Giving Back and Getting Back
How Volunteering at Work Can Enhance Your Career
By Dr. David A. Jones
Workplace volunteering has numerous benefits to consider as you think about your own professional development. In fact, research shows that employees who volunteer learn valuable workplace skills while giving back to others.
Recently, I led a study out of the University of Vermont with national education non-profit Citizen Schools and their corporate partners, Google, Cisco, Cognizant, and Fidelity. I analyzed attitudes and behaviors of employee volunteers who participated in Citizen Schools’ 10-week apprenticeships, mentoring local middle school students and helping them complete a hands-on project that often pertained to the employees’ areas of expertise. I found this experience had a profound effect on the employees’ views about their employer and, for some, their professional skills. Based on these findings, here are the top four reasons why volunteering can make both you and your company more successful.
1. Improved job skills
Even though volunteer work is unpaid, the skills you can learn are valuable. One third to half of the employee volunteers in my study reported improvements in 10 specific skills, including time management, public speaking, teamwork, and leadership. Importantly, other evidence suggests these reported improvements reflected real improvements in these work-related skills. By volunteering with organizations like Citizen Schools, you can develop and hone your skills in a “safe” setting, and then put them to use back at work.
2. Increased job satisfaction and pride
Seeing how your company is committed to community service and receiving its support to help you make a difference will probably make you proud. My study showed that 92% of the volunteers sampled felt proud about their employer’s support for Citizen Schools. In turn, this pride was linked to higher job satisfaction and commitment, better moods at work, and increased tendencies to help coworkers. These outcomes won’t go unnoticed by your peers and may ultimately lead to career opportunities.
3. Greater self-confidence
A rewarding volunteer experience can boost your self-esteem and raise your morale. In my study, about one third of the volunteers reported feeling more confident about their work-related skills after completing the apprenticeship. Helping others, including mentoring at-risk youth with Citizen Schools, can give you confidence to pursue your goals and, as employees often report, make you happy and decrease the risk of depression.
4. Expanded social networks
Beyond these and other findings from studies I’ve conducted, I have often observed another meaningful benefit from volunteering: the connection with people and impact on the community being served. Volunteering allows you to expand your social networks professionally and personally. It can be a valuable opportunity to connect with other professionals who share your interests and goals, opening doors along the way.
As my research shows, the benefits of employee volunteerism are clear and meaningful. Get your company involved and start giving back. You may be surprised by how much you can get out of the experience.
Dr. David Jones is a professor of management in the School of Business at the University of Vermont.