Closing the divide between volunteers and staff at Calvary

By Carolyn Whamond, Calvary Lenah Valley Hospital Volunteer Services Manager

When one hears the word “volunteer” they tend to conjure up the image of someone donating their time freely to a community-based organisation. Often supporting staff providing services.

The culture of a workplace is on show when there is a clear division between staff and volunteers and this can lead to disengagement. At a time where volunteer numbers are falling, and those who are volunteering are ageing, it’s important for services such as the health sector, which rely on a volunteer workforce to enrich the organisation to harnesses the true value these special people contribute.

Volunteering at Calvary

At Calvary, our volunteers come with so much spirit, truly aligned to our mission of Being for others. With this front of mind, it is important that our volunteers are not simply those who walk behind staff, but rather those who walk beside staff to deliver healthcare services with heart.

Volunteers show up week in, week out, because they want to, not because they are tied to us for any other reason. At Calvary we have the opportunity to reward them with roles that make a difference and meet their needs. Put simply our volunteers need to feel helpful, be offered meaningful and interesting roles and we cannot expect them to waste their time undertaking tasks staff would rather not do themselves.

Add to this the uniqueness of the health sector, where volunteering is people driven and about supporting patients and residents in person. While there is a trend to offer online styles of volunteering, presence on campus is important to us at Calvary, and it is also important for our volunteers.

It goes back to the significance of creating a culture where our volunteers walk beside our staff. At Calvary, our structured volunteer program contributes to this culture of belonging. Just like our staff, the volunteers don a Calvary uniform, have an organisation-issued ID badge, and sign in and out. From the perspective of patients, residents, carers and visitors, our volunteers are part of Calvary and there is no visual distinction between them and staff.

This also goes a long way toward eliminating the sentiment among volunteers and paid staff alike that these members of our workplace are “only” or “just” volunteers. Such terms suggest differences in our workforce that should not exist, particularly among those who have the same mission of Being for others, but arrive at the point of care via different roles.

A sense of belonging

We need to shift our thinking away from their unpaid worker status, because a volunteer’s motivation and loyalty runs much deeper than just being free labour.  Volunteers attend willingly, in their own time, with no payment in order to give back to their community which makes them donors. And the sense of community among Calvary volunteers runs deep.

In fact, you would be hard-pressed to not identify at least one volunteer at any of services across the country who does not have a personal link to the Calvary where they choose to donate their time. After all, hospitals and residential aged care homes are commonly accessed within one’s local community. This contributes to the sense of belonging for many of our volunteers.

While the formality of Calvary’s volunteering program may create some boundaries to participation for some, those who do join us are inducted into a healthcare workplace with mandatory training. This also contributes to closing the gap between volunteers and staff and adds to the sense of purpose.

Our volunteers come from all walks of life. We have older members of the community wanting to maintain a sense of purpose as they transition to retirement. There are those living with a disability who take on roles that enable them to be active, equal members of their communities and step outside of their personal community, and there are those younger volunteers undertaking a gap year and often considering a career in health, or those who have moved from overseas and are seeking to make connections with their new community.

The importance of our volunteers

In all instances, our volunteers are able to generate genuine connections with our staff, patients and residents, helping minimise loneliness, creating a sense of purpose and making a small difference in the day of those who we serve. The physical presence of our volunteering program means they are not in hidden, administrative roles, but are making seen contributions to the environment of Calvary services, just like our staff.

Volunteers are sometimes the difference between a good day in hospital versus a crumby day. Imagine someone doing it tough themselves coming in for a volunteer shift and supporting a member of their own community by being a room angel, who double checks if the blinds are in the right spot, or the water jug needs to be filled, or providing an extra blanket? To get a big smile from someone in hospital doing it tough is very life-affirming for that volunteer and is very much aligned to Calvary’s mission.

During National Volunteers Week, Calvary will remind all of our workforce to celebrate our volunteers and recognise the value of time, expertise, skills and maturity that contributes to the overall care we deliver to the communities we serve.