White-collars and the renaissance of volunteering

LinkedIn is the world`s biggest white-collars’ database - network of people who have usually attended schools a lot and are working at cool jobs. These are people who earn mountains but whose schedules are so packed, that there hardly is any spare time. Workaholics, if you wish. Even so, as many as 82% of them are keen to share their time and experience voluntarily (sic!). There has to have a reason behind it?!

The first argument can be found in the pyramid of Maslow`s Hierarchy of Needs - the person who`s full and has a roof above will start to search for possibilities of self-actualization. Their role in society and meaning of life in a wider sense. Therefore, one’s ego certainly plays a role. At the same time, there is an interesting fact: up to 41% of headhunters and recruiters in LinkedIn evaluate voluntary work experience as equipotent to their experience in payed work and as many as 20% of them have made their choice specifically because of the experience in voluntary work. Hence voluntary work is giving as much or even more power - but what kind of?

Without experience of voluntary work there is no way to become a successful leader

Leaving aside the factor of curiosity, for example the possibility to closely observe some new initiative or to participate in an interesting undertaking, I would highlight three bonuses given to established personalities by voluntary work. These are also the reasons reason headhunters are hunting for people with voluntary experience.  

Firstly, the ability to elate and motivate. To be a leader means to have followers. If You manage to engage people with the success of your ideas and undertakings with no financial reward for them, then it is considerably easier to engage them afterwards with the promise of a financial reward. Moreover, one can`t buy the heart of the team with money, however it can be done with ideas and the spark of the leader which is quintessentially highlighted in voluntary teams.

Secondly, developing your network. A Swedish philosopher and musician Alexander Bard once said to that you are assessed by your address-book. Alas most people’s network is mostly based on their vocation and purview. Voluntary work helps to broaden it - meet new people, experience projects and accumulate ideas in those fields, which are not covered by your professional wold-view. Thanks to science we know that nowadays a big part of new discoveries and solutions comes from superimposing frontiers of spheres and vocations. Also, teams do better if participants are equipped with diverse skills, experiences and virtues.

Thirdly, cognition of the social group. Most of the successful companies will be social enterprises in the future - companies that solve social challenges using business principles. Even Red Bull- to identify itself with extreme sports and to sell more energy-drinks than their competitors to people associated with (and admiring of) extreme sports, they have to apprehend the DNA of it. For that, their team needs people who know the ins and outs of the realm. Moreover as said, increasingly more successful contemporary companies and nearly all non-profit enterprises are accruing from solving the needs of some social group - for example, GrabCAD is making engineers` life easier in engineering industry.

"Cognition of the social group is important. Most of the successful companies will be social enterprises in the future - companies that solve social challenges using business principles. "

Thus, with white-collars it`s clear - without leadership-skills, networking and social nerve it is difficult to be sufficiently successful and move forward. That`s the reason to participate in voluntary work. Of course, that is the case if they find a chance in their own realm at the right time and the right place. For example, in the realm of sport and physical activity we, in The International Sport Volunteers Movement SCULT.com, are solving the informational asymmetry between organizers of events and volunteers.

Voluntary activity improves the clout of youngsters on labour market

Until recently voluntary work was dominated by generations who were inspired by the rebuilding of states and societies after WW II, as well as by creating cohesive welfare states. These people often stayed with one organization or activity for decades. Nowadays we see the up-rising of temporary volunteering - I come, I am, I contribute and I go on. This attitude matches the youngsters of the Y and Z generations who want to be their own masters and to discover and experience something new every day. And there is a lot of them - by the year 2025, 75% of the global workforce will be short-term volunteers.

Generally, getting into voluntary work assumes buying off the organization and its mission after which even more attention and time is contributed to the activity than one would agree upon a financial pay-off. It`s important that an enterprise offers self-determination, expands new perspectives and magnifies existent and new strengths. On the other hand, it is important that the work will be useful to somebody. However, such arguments work only with fully formed persons.

With youngsters, it’s a different case and there are other factors which appeal to them and keep them doing voluntary work. For example, the opportunity to spend a cool day or weekend with their friends – people have a strong „herd instinct“ and belonging and feeling of communion has a big role. Also, youngsters hope to see and meet their idols and world stars, and getting something for free is not unimportant - let it be a cool T-shirt or a free-ticket to a concert or something like that. At the same time, participating in voluntary activity provides youngsters with a number of social skills, which considerably improve his/her clout on the job-market.

For example, being a sport volunteer, organizing any sort of a competition brings the youngster closer to physical activity. It’s a fact that only 14% of our children are sufficiently physically active (about 60 min of aerobic load per day) – in the future these are middle-aged people whose treatment couldn’t be supported by our aging society. From the labour market’s point of view, youngster gets team-working experiences from voluntary activity, his/her organizational and leadership skills will improve, it broadens their mind and widens the essential network that is needed in the labour market. Additionally, his/her communicational and relationship building skills will also improve and CV is supplemented. All this together strongly supports youngster`s clout and helps to stand out at first job interviews.  

Moreover, volunteering gives positive emotions. Thus, doing something good and necessary reduces youngster`s (and not only theirs) stress level - general anxiety, hate, uneasiness etc. Also, it doesn’t allow to fall into depression, it improves self-confidence, gives life meaning and helps to stay healthy. Health is, as its known, condition of physical, mental and social well-being, as sage Ülo Vooglaid likes to say.  

In conclusion – nowadays 1/3 of the United States workforce are free-lancers. Formerly only CV’s of designers and architects composed of portfolios but quite soon that will be the case with nearly every profession. That, in turn, presumes the existence of several skills which are not taught at universities. And this is the place where voluntary work helps to fill the void. Being a volunteer helps the youngster come to a realization about his/her future profession, teaches about project-based working, helps to build personal network and makes it easier to attract awesome team-members for future projects.

This article was first published in the Online Magazine EDASI.org and in Estonian language.