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Build better balance by volunteering in the community
No matter what you do or how you do it, I hope youll consider volunteering. You not only will feel the joy that comes from helping others but also will find that service becomes an important part of a well-balanced life. - photo by Greg Kratz
This really is a wonderful time of year.

Even the most Scrooge-like people and I count myself in that group seem to feel the holiday spirit to some extent. Despite the stresses of the season, you'll see plenty of folks with a spring in their steps and smiles on their faces as they offer best wishes to family, friends, co-workers and pretty much everyone else.

That positive vibe often translates directly into providing more service in the community, too. I've found that to be the case in my life.

Last winter, I had the opportunity to volunteer for an afternoon at an organization that provides food to people in need. My wife, oldest daughter and I worked in huge coolers, restocking milk, cheese, eggs, fresh vegetables and other items.

It was one of the busiest days of the year for what is, in effect, a grocery store in which no money changes hands. We were there just before a holiday, so we never had a break from opening boxes and setting out goods.

By the end of our shift, we were cold and tired but also happy. We talked on the way home about how much fun we had and how good we felt after spending a few hours providing service to others.

I'm sure many of you can relate to that feeling and agree that it's a wonderful thing. If so, you'll be interested in the results of a recent survey related to people who give back to their communities and how that service impacts them at work.

The survey of more than 1,000 adult U.S. workers was conducted by an independent research firm for Robert Half, a specialized staffing company. The primary result was that 41 percent of respondents said they volunteered outside of work, with more male (45 percent) than female professionals (37 percent) saying they did so.

Looking at the demographics a little more closely, the survey also showed that 49 percent of workers ages 18-34 reported donating their time, compared to 35 percent of workers ages 35-54.

I was a little surprised by the disparity between men and women shown in this survey. In my personal experience, I have seen women and men volunteer about evenly for causes outside of work. However, I have had more female than male co-workers at many of the companies where I've worked, so I may have an unusual base of experience.

Likewise, I found it interesting that the survey showed younger people expressing more interest in donating their time than older people. I would think those younger folks would be so busy establishing themselves and raising children that they wouldn't have time to volunteer, but I'm glad that's not the case.

Perhaps the reasons for their interest are shown in other results of the survey. Respondents were asked how volunteering outside of work helped them professionally, and the top answer, at 61 percent, was that it enhanced their wellness so they could be more effective at work.

The press release about the survey indicated that this better wellness referred to improved work-life balance, and that makes sense to me. Part of building a balanced life is finding time to improve oneself, and providing service is a great way to do that.

This also may be why the younger generation was more inclined to volunteer. Many studies have indicated that people in the 18-34 age group are more interested in work-life balance than some older workers.

Other reactions to the question about professional benefits of volunteering included 57 percent of respondents saying it allowed them to expand their network, 49 percent saying it helped them gain new skills and 35 percent saying it increased visibility for their company. (Multiple responses were permitted for that particular question.)

Volunteering can help employees at any level build their careers, said Paul McDonald, senior executive director for Robert Half, in the press release. Not only does it provide the gratification of giving back to the community, but it could open doors to a new professional opportunity or business connection.

While that's true, I'm guessing that most people who volunteer outside of work are doing so for primarily altruistic reasons. Professional benefits are more of a nice side effect than the main goal.

Either way, the potential positive effects of volunteering go beyond individual employees, McDonald said.

Managers may find that encouraging their employees to volunteer is a beneficial retention and recruitment tool," he said in the press release. "Many professionals value the chance to give back to causes that are important to them and their community.

I have definitely appreciated it when employers have provided opportunities for workers to volunteer and have encouraged us to do so.

But if you're not someone who has spent much time volunteering in the past, how can you get started? Robert Half has some ideas for you there, too. The press release about the survey offers four suggestions, including:

"Find an organization in need." Look for a group or agency that you care about, then reach out to them to see how you can help. Be sure to explain your skills and interests.

"Check with your employer." Many businesses have arrangements with nonprofit organizations or help employees take part in certain charitable activities. This can be a relatively easy way to start volunteering.

"Invite your colleagues to join you." As the saying goes, there's strength in numbers. And if you and your co-workers participate together, you can build a stronger team even as you give volunteer service.

"Look beyond the holidays." Community organizations need help all year. Even if you get started now, don't forget to continue your efforts in the spring, summer and fall.

No matter what you do or how you do it, I hope youll consider volunteering. You not only will feel the joy that comes from helping others but also will find that service becomes an important part of a well-balanced life.