The personal benefits of volunteering

"Don't just stand there"

Having taken a long career break to raise two (now) gangly and gifted teenagers, last year I decided to widen my horizons.

After responding to an advert on Timewise via the Women Like Us website, I headed to ‘Charity Towers’ on London’s Albert Embankment with great enthusiasm and ready to get stuck into the ‘business world’ again.

This stretch of the riverside houses the headquarters of the British Intelligence Headquarters (also known as MI6) and provides a compelling view of the River Thames. The area is also home to several charities – including Reach Volunteering.

Research has shown that those who volunteer benefit from a greater sense of happiness and satisfaction. I find something oddly rewarding about putting my past experience to good use without expecting financial or professional gain.

I suppose that volunteering helps create a sense of cohesion in a society where all too often people are driven by capitalist motives. Volunteering, particularly skilled volunteering, is geared towards those who have professional skills whether currently in or out of work, but of course it looks good on your CV too.

Volunteering attracts people with a wide range of skills, all of whom have some time to give. An older experienced individual may fit volunteering around work or into their lifestyle. A younger person may simply be filling in the gaps between jobs, or there are others who are simply passionate about a cause and want to give back to society.

You tailor your volunteering work to suit your schedule so you do not feel swamped (it is important to avoid this!) or suffer the burnout that many with paid jobs may experience. In fact, some larger companies have actively started encouraging volunteering, giving their employees time off to use their skills to help their communities at large.

There are other benefits to volunteering, too. Research has shown that even when you have hung up your work boots or are experiencing a career break or developing a business idea, volunteering can help give an additional sense of purpose and help fight against anxiety and depression.

Like charity work, your focus switches onto others rather than yourself. When you know that a fledgling organisation rather than a large corporation relies on your skills and expertise, you are more likely to make it into work even if you’re not feeling eighty percent. It’s like an unspoken contract.

I have enjoyed coming back into the workplace, engaging with a team which consists of writers, marketing and HR professionals, a Fleet Street editor and reporter all working towards a shared altruistic purpose and using a different part of one’s brain other than the part reserved for a different kind of problem solving. When I worked as a financial journalist, the third sector was viewed with suspicion and often as an irritant. It’s given me a useful insight into the third sector and renewed skills which I hope to use going forward.

If you want to get back into work have you ever considered voluntary work as a stepping stone? It helps with confidence, develops your networks and gives you an opportunity to explore different avenues.

Visit the Reach website to find out which of our voluntary opportunities might suit you. A charity themselves, Reach Volunteering’s large and committed team of skilled volunteers supports a small paid staff of only 7, providing a core service nationally in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and regionally throughout England.

Who says Reach doesn’t practice what it preaches?

If you want to find out more about getting back into work after a career break, on the Women Like Us website there are a few suggestions of how to help women find work. The organisation also runs courses for women who may have been out of the job market for a while to raise children and now feel work ready.

Sybil is part of the communications team at Reach.
December 3rd, 2014 by