This Responsible Business Week, Dan Walker Smith from Freshfields, gives his insights on the benefits to your work and career that you will gain through volunteering.
We Brits are pretty squeamish about promoting ourselves in the office. It’s seen as grasping, arrogant, or worse, vulgar. Who needs some ladder-climbing self-promoter? If you want to get ahead, just press on with self-deprecating toil; there’s a good chap.
But this can be disastrous for your company, as well as for your career – if your employees aren’t comfortable networking or publicising their teams’ skills internally, your organisation can develop a ‘silo mentality’. The people most suited to each task are ignored, departments don’t share information, and morale plummets.
'The smartest thing I did'
I know this from experience. When I joined Freshfields three years ago, I had one clear task: to help the firm win more business by communicating better. Freshfields had just rebranded, and there was a desire to create marketing material clients wanted to read, rather than the unmemorable stuff law firms often churn out.
The problem was a lot of people assumed I was a proof-reader, and I spent the first few months at my desk despairingly checking documents for typos, rather than creating original content. I needed to start working on more worthwhile tasks, and on a colleague’s suggestion I asked the corporate responsibility team about volunteering opportunities. It was the smartest thing I did.
Volunteering partners like-minded employees
Volunteering shows you’ve got a positive attitude, work well with others and want to help. For me, it also became a chance to find out what mattered to people around the firm. Many didn’t know the marketing department well, so I showed them what we offered and how I could help them.
And it fitted around my job; by volunteering to play communication games with schoolchildren in my lunch hour, I met like-minded people from other bits of the firm on the journey from Fleet Street to Tower Hamlets. The more CR roles I took on, the more people I met – people who invited me to their departmental drinks and asked my advice on upcoming projects.
We know being a responsible business increases your employees’ motivation, but it can also boost your sales. As well as helping the community, volunteering is the smartest way to help your team build their skills and networks, and share knowledge across your organisation. If I were CEO of a company, I’d encourage volunteering at every level. It’s not just ‘corporate responsibility’; it’s good business.
Dan helps people write more effectively at Freshfields. He previously worked as a presenter and producer on the BBC World Service, and at the Guardian and XFM. He won the Alistair Cooke Award for Journalism and studied communications at Stanford as a Fulbright scholar. You can find out more about him on danwalkersmith.com or @danwalkersmith.