What HR professionals can learn from volunteering

In the act of giving back, HR practitioners will pick up valuable lessons that will not only benefit their work, but also themselves as individuals.

About the author

Kelvin Kong, Senior Vice President of Learning and Development, Lazada Group

I have been blessed to have spent a large part of my career as a commercial leader before becoming a HR professional. The transition was not simple, but the 13 years of exposure to the commercial side of business has also taught me so much about how I can be an effective talent partner to the business I serve, and deliver solutions to meet its needs.

Likewise, in HR, you get to learn so much by exposing yourself to other aspects of life. In HR itself, I’ve learned various tips and tricks for successful communication, strategies on how to engage talent, and important approaches to streamline mundane operational tasks. But one interesting thing I’ve come to realise throughout all my working years is how important volunteer work is for HR practitioners.

Now, you might ask yourself, why volunteering? And how does it help HR professionals, right?

Well, please hear me out.

The power of volunteering

Volunteering is the act of selflessly giving up your time to do something for others without expecting anything in return. Whether it’s serving at a homeless shelter, a school or some other organisation or charity of your choice, the act of giving your time to something bigger than yourself not only benefits your personal growth as a human being, but helps you truly understand the nature of your vocation.

The HR profession is all about employee relations and connections, starting from the hiring phase all the way to an individual transiting out of the organisation. While there are many benefits of HR engaging in volunteer work, here are three that really stand out for me.

1. Exposure to and learning from different types of people

When you go out and volunteer, you naturally develop your HR skills. You learn how to communicate with different types of people on an emotional level (not just the professional ones you interact with daily at work) and feel more accomplished as a person since you’re doing something good. You’re stepping out of your comfort zone to experience various situations you would have never put yourself in otherwise, allowing you to gain new experiences you can apply at work.

One way HR leaders can volunteer is to mentor young professionals. At Voices of Asia, a skills-based mentoring platform that sees HR leaders take time off their busy schedules to support, nurture and transform an upstart, many of our volunteers have come back again asking to do more. They want to mentor more people, train, speak, plan, finance, advise, and even help to pack goodie bags.

These HR volunteers are driven by their desire to contribute to a greater good, rather than their own work performance indicators. 

2. Building your talent development and programme design skills

As a volunteer, you’ll also be able to learn from those who work for NGOs or social enterprises, many of whom have learned various tricks to help engage and motivate their volunteers. They’re always searching for the best people to volunteer for their organisations, creating flexible and innovative work designs and fostering a welcoming work environment, all while dealing with different personalities on a daily basis.

This is similar to what HR handles and does day in and day out, allowing them to learn from very different functions, and apply those learnings back at work. 

As the founder of Voices of Asia, the first seven years were a big challenge for me. There has never been a day when I am not thinking about how I can get the most credible volunteer mentors, create the best mentoring journeys, provide the best training needed, and get the required funding to sustain the quality of the programme.

3. Learn to motivate without breaking the bank

Building on the previous point, another important aspect of volunteering which many HR professionals can learn from is that money isn’t the only motivator. Volunteers don’t get paid for their time or service, yet have the desire to still work hard to help achieve the organisation’s overall goals.

What HR professionals can walk away with is how to create and foster a culture of gratitude, which can boost overall company morale and culture.

Many of our mentors in Voices of Asia have also learned so much from their mentees during each of those 12-month journeys. Each “thank you” gives them an increased sense of purpose, happiness, and motivation to keep going. After all, giving is a big source of happiness for most people. No one said volunteering was easy, but our volunteers will tell you that it has transformed them tremendously.


Do you see the link? What if we can inspire HR professionals to give willingly, leveraging on their unique skill-sets, which are often so valuable when it comes to serving people? Individuals, teams, and organisations can benefit from the great givers among us, but what’s even better is these givers themselves feel happier and better, and in turn, they want to give even more. We call this the “contentment cycle”.  

Up close and personal with Redmart's Chief of People
HRM Asia - 25 May 2018
Stephanie Nash, Chief People Officer at Redmart, shares the secret to her longevity in HR.
Uncovering unconventional organisational structures
Kelvin Ong - 23 May 2018
From “flatarchy” to "holocracy", HRM Magazine Asia weighs in on the viability of these unorthodox organisational configurations.
(Block)chain reaction
HRM Asia - 15 May 2018
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency were 2017’s big buzzwords, but blockchain looks to inherit that mantle in 2018. How will the technology impact HR?
HR Summit & Expo Asia 2018 insider: Nestlé’s Jordan Pettman
Kelvin Ong - 09 May 2018
Say hello to Jordan Pettman: Nestlé’s Global Head of People Data, Analytics, and Planning; and master of HR metric jargons as complex as the organisation.
HR Summit & Expo Asia 2018 insider: Jason Jennings
HRM Asia - 08 May 2018
The best companies today are “high-speed”, but also humble in their responsibilities to staff, customers, and investors. So says world-renowned management thinker Jason Jennings.
The right frequency
Kelvin Ong - 24 Apr 2018
Business process outsourcing hub Teledirect Telecommerce is operating on a higher wavelength when it comes to HR digitisation.