Photo: Janice Litvin & Lee Litvin Volunteer at Local Elementary School

How do you feel after you have had a positive experience helping someone less fortunate? Have you ever taken a pet dog to visit the elderly or served food at a soup kitchen? Just seeing the recipients’ faces light up makes it all worthwhile. Have you ever noticed that full delighted feeling you feel after one of those experiences?

That feeling of kindness is accompanied by the release of a happiness chemical, oxytocin, known as the compassion hormone. According to Stephanie Brown, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University, “Giving back not only enables feelings of trust and peace, but also curtails the presence of stress hormones such as cortisol.”

Whenever someone comes to me frustrated with some aspect of their life and falling into the proverbial pity pot, I advise them to find a person or group to help. First of all, the act of focusing on someone less fortunate than you, gets you out of your own head. Secondly, when someone has been helped by your attention, you feel better. The act of kindness elicits the feeling of kindness within you.

“According to a 2013 UnitedHealth Group survey, 76% of people who volunteered reported the experience made them feel healthier, and 78% felt the work lowered their stress levels.” []

I remember back before the pandemic hit, when I was coaching 5th graders on their presentation skills, I always came away feeling so happy because I saw how happy the kids were when they learned new skills. It’s like magic. When you help others, you simply feel better.

I know whenever I perform a random act of kindness. Furthermore, when we do a good deed we are creating further bonds or attachments.

There is a double-impact – not only does the recipient feel happy, but you feel happy too. Have you ever done a random act of kindness, meaning you helped someone who didn’t even ask for help? For example, you become aware that a neighbor whom you are not particularly close to has had surgery. You bring them flowers or some other treat. Just imagine, how lit up they are to see you and your gift and then how pleased you are for making them happy.

A third benefit is that when you spend time with another human being, you both benefit from the social connection, more oxytocin. Have you ever been in a foul mood and then run into a good friend accidentally? You’re suddenly excited to see them and your mood completely lifts.

Finally, in terms of workplaces, just imagine doing volunteer projects together. Not only are you helping another group of people, you are bonding with your team by doing the effort together. When searching for a new job, many job seekers judge a company by its volunteer programs. According to a report from CyberGrants, entitled “Employee Volunteer Programs: Everything You Need to Know,” 61% of Millennials want to work for a company that offers volunteering opportunities. Many job seekers look for companies that offer planned volunteer programs. Not only does it give workers a feeling of pride about their company, but it also builds loyalty.

Furthermore, “volunteer programs inspire high-performance levels from employees,” according to an article in Business2Community, “5 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement Through Volunteering.” These workers want to wake up in the morning feeling proud of their company. In that way volunteering encourages longevity with the company.

According to Deloitte 88% of HR executives believe volunteering has a positive impact on an organization’s reputation.

How to Get Started Creating a Volunteer Program at Your Company

Here are the steps I recommend:

  • Get support from executives by tying the focus of the volunteer effort to the mission and values of the company. Ensure that volunteerism is integrated into the company culture.
  • Define budget, if necessary.
  • Share the effort with the entire company. A company-wide effort can connect people from different departments and establish inter-departmental teams, to encourage cross-cultural bonding.
  • Create a vibrant communication campaign to let everyone know. Unfortunately not all employees log onto their wellness or other employee portals. To this end, create a kick-off event ensuring leadership are involved.
  • Engage employees company-wide by having them choose the recipient charities.

Encourage non-managers to take a leadership role, which will not only develop leadership skills, but also enhance engagement.

One very engaging tactic to entice employees to get involved is to solicit ideas by hosting a company-wide contest for volunteer activities. Then have all employees vote on the ideas.

In this way employees feel more a part of the decision-making process. Allow the winning team to run with their ideas to lead the program.

What an impactful way to enhance employee engagement, retention, and morale.

And what’s more, workers are seeking connections, as they are emerging out of the frustrating Covid-induced isolation of the last year and a half. What better way to connect than helping those less fortunate?