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Beyond Meditation: Why Volunteering Might Be the Secret Weapon for Employee Wellbeing

Employee wellness has never been more of a top priority and conversation amongst leaders. Companies are constantly seeking new ways to reduce stress, boost morale, and create a more engaged workforce. While mindfulness training has become a popular solution, research suggests that volunteering might be an even more effective strategy for promoting employee wellbeing, and here’s why:

From Self-Focus to Social Connection:

Mindfulness training often emphasizes techniques for individual stress reduction and inner peace. While these skills are valuable, focusing solely on the self can have limitations in the workplace. Volunteering, on the other hand, fosters a sense of social connection and purpose beyond oneself. Employees who volunteer experience the joy of giving back, strengthening their sense of belonging and connection to the community.

Many jobs can also feel repetitive and lack a clear connection to a larger purpose. Volunteering disrupts this pattern by shifting the focus from individual needs to the needs of the community. This outward focus combats feelings of isolation and insignificance that can contribute to workplace stress. Employees who volunteer experience a sense of purpose and meaning, boosting self-esteem and motivation.

The Power of Prosocial Behavior:

Humans are social creatures with a natural inclination towards helping others. Volunteering taps into this inherent desire, triggering the release of feel-good neurochemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. Dopamine, associated with reward and motivation, creates a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from helping others. Oxytocin, the “bonding hormone,” fosters feelings of trust and connection with the recipients of your help and your fellow volunteers. Serotonin, a mood stabilizer, contributes to feelings of happiness and well-being.

A Sense of Mastery and Purpose:

Many jobs can feel repetitive or lack a clear connection to a larger purpose. Volunteering allows employees to develop new skills and apply their existing knowledge in a meaningful way. This sense of mastery and accomplishment boosts self-esteem and motivation, which can translate back to the workplace. Employees who feel like they are making a difference are more likely to be engaged and productive.

Volunteering also allows employees to see themselves as capable and effective agents of change. This sense of self-efficacy translates back to the workplace:

  • Increased Confidence: Successfully completing volunteer tasks bolsters confidence in one’s abilities, which can be crucial when facing challenges at work.
  • Improved Problem-Solving Skills: Volunteering often involves problem-solving and thinking creatively. These skills can be applied to overcome obstacles at work, reducing feelings of helplessness.

Building Stronger Teams:

Volunteering together as a team can be a powerful team-building exercise in several ways:

  • Breaking Down Silos: Volunteering together allows employees from different departments or teams to work towards a common goal outside of their daily routines. This shared experience can break down silos, fostering communication and collaboration across the organization.
  • Building Trust and Understanding: Working together on a volunteer project can help colleagues see each other in a new light and appreciate each other’s skills and strengths. This fosters trust and understanding, leading to stronger working relationships back in the office.

Addressing Burnout vs. Preventing It:

Mindfulness training can be a helpful tool for managing stress after it arises. However, volunteering offers a more preventative approach to employee wellbeing. By providing a sense of purpose, social connection, and a break from daily routines, volunteering can help employees avoid burnout in the first place. Burnout often also stems from a lack of control, and volunteering opportunities often allow employees to choose how they contribute, fostering a sense of control and autonomy over their experience.

Repetitive tasks and feeling stuck in a rut can contribute to burnout, as burnout thrives in a cycle of negativity and stress. Volunteering helps disrupt this cycle: it offers refreshing change of pace by acquiring new skills and overcoming challenges, and feeling a sense of accomplishment, and helps employees shift their focus from work-related stressors to contributing to the betterment of others’ lives.

The Ideal Combination:

This isn’t to say that mindfulness training has no place. Ideally, companies can offer a combination of approaches to address employee wellbeing comprehensively. Mindfulness training can equip employees with tools for managing stress, while volunteering provides a powerful outlet for purpose and social connection.

The Takeaway:

While mindfulness has its merits, volunteering offers a unique set of benefits for employee wellbeing. By fostering social connection, a sense of purpose, and opportunities for skill development, volunteering can create a more engaged, motivated, and resilient workforce. So, the next time you’re considering strategies to boost employee wellbeing, consider incorporating volunteering opportunities alongside mindfulness training. You might be surprised at the positive impact it has on your employees and your organization as a whole.

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