I am a volunteer. I have sold raffle tickets, cooked sausages, coordinated parking, been a stagehand and I have had the chance to volunteer as a member of management committees and boards. I grew up with parents who volunteered. According to the ABS 2006 Volunteer Workforce Survey, 5.8 million Australians volunteer and in the Northern Territory, 35.8% of Territorians volunteer.
I strongly believe that volunteering benefits the individual, teams and the community. After reading a report by Baroness Neuberger, who at the time of writing the report was the UK Prime Minister’s Volunteering Champion, I see a huge opportunity for the public service in Australia. An opportunity to show leadership in, and provide support to, the community. How? By volunteering.
Baroness Neuberger’s report in July 2009 looked at employer-supported volunteering in the civil service. There are already many successful employer-supported volunteering schemes in UK government departments. However, I have not been able to find any similar schemes, in the public service here in Australia. There are volunteering schemes established for major sporting events and recently in relation to the response to the floods in Queensland, but no general scheme to support volunteering by public servants. If you know of a scheme please let me know.
To be clear, I am not saying public servants don’t volunteer. I am confident that many of us do volunteer our skills and our time. Further, I am sure that supervisors and managers support this volunteering effort albeit, informally.
What I am suggesting is that the public service should have a recognised employer-supported volunteering scheme. Such a scheme would not include any volunteering that public servants do in their personal time in no way connected to government. Rather, the scheme would support volunteering that takes place during staff working hours (this includes volunteering outside working hours that is matched with time off by the employer) and has in some way been encouraged or facilitated by the employer, in the case of public servants, the government. It can be self-organised and might often continue outside working hours.
Now I know we are in a time where we have increased expectations from government and the community to deliver more and better quality services while at the same time we have less resources to deliver these services. So how can we afford to have public servants volunteering in the community? Perhaps the better question is: How can we afford not to have public servants volunteering in the community? Baroness Neuberger offers a business case for volunterring:
- Outreach and community engagement enables more responsive government – engaging in volunteering public servants experience the community’s perspective, gain new experiences, create networks and ultimately develop better policies and deliver improved services;
- Learning and development – volunteering is a great way to develop and learn new skills, especially softer skills (build self confidence and social skills, learn to relate to more diverse groups of people). Volunteering can be incorporated into a public servant’s learning and development plan;
- Boost staff morale and encourage team building – supporting volunteering can enhance a public servants view of the public service generally, increasing the level of pride in the public service and build stronger relationships with colleagues.
In addition to the points above, another benefit from public servants volunteering in the community is that it will help build the capacity of community organisations and the non-government sector generally. By working with community organisations public servants can share their skills and knowledge with other volunteers, including how to engage more effectively with government.
By way of example, when I worked in the Department of Justice we created a “Green Team”. In 2010, the Green Team, with the support of the Department, coordinated our participation in Clean Up Australia Day. Over 30 people attended and we even had a local butcher donate sausages for lunch when he heard what we were doing. It was hot, hard and thirsty work and we earned those sausages. We were equals, there was no hierarchy, whether you were an administrative assistant or a senior lawyer, we all got our hands dirty. It was satisfying work and by the end of the day we had built stronger relationships with each other. We were engaged in a common enterprise that was adding value to the community. These kind of activities are worth supporting.
Earlier this month, the UK Government announced its commitment to giving 30,000 volunteering days a year (see details here). This commitment equates to just over 82 years of effort put into the non-government sector annually. As part of the scheme, the UK Government is enabling the non-government sector to make direct requests for specific help when needed. This is an extraordinary commitment which is being supported by large companies such as KPMG and the BT Group who support the initiative.
I would like to see the public service here in Australia, whether Federal, State or Territory, make a similar commitment and introduce employer-supported volunteer schemes. Even just 10,000 volunteering days per year (or just over 27 years of volunteering effort). This will make a significant contribution to the non-government sector, not to mention the benefits for the public service and the individual public servants.
I will leave you will one final thought from Baroness Neuberger:
“I would like to see volunteering become part of the DNA of our society”.
A public servant since 28 June 1999.
Note: At the time of writing this post all links I could find to the report were broken. If you want a copy of the report please email me and I will send you the copy I downloaded.