Unexpected downpours recently took Adelaide by surprise, drenching the city in 8mm of rain over 15 minutes. The storm caused severe flooding, property damage and evacuations, requiring help from the volunteer-based State Emergency Service (SES).
The SES are just one of the hundreds of Australian organisations that rely upon volunteers to keep society functioning. Volunteers contribute to all aspects of the community from health, safety and welfare, to sports, arts and events. Associate Professor Jacques Metzer, from UniSA’s School of Psychology, Social Work and Social Policy, says volunteers are vital to Australia.
“Volunteers touch nearly every sector of our economy,” Assoc Prof Metzer says.
“They’re an integral part of every community, freely giving their time, without monetary compensation, to contribute to the wellbeing of society – such is the nature of the volunteer.
“Volunteers contribute to all aspects of the community. They’re the mums who help out at the school fete, the St John’s ambos on hand at a music festival, and the dedicated souls who spend time simply having a cuppa with folk from the local retirement village.
“Volunteers play a critical role in building both social and economic capital, so it’s important we do not underestimate their worth.”
The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 5.8 million people in Australia are officially involved in volunteering. Contributing 743 million hours to the community each year, volunteers generate about $290 billion to Australia’s economic and social good.
Despite this, the rate of volunteering in Australia is decreasing, dropping by 174,000 over 2010-2014.
“For the first time in nearly 20 years, the number of people choosing to volunteer has declined,” Assoc Prof Metzer says.
“Given the fundamental role volunteering plays in Australia, it’s imperative we consider why this might be happening, as well as look for ways to sustain and improve the viability of this important service.”
According to Volunteering Australia, one of the biggest barriers to people volunteering is work commitments, with people not being able to find the time, or not being able to contribute daytime hours to community organisations.
“This raises the notion of corporate volunteering and the viability of supporting formal or informal volunteering programs within a business.
“Corporate volunteering – sometimes known as employee volunteering – occurs when a business allows its staff members to volunteer for various organisations in the community, typically during work time, meaning that the employee still receives wages from the organisation even while they’re volunteering (or working) elsewhere.
“Volunteering essentially becomes part of their work.”
From a business perspective, corporate volunteering is a form of corporate social responsibility, when businesses encourage and enable their employees to participate externally as volunteers, thereby contributing to the community. In addition to increasing the visibility of the business, corporate volunteering also provides opportunities for team building, skill development, community, and communication.
Multiple permutations of corporate volunteering are possible – from acknowledging and supporting individuals who choose to volunteer in their own time, to formal volunteering programs that strategically partner with selected businesses.
“About 10 years ago businesses realised they needed to connect more purposefully with the community, and this saw many businesses try to shift their emphasis from dollar-driven entities, to more community-aligned organisations,” Assoc Prof Metzer says.
“As businesses began to get involved more with communities, the idea of corporate volunteering evolved.
“One of the big appeals of corporate volunteering is that it helps businesses connect and build a positive corporate image in society, something that, for a long time, has tended to be dollar-driven.
“And as businesses have begun to realise, enabling employees to participate in volunteer initiatives has many flow-on benefits, not only for the employee but also for the business.”
He says that work psychology research suggests about 50 per cent of job satisfaction is because of remuneration, with the other 50 per cent being attributed to intrinsic and other elements.
“The connection here, is that corporate volunteering can help build job satisfaction by providing people with a renewed sense of meaning, identity and purpose,” Assoc Prof Metzer says.
“A healthy, motivated and well-balanced employee tends to work better, be more efficient and productive—herein lies the value of corporate volunteering to the business.”
Assoc Prof Metzer also says that one of the greatest benefits volunteering can deliver to employees, and subsequently businesses, is better mental health.
“People are increasingly busy – their jobs are demanding, resources are limited, and they generally face high levels of stress – this has become the norm for many Australians,” Assoc Prof Metzer says.
“And because of the increase in work stress, mental health in the workforce has become a big problem.
Today, corporate volunteering opportunities tend to be offered and promoted by charitable and other organisations, rather than originating from businesses themselves. And while many businesses may say they offer volunteering opportunities, in reality, these are quite limited.
One volunteer opportunity that does not go unrecognised is that of the Defence Reserves. This is traditionally the most supported volunteering opportunity for which organisations broadly often allow paid time off. Backed by the Defence Reserve Service (Protection) Act 2001 and the Fair Work Act 2009, this is a distinct volunteering opportunity that is uniquely protected.
Yet is does raise the question of what makes a volunteer opportunity worthwhile.
“When it comes to excusing employees to volunteer, many workplaces have not yet caught up, particularly when it comes to emergency services,” Assoc Prof Metzer says.
“For example, if we let CFS and SES volunteers leave their substantive roles to fight fires or respond to emergency situations, they’d be helping not only the community, but also saving money for the economy; this is something businesses seem to overlook.
“And it’s not just emergency services. Think about our aging population. While new homecare packages are offsetting the cuts to aged care facilities, we still need to think about who will look after our elderly—not just medically, but emotionally, socially and mentally: in short, their overall wellbeing.
“Elderly people at home can be very lonely. They need people to connect with and to talk to, just to be human. This is where volunteers can play a vital role.
“To move forward, businesses must continue to think differently about volunteering in Australia. Corporate volunteering is only the start.”
Did you know that you could be paid to learn new skills and improve your physical and mental fitness, all while continuing to study or work?
UniSA supports staff and students who join the Defence Force Reserves.
Reserves serve alongside full-time Navy, Army or Air Force personnel on the occasional weekend or evening, covering a wide variety of trades and professions. Their work sometimes includes supporting the work of full-time defence personnel on humanitarian missions, disaster-relief activities and combat operations.
Late last year, UniSA appointed an industry expert to steer engagement with South Australia’s burgeoning defence industry sector across research and education, Matt Opie, who recently travelled to Malaysia to get a taste of life on a defence deployment.
Opie, UniSA’s Director: Defence, travelled on a Royal Australian Airforce C-130J as part of Exercise Boss Lift, a Department of Defence program designed to show employers the training, skills and experience that Australian Defence Force Reserve service provides.
“It was a great opportunity to understand the benefits of having Reservists as part of a workforce, and student body, and also the benefits that Reservists bring back to their work and study environments,” Opie says.
Opie says he’d encourage UniSA staff and students to join the Defence Reserves.
“Being a member in the Defence Reserves provides excellent training and development of skills that are applicable in uniform and in civilian life, such as leadership, decision making and organisation,” he says.
“UniSA is a large employer and a strong supporter of the Australian Defence Force and Defence Reservists, so participation in Exercise Boss Lift was a great opportunity to understand what it means to be an employer of Reservists, and also what it takes to dedicate time to be a Reservist.”
Highlights included visiting the Malaysian Defence Force Jungle Survival Training School – though only for a few hours, rather than the full six-week course.
Opie says it was eye opening to see the range of people who join the Reserves.
“I was pleasantly surprised to see the variety of young Australians who serve in the Reserves – including a Melbourne train driver, a mechanical engineering student, a carpenter and a bar manager,” he says.
Opie has more than 15 years’ experience in the Australian Army, where he was an Army Officer. He says he was impressed by the dedication that Reserves have to holding down jobs and study commitments, in conjunction with their Reserve time.
Information on support for students who are Reservists can be found in Student Services section of UniSA’s website.
UniSA staff should speak to their manager or local HR delegate.
For more information visit the Defence Reserves website.