Five Things You Learn From Volunteering

The UK depends upon millions of people volunteering each year. Without volunteers, many services would simply fall apart. Here are five things that are often overlooked about volunteering.

Volunteering is often made out to sound like it’s a bit of fun, an in-between when you’re either out of work permanently or trying to enter work. For that reason, it is often viewed as secondary to ‘real work’ and not as difficult. Everything about volunteering though is real, and just as valid as employment. Here are five things people learn from volunteering:

Volunteers should probably be paid.

In an ideal world, all forms of labour should be reimbursed financially and volunteers are often some of the hardest workers. Volunteer gigs can range from working shop floors, offering support through hotlines, helping out the emergency services or even volunteering for the police. Some are physically demanding (and sometimes dangerous), and some are mentally exhausting. There’s no reason for these roles not to be paid, particularly when it is a public service and the responsibility of the government. Some volunteer roles are the result of austerity; private employers can’t afford to pay staff, and governments refuse to pay volunteers but we also have a culture where people are expected to work for free. That’s not to say there isn’t a value to volunteering; it can be immensely fun but the work requirements shouldn’t be underestimated.

Volunteers are expected to step up as much as staff.

Volunteers are often asked to cover certain tasks when employees call in sick or are stuck on another job. It’s hell on earth if you’re in an admin role too because you can suddenly be trusted with tasks that you’ve never done before and might have to handle sensitive content. You’re also often expected to be the driving force. If it’s fundraising, there’s very much an attitude that you should just go out and do it and in some cases, volunteers have to make their own opportunities.

Some companies don’t value their volunteers, but see them as unpaid labour.

This can be the biggest problem with volunteering. Technically, there should be a clear separation between unpaid labour and volunteering but often these actually get seriously blurred. While some organisations may list minimum work hours of just a couple a week, or none at all, what happens once in the role is often tasks being set which take up twice the allotted time you’ve agreed to volunteer for. This can be especially tiresome if the volunteer role is mostly conducted through online communications, as there’s no easy or clear ‘go home’ time. People just message constantly expecting you to be in that role non-stop.

Volunteering draws a lot of questions – especially around social security. 

People will suddenly jump to all sorts of conclusions if you’re disabled and can volunteer at all, then they act as though you’re suddenly cured. This extends to the government as volunteering can interfere with social security and what you’re entitled to – which draws huge questions about how much the UK really wants to see people free to pursue their goals and actually allowed to be productive. Additionally, not everyone in a volunteer role is volunteering. Some companies use workfare which isn’t volunteering as much as it is coerced labour.

Volunteers really are the backbone of the UK. 

So much just couldn’t get done without volunteers. They support and uphold most of our charities nationwide. Volunteers deserve all of our respect and support for the amazing work that they do.

What have your experiences of volunteering been like? Let us know in the comments below!

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One thought on “Five Things You Learn From Volunteering

  1. To me, only charities/non-profits should be able to use long-term unpaid workers (which is what volunteers are). That is the proper place of a volunteer – in a cause of their own free will, with people who share the same passion and are willing to work hard to share something none of them could do alone.

    Companies and government entities should be paying minimum wage to everyone, with the possible exception of work experience candidates (itself something that I think should not last more than the equivalent of 13 working days – 1 day a week for 3 months). After all, volunteers are usually expected to do the same job as paid workers and get far fewer benefits in return.

    I don’t think the work requirements are underestimated by the organisations though: it’s pretty typical where I live for the entry requirements for a voluntary role to be exactly the same as a job, and not unheard of for people to be required to have a full-time job as a pre-requisite, to prove that their “work skills” are fresh.

    Like

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