisfaction rate when they see their job as making a positive social and environmental impact (Net Impact). More satisfied employees leads to higher productivity, profitability, quality, and customer loyalty and reduced turnover (FrontStream).
  • Recruit and retain employees. Are you offering the most comprehensive opportunities to applicants? Job seekers, and in particular, Millennials, who are the incoming generation of workers, often consider a company’s volunteering opportunities when choosing a place to work. 79% of people want to work for a company that is socially responsible (Ford).
  • Strengthen company reputation. Have people ever heard of your company? A volunteer program increases your visibility in the community, which builds trust and loyalty in current and future customers.

So this week, and any week, we encourage you to volunteer. If you already volunteer or have a story of how volunteering has affected your personal or professional life, please share in the comments—we’d love to hear it.