The benefits of volunteering as a stepping stone to returning to work

Little boy crossing stepping stones.

Deborah Watt

My sessions today have lead me to ponder on the utility of volunteering. One of my clients said that when they talked about volunteering, they were told that –
“If you’re well enough to volunteer, then you’re well enough to return to return to work”
In my experience of working with clients who have been out of the work place for over a year, this is seldom true. Volunteering is qualitatively and emotionally different from returning to work; many of the obligations of employment are absent and individuals are generally free to volunteer with an organisation they feel is meaningful to them. Coupled with a flexible work environment, this greatly reduces stress.
However…this does not mean that volunteering isn’t a powerful stepping stone on a return to work.

  • The initial application and interview process offers a useful challenge. Though less threatening than a job interview, individuals will often require support to develop skills to overcome anxiety.
  • Once successful, regular volunteering helps build routine and promotes social contact, two areas which often disappear from your life when you are not in work.
  • Once you have volunteered for a short amount of time, you see the benefit of your work. This helps build confidence and sense of self-worth. Both are negatively affected by being out of work.

In over 10 years where my focus has been on vocational recovery, I have supported many clients to move from volunteering to reengaging with paid employment. I have watched individuals build on the experiences and skills they gain during volunteering to develop coping strategies to deal with the challenges of paid employment. Where an individual has a job to return to, volunteering can help build work related stamina and act as a bridge into a returning to work on a phased return.
I have also supported individuals to change career. Where there is not a job to return to or the they cannot return to their pre-sickness role due to health reasons, volunteering can provide a window into alternative roles. Volunteering can offer an excellent opportunity to gain experience in a new area; find out if you like the work before you commit to retraining or applying for work; help you flesh out your CV; and provide a potential reference for applications.
The Benefits of Volunteering as a Stepping Stone to a Good Work Life Balance.
Beyond returning to work, volunteering can also act as a stepping stone towards developing a rewarding life. Some of our clients have continued to volunteer in their spare time once they are back in full time work as they find volunteering has become a socially rewarding activity. For example, one of our ex-clients works every other Saturday on an allotment project which supports disabled adults, another is a Trustee with a charity.

  • For myself, I have volunteered with Herefordshire Headway and the Dyspraxia Foundation as a Trustee amongst other things and I’m starting to be inspired to do a bit more…

If you would like to find out more about volunteering, here are some good starting points:

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