There are many avenues to achieve career progression; changing roles, participating in development programmes, or undertaking a secondment. But what if these options aren’t available to you or if they don’t provide the right development opportunities for your needs; where can you turn in this instance? For more and more people, volunteering is becoming the go-to way to develop new skills. For some the development of these skills is their primary purpose, whilst for others it is simply a by-product of wanting to give back to a worthy cause. But regardless of the reasons for wanting to volunteer, growing numbers of professionals are coming to recognise the benefits it has both professionally and personally. Below we consider what some of these advantages are, and why they are so useful in the professional development context.
Diversity of Experiences
While becoming a specialist in a certain field is extremely valuable in the workplace, it cannot be denied that only focusing on one small area of a business’ operations can limit professional growth to some degree. If you work in finance, for example, you may never get exposure to customer services, cutting you off from the valuable skills that could be learnt in this environment. Unfortunately, most companies cannot afford to regularly rotate their employees to expand their knowledge (and many employees wouldn’t necessarily want this anyway), but volunteering offers the chance to get exposure to a range of new experiences, enabling learning that can then be brought back to the workplace. In the example of the finance officer, you may undertake a volunteer role in a local charity shop an gain experience in customer service. This could, then, positively influence the way you deal with colleagues or customers in you day job. With so many different forms of volunteering available, there are countless ways in which one’s knowledge and skills could be enriched by helping a worthy cause.
Help Solidify Interests and Passions
Typically people will only volunteer for a cause that they have a genuine interest in, and in this way volunteering can help identify where your passions lie, and may help pave a path to move towards a role in this area (if you’re not already working in one). The reality is that many people work in industries that they are not passionate about, and not having a strong connection with a role, or alignment with the values and vision of an organisation can be very detrimental to performance, especially in the long run. When you volunteer, however, you have a new avenue to create clarity around what it is that motivates and inspires you. As a result it may prompt you to seek a new role in a more suited field, or working to try and alter you current situation to accommodate more of the things that inspire and engage you. Ultimately, the impact of this will be greater satisfaction at work, improved confidence and better outputs.
When we are exposed to one environment, and one set of people, on a regular basis it can lead to limited thinking. However, if you choose to volunteer, you will typically be exposed to a wide range of different perspectives and situations. These may or may not be directly applicable to the work context, but regardless, having this diversity of perspectives and viewpoints to pull upon will help create more divergent thinking. This could result in new ways of approaching situations, alternative solutions to problems, or it may simply mean an you develop greater tolerance and empathy as a result of working with diverse groups – all of which has potential to positively impact the business as a whole, your colleagues and the customers you support.
Being part of a team outside of the work environment can be a very rewarding experience, and offers opportunities to interact with different types of team players. This may be particularly useful if you regularly have to work with someone challenging. Having the chance to work with different personalities, and also see how others successfully manage challenging individuals could lead to better insight into how to approach similar situations back in your own work environment.
It’s also great if you work remotely, or on your own in your day to day role. Being a lone or remote worker can be very isolating, and having exposure to a team environment and the chance to interact with others can be very important for mental health. Equally, if you are asked to be part of a team at work, having had experience working in teams through volunteering will make it far easier to make this transition.
One of the most significant benefits of volunteering outside of work is undoubtedly the boost in self-confidence. Especially if you’re just starting out in a new role, or if perhaps, you feel you’ve reached the natural peak within your current position. When new to a role, having the chance to test your skills in a more relaxed environment will help ensure a greater feeling of confidence when asked to apply them at work. Similarly, if you believe you have reached a peak in your career, it can feel like there is nowhere further to develop; you may therefore become bored and despondent at work, which can quickly decrease self-confidence. Volunteering can offer an opportunity to develop new skills, and be a reminder that even if you feel stagnant in your current role, you still have much to offer, and that there are organisations and individuals in desperate need of your skills, knowledge and experience.
Volunteering is naturally good for wellbeing as it offers the chance to give back to the community and connect with others, which has frequently been shown to help improve mental health and decrease stress. But it is also good for wellbeing due to all of the reasons listed above; by enabling you to build self-confidence, develop team working skills, improve problem solving, and understand where your passions lie (and have the chance to do something in this field) it helps increase resilience, confidence and competence in many areas. As a result, you’ll most likely feel more capable in dealing with the natural stressors of life, whether they occur at work, within your volunteering role, or personally. If the volunteering role also incorporates a physical element, then the added benefits of getting exercise will further enhance this by helping you stay fit and decreasing the risk of illness. In the work context this is of huge importance as when you feel healthy and well in yourself you’ll typically be far more productive, energetic and engaged at work, which creates a positive feedback loop, and has benefits for the business and charity you work in too.
It’s clear to see that volunteering has a range of benefits to the individual participating, and as a consequence, to the business they work for. It can help lead to career progression, personal and professional contentment and overall wellbeing. The only caveat, of course, is the need to be wary of balancing your time appropriately. While volunteering is a wonderful thing to do for yourself and others, it’s important to be mindful of any extra pressure this may place on your schedule. But if you know you have the time to spare and a passion for something that isn’t being met by your work or hobbies, then finding somewhere to volunteer and share your time for the benefit of others, will also be of immense benefit to you, and is well worth doing.
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