An apple a day keeps the doctor away... and, it turns out, so does volunteering.
According to a 2010 study from UnitedHealth Group, the country's most diversified healthcare company, volunteering is closely linked to improved health and in some cases even helps people manage chronic conditions. What's more, the study also found compelling evidence that employee volunteer programs can help businesses in key areas, such as productivity, engagement and synergy.
Employee Volunteers Feel Better
Aside from doing good, volunteering helps employees feel good. According to the study, over three quarters of employees who had volunteered during the last 12 months found that they felt healthier. A whopping 94 percent reported that they had improved moods as a result of the work they were doing to create community impact. Volunteers were also significantly more likely to consider themselves in very good or excellent health. Indeed, with a recent Forbes article reporting that sick days are costing the American economy $576 billion every year, employers will certainly find the prospect of a happy, upbeat and physically present workforce appealing. From the perspective of an employee, there's no cost that you can put on your health -- even a few days spent with a cold can be a bummer.
Employee Volunteers Manage Stress Better
Here's another aspect of employee volunteerism that should appeal to employers and employees alike: Over three quarters of employees who volunteered in the last 12 months found that they had less stress. This is, of course, intimately tied to the subject of physical health in general, with scientific studies conclusively demonstrating that higher stress levels and an inability to cope with stress lead to diminished overall health.
Not only were employees who volunteer more apt to feel calm and peaceful, they also reported that they felt more invigorated during the four weeks after they volunteer. Employees bring this increased energy to the workplace, making them more productive and impacting their company's bottom line.
Employee Volunteers Have a Sense of Purpose
The UnitedHealth study found that an incredible 96 percent of employee volunteers believe that volunteering enriches their sense of purpose in life. Having a sense of purpose doesn't just give your life more meaning or make you feel better -- it's also tied to one's overall health. The Pacific Standard reported that a sense of purpose in one's life can boost the immune system, which in turn leads to less time spent laying in bed fighting off a cold or flu. Another study found that overall brain health was boosted by a sense of purpose, including a lower rate of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Thus, we see that the sense of purpose one gains from volunteering has tangible effects on employee health and, once again, their company's bottom line.
Employee Volunteers Are Engaged With Their Health
Your employees who volunteer aren't just healthier, they're also more engaged and active healthcare consumers. Four out of five believe that they have some degree of control over their health, know more about it and are more informed about chronic diseases. This means that they'll make better decisions about their health and healthcare over the long term, which in turn leads to less sick days taken and a lower overall strain on healthcare budgets.
Other Benefits for Employers
The study also asked employees to talk about how their volunteerism helped them be better and more productive employees. The results are striking and speak to the value of an employee volunteer program at your company:
• Time Management: Employees who volunteer believed that they had better time management skills as a result. Volunteer employees have to balance not just work and their personal lives, but also their time spent volunteering, which they believe translates into better time management skills on the job.
• Colleague Connections: Four out of five employees who had volunteered alongside fellow employees in the last 12 months believed that their volunteerism helped them form better connections with their peers.
• Teamwork: A lot of volunteer opportunities necessarily involve working in close proximity with other people toward a common goal. A full 87 percent of respondents who believed that volunteering helped to further their career attributed this to the teamwork skills that they learned while volunteering off the clock.
• Job Skills: What's more, a number of employees found that they picked up relevant job skills while volunteering -- to the tune of 75 percent. Nearly as many (71 percent) believed that they made business-related contacts while volunteering, crucial in jobs such as sales.
The UnitedHealth study tells a conclusive story for both employees and employers alike: Not only are employees who volunteer more engaged, they're also mentally and physically healthier. This leads to decreased overhead, increased profits and reduced healthcare costs for individual employees.
And that's something that makes everyone feel better.