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Giving Back and Getting Back

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.


  1. Lynanne Lawhead

    I have been volunteering with companies/organizations sine I was 14 years old and am on my 14th position I have obtained through volunteering with one of them. It is the greatest way to learn about the place, people, new skills or share your own skills from past professional or volunteering experiences. When I have talked with students or adults it is always a suggestion I give to help them see great opportunities of sharing themselves and helping others as well as never knowing when someone sees an opportunity in bringing you on board as a paid employee especially since they know you.

  2. Madeline

    While volunteering at a now defunct job club, I had the ability and didn’t know it at the time, to teach the older population how to log onto a computer, how to use a mouse, do internet research and show them how to get their typing skills and speed up to par. Also to show them the correct way to type their resumes.

    Now I’m involved in getting my MOS 2010 certifications: Word, PowerPoint, Excel, Outlook and eventually Access. What more can a person ask for?!

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