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Volunteerism Has Its Perks

In honor of National Volunteer Week, I wanted to tell you why I volunteer at one of the nation’s top hospitals…

I dedicate a couple hours a week to my local hospital’s emergency department. Working in an ER isn’t quite as exciting as it looks on TV, but then again, what is? I chose the ER because of the type of people I wanted to be around (health care professionals), the people I could help (worried parents and scared kids) and the (many) lessons I would learn.  And let’s face it, there’s just something more motivating when a nurse or doctor ends a sentence with “and I need that, stat,” which is not as effective when your boss says it from behind a desk (sorry boss!).

I view a hospital as a building full of professionals who are trained to work together, as a team to help someone feel better. In the emergency department, teams work together like clockwork – greeters, triage nurses, doctors, hunky (oops, it slipped out!) fire fighters, cleaning crews – it’s essential that everyone is on the same page, otherwise lives are at risk.

Aside from filling ice packs and loading blankets into the warmer, I like to observe and learn how these teams of very different people communicate with one another – how they diffuse high levels of stress with humor and always put the goal (patient care) first. One major difference from ER the TV show besides not being located in the heart of downtown Chicago is that this ER isn’t understaffed to the point of dysfunction, which can have a huge impact on feelings of overwork and stress. And the employees (who I’ve had the privilege of talking with) really like working here.

This month, on top of the smiles I brought to children’s faces (armed with a treasure chest of stickers of course) and the wealth of leadership knowledge I gained via observation, I was rewarded with an unexpected bonus. Even in this economic climate of downsizing and cutbacks, the hospital was able to award all its employees and volunteers a $100 Visa gift card to celebrate its recognition as one of Thomson Reuters Top 100 Hospitals for the third year in a row. Maybe I should start volunteering in the HR department and take notes…

But seriously, volunteering is rewarding on many different levels. I would encourage anyone that’s interested to pursue opportunities that fit their personal interests and schedules. For a majority of Gen Y employees, it’s important that our employers are socially responsible and supportive of our desire to give back to the community (Thanks to Penelope Trunk of the Brazen Careerist for the link). Volunteer work can be especially beneficial for people that are out of work and want to keep their skills fresh while helping others. Here’s a useful article that talks about the recent shifts in volunteerism, mainly an increase in participation followed by a decrease in charitable donations.

Whether your corporate social responsibility stems from your organization’s values, which is optimal, or you support volunteer efforts by giving employees a few hours a month to give back on the clock, like some of our past PHWA winners, you provide employees with more than just a perk. You might also be surprised when those lessons employees learn while volunteering follow them back to work. For me, learning how to stay calm under life-or-death pressure will pay off more than the hours I put in (and I think my boss will agree, even if it requires “stat” being permanently removed from office-speak).

If you’re ready to take that step and get involved, or would like to pass this on to your employees, here are a few resources to get started:

Volunteer Match
This site has a variety of opportunities and search functions, including virtual opportunities, which can be done from home, usually just using your computer.

Idealist
Idealist is a project of Action Without Borders and has thousands of opportunities worldwide, but what makes it easy to use is the ability to search for your specific interests, which will help you find a way to deliver your skills to those in need.

Volunteer.gov
Volunteer.gov is a comprehensive clearinghouse of volunteer opportunities across the U.S and also searches across Volunteer Match and Idealist.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Jessica McKenzie, MS published on April 20, 2009 12:18 PM.

Is Emotional Intelligence the Holy Grail? was the previous entry in this blog.

The Lesson of Bird Flu and Swine Flu for Organizations is the next entry in this blog.

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