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How Volunteering Enriches Our Lives

“A life without a cause is a life without effect” ~ Paulo Coelho

Two weeks ago, I wrote about how international assignments have transformed our family life, and the careers of my husband and myself. In that article, I mentioned about the importance of integrating into a community.

Inevitably, when we integrated into our communities – be it our faith-based community, same interest/cause/passion group, or socio-cultural organization – volunteering became our family’s way of life.

Wikipedia defines volunteering “an altruistic activity where an individual or group provides services for no financial gain. Volunteering is also renowned for skill development, and is often intended to promote goodness or to improve human quality of life. Volunteering may have positive benefits for the volunteer as well as for the person or community served.”

Through our family’s volunteer works, we have been enriched and rewarded. The rewards were not tangible or financial. They were more emotional, mental and spiritual. We felt a sense of meaning, balance and joy in our lives, which ultimately manifested in our workplaces. These resulted to higher motivation, engagement, performance, and a sense of joy and fulfilment.

A Possible Source of Happiness in the Workplace

I previously wrote “Find and Share Joy at the Workplace”, where I gave some suggestions on how to find, share and sustain joy at the workplace.

The trigger of this article was a report from Channel News Asia about Singapore’s national level of happiness at work. The article highlighted the result of a survey done by NUS Business School, which summed up that “Singaporeans are less happy but have a greater sense of achievement.”

The co-author of the survey, Dr Siok Kuan, said that the decline in national happiness level (compared to 2006 survey results) indicated that Singaporeans were looking for more non-material gratification since the majority of the population has attained a certain standard of material comfort.

The ranking changed last year when Singapore was named one of the 25 happiest nations in the world, and the happiest in Asia, in the 2015 World Happiness Report. The indicators used in this survey were gross domestic product per capita, life expectancy, freedom to make choices and available social support.

National University of Singapore sociologist Paulin Straughan said measuring Singapore’s happiness was a subjective matter. She also said, “If you look at the progress of the state, it has moved to a better place. We don’t have turbulence like other countries, and there is strong trust in the Government.”

The question remains, is the Singapore workforce truly happy? Can volunteering become a source of true joy at the workplace and life in general? Can this be the antidote to the high level of stress in a modern and progressive city like Singapore?

The Benefits of Volunteering to the Business and Workforce

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation (CTI), nicely summarized the benefits in an article in HBR Blog Network, “Strengthen Your Workforce Through Volunteer Programs”:

According to the Deloitte Volunteer Impact Survey, Gen Ys who frequently participate in their company’s volunteer activities are more likely to be very proud to work for their company, feel very loyal, and are very satisfied with the progression of their careers. These sentiments hold true across different generations – from the Gen X to the Baby Boomers, men and women.

Corporate volunteer programs range from one-day community service activities to mini-sabbaticals that send top performers to developing countries to lend their expertise to nonprofit organizations and proven entrepreneurs. Such volunteer assignments can do more than inject excitement into a humdrum job; they can ignite a career. Who knows what kind of connections could result?

They’re not just a “nice to have” perk but a retention tool, leadership development opportunity, and strategic business initiative.

In 2013, I was asked by SPH’s HerWorld (Singapore’s women magazine of the year) “How Do You Perk up Your Team?” and I shared a main thought:

“Get your team involved with the community by volunteering. It gives employees a new purpose or meaning. It helps them break out of a work rut and also broadens their networks and develops their interpersonal skills.”

After more than 15 years of volunteering alongside professionally working, my belief about the enriching impact of volunteering has become even stronger. It should be in everyone’s bucket list!

Coincidentally, in one of my favorite movies, The Bucket List, Morgan Freeman’s character asked Jack Nicholson’s character questions that served as good success indicators: Have you found joy in your life? Has your life brought joy to others? Perhaps, we can find some answers in volunteering!

Note: This was also published in LinkedIn.

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