Despite the fact that the Great Recession is already being referred to in the past tense, unemployment and underemployment are still high. Many Americans know, firsthand, the challenges of long-term unemployment and underemployment and the increased pressure to do more with less at work. As these work-related stresses continue, we all should be looking for ways to stave off the risks for depression, anxiety, and cynicism. One possibility for combating the negative effects of a difficult job market is by volunteering to help those less fortunate. Volunteering not only helps and motivates those you serve, but has the same positive effect on you, the volunteer.
Let’s start with the bottom line: Research by Professors Kathleen Day and Rose Anne Devlin has found that the return-on-volunteering amounts to about 7% of annual earnings. This means that, over time, volunteers earn about 7% higher incomes than non-volunteers. If you think about the professional network you can build while volunteering and the professional skills gained, this volunteer "bonus" is not surprising.
If this tangible gain of 7% on salary is not enough, consider these other powerful reasons to volunteer:
- Combat Depression and Anxiety. Losing a job, unemployment or underemployment can be frustrating and even devastating, particularly in difficult economic times. Lives become very internally focused, fraught with worry and anxiety. By focusing your attention on others, you are not only shifting your mind from these negative and anxiety-producing feelings to positive and uplifting feelings; you are also filling your day with productive activity. Additional health benefits to volunteering include regular interaction with others and the joy that comes from knowing you are working to improve and strengthen your community.
- Build Confidence (and Your Résumé). Nothing helps rebuild and strengthen your self-esteem than feeling useful and valuable -- knowing you are making a difference in the lives of others. Because of this, serving others can go a long way toward rebuilding and strengthening your confidence. In addition, you can add volunteering to your résumé, and show potential employers that you are someone with drive and determination, and a healthy amount of civic responsibility.
- Put Your Problems into Perspective. When you are volunteering for the local group home, driving a van with a wheelchair lift and helping disabled people do things that you take for granted, like going to the grocery store or paying their bills, it is often surprisingly easy to put your own problems into perspective. For most of us, unemployment and underemployment are temporary problems, but others are faced with lifelong disabilities and chronic challenges. When you realize how contented even the most severely disabled person is, your load may well become easier to bear.
- Network, Network, Network. In today's world, networking is the key to success, both personally and professionally. I was unemployed for part of last year, and heard about my present job through networking. Consequently, in addition to reaping the psychological and health benefits through volunteering, you can view your service as a means of networking. The people you meet through volunteering know that you are a reliable, conscientious person who cares about others' well-being, which can work in your favor.
- Get (and Stay) in the Right Frame of Mind. When you feel better about yourself and are living a balanced, happy life, it shows. Your demeanor changes to show that you are confident and self-assured, and that you genuinely care about others. This is what employers like to see in applicants and what organizations like to see in employees! Alternately, if you are depressed and stressed, this also shows, and is a turn-off, calling into question your resilience as an employee. By focusing your energy in a positive direction, you can be sure that employers will have the best possible first -- and lasting -- impression of you.
Take the time to care for others – and by extension, yourself. Make volunteering part of your life, and you will thank yourself for it!
About the Guest Blogger: Joseph Baker’s business experience in management spans more than 15 years. A leader of development and management teams, he also implemented budget reductions professionally and as an independent contractor. Joseph led strategic planning and systems of implementation for nine organizations, public and private, and worked extensively with small businesses.