Editor's Note: We recently updated this post with new insights.
What if there was an easy way to help employees combat depression, increase life satisfaction, improve holistic well-being, and live longer—all while making the world a better place?
Including it in your corporate wellness program would be a no-brainer, right?
Spoiler alert—one of the most effective solutions to boosting well-being involves the simple act of helping others.
What Does Volunteering Have to Do with Wellness?
Holistic well-being encapsulates much more than just physical fitness. Instead, it encompasses how fulfilled individuals feel in all areas of life, including emotional, social, financial, purpose, occupational, and physical well-being.
And coincidentally, the act of volunteering touches on most of these areas.
Frontiers Media recently published a study analyzing young adults and the psychosocial assets by which volunteering might decrease depression and anxiety. The participants all struggled with mild to moderate depression or mild to moderate anxiety, and the study was designed to compare the participants' outlook before and after volunteering.
By the end of the study, participants reported a 19% decrease in depressive symptoms and a positive reduction in social anxiety. Many participants also reported feeling happier after volunteering, which allowed them to distract their minds from anxious or depressed thoughts.
Several studies have shown that volunteers feel less isolated and that volunteering alleviates feelings of loneliness. A recent study of 10,000 volunteers reported that two-thirds felt less lonely after volunteering, with even the most withdrawn volunteers feeling excited to interact with others.
Volunteering can help employees experience the world beyond work and family life. It can introduce them to people and perspectives they would not otherwise encounter, boosting social interaction and fostering a support system based on common interests.
But most significantly, volunteering can give employees a sense that they are not alone in this world. Instead, it demonstrates they are valuable contributors to a greater, interrelated whole.
Humans have evolved to crave purpose in life. We want our actions to mean something, and meaning grows from our connection to others.
A study published in BMC Public Health found that the most significant health benefits of volunteering come from "other-oriented volunteering." This type of volunteering involves helping others in need solely through altruistic responsibilities and humanitarian concerns.
In contrast, “self-oriented volunteering" emphasizes the reciprocity of volunteering, or one-sided
In other words, the wellness boost we get from volunteering comes not from helping ourselves but from giving back to other people.
Research published in the American Psychological Association's Psychology and Aging journal suggests that volunteering may be a viable solution for reducing high blood pressure.
The study, originally conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, found that older adults between the ages of 51 and 91 who volunteer at least 200 hours per year are 40% less likely to develop hypertension than those who don't.
In addition to lowering the risk of developing hypertension, there are even more physical health benefits of volunteering, including the following:
- Volunteers tend to have better overall physical health than non-volunteers.
- Chronic pain patients who participate in volunteer activities report decreased pain.
- Individuals who volunteer tend to live longer, on average.
How to Introduce Volunteering into Your Corporate Wellness Program
It's clear that volunteering brings a myriad of benefits in the way of health and well-being, but it's also an excellent recruiting and retention tool.
Millennial and Gen Z workers are especially drawn to companies whose values go beyond making a profit. Deloitte's 2022 Global Gen Z and Millennial survey found that younger employees’ level of satisfaction with their company's commitment to social causes has a direct impact on retention. The survey also reported that younger employees who participate in workplace volunteer programs are more likely to stay with their employers.
Successfully integrating volunteering into your corporate wellness program involves more than selecting a cause and asking employees to sign up. In order to seek and increase engagement in volunteer programs, companies must assume a democratic rather than a prescriptive approach, uniting the values of the organization for the greater good.
Listen to Employees
Employees don’t respond to causes being forced upon them. In order for volunteering to have a positive effect, people must want to help others to get the full wellness benefits.
Spend some time speaking with your employees, sending out surveys, and discussing volunteer opportunities in staff meetings before settling on causes to support. Your employees will be more likely to participate if they have a hand in choosing the opportunities.
While the act of volunteering can be encouraged throughout your organization, it's important to be respectful of those who decline. Some employees may have more pressing obligations on their plates, and others may already be volunteering outside of work.
Kick Off the Program with a Day of Service
You can set the tone for your volunteer program by dedicating a workday to service. This can involve anything from cleaning up a nearby park to collecting and organizing food for a local food bank.
If remote work makes volunteering in person impractical, employees can donate their own time to a worthy cause in their area. Multiple organizations around the world also have ways to make a difference online, whether it’s through volunteering for a crisis line, tutoring, or helping blind and low-vision people lead more independent lives.
The idea is to give your employees a taste of volunteering and demonstrate your company’s commitment to giving back.
Recognize Employees Who Volunteer
Be sure to offer shout-outs to employees who give their time and energy to serve their communities. These shout-outs can take place by email, in team meetings, through a video call, or even one-on-one. The goal is to keep dedicated volunteers engaged while encouraging others to participate as well.
Employees will lose interest if volunteering becomes a chore. The key is to strike a balance between helping employees give back and preventing them from feeling like volunteering is just another requirement of their jobs.
When it comes to volunteering, it’s not the quantity that matters. It’s how meaningful the experience is to employees, the positive change it makes in the world, and the human connections it inspires.
Are you thinking about including volunteering in your corporate wellness program? Get in touch with our Well-Being Strategy Consultants for more guidance and insider tips.