COVID-19 has exposed a long list of things we’ve taken for granted. Right at the top sits our need for human contact. However, even though the conditions of the pandemic pulled us apart physically, in some ways they’ve brought us closer together.
Like with any crisis of this size, it created a common enemy that we all had to unite against and rekindled a sense of connectiveness in the community that was otherwise lost. And nowhere has that collective spirit been more apparent than in the millions of people who queued up to volunteer over the last year.
According to a report from The Together Initiative aptly named ‘Our chance to reconnect’, 12.4 million adults offered up their voluntary time during the pandemic. Out of those, 4.6 million were first-time volunteers and 3.8 million are interested in helping again.
This is amazing evidence of the willingness of human beings to help others – and for these volunteers there may be other longer-term incidental benefits, including wellbeing boosts and career advancement.
Statistically, those who volunteer have lower mortality rates and lower rates of depression later in life as well as many other benefits. But why is that? Well, as many studies have demonstrated, helping others kindles happiness. And the benefits extend to our careers, too.
Researchers have noted that millennials are some of the most civic-minded and socially-aware employees – qualities that read well on a CV. Indeed, skills-based volunteering can be the perfect springboard for an employee looking to advance in their careers.
Local authorities are also ideally placed to benefit from the increase in voluntary workers as they often recruit directly, and their work can span through a wide range of sectors, from education to environmental protection and community services.
Generally speaking, a volunteer should be afforded the same level of information, training, supervision and protection as a paid employee engaged in similar activities. The challenge for the risk and insurance manager is to ensure that service managers within the authority understand that a duty of care is owed to volunteers. The UK and Scottish governments put out specific guidance for volunteers during the COVID-19 crisis and RMP has a useful guidance document here for risk management in relation to volunteers.
So the upsurge in volunteering maybe one of the few positive takeaways from the pandemic we can build momentum from. There is a worry, however, that it’s a fashion that could be short lived.
We only have to look back to a report from the UK Government on volunteering in 2019 to see people can gradually lose interest. It showed the past 5 years had seen a drop in people volunteering at least once a month from 44% in 2013/14 to 38% in 2018/19, and for those saying they had volunteered at least once a year from 70% in 2013/14 to 62% in 2018/19.
Only time will tell whether COVID-19 has made people more likely to sustain the habit to volunteer. Hopefully it has, because the benefits to our local authorities and the general population are plain for all to see.
By helping others, we essentially help ourselves – an obvious truth that only became clear to many of us after long periods spent in isolation. As social distancing subsides and we come back together again, let’s hope it’s not easily forgotten.
Published date: 9th June 2021
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