OPINION: Volunteers are gold. They are the underground army who do something, not for financial reward, but for a greater good or to help others, usually while providing some personal fulfilment.
Paying someone to do a job means that you can outline the nature of that job, instruct the tasks required, and call them to account if the work is not done properly.
And paying someone in a job is like a retainer; even if they don’t particularly enjoy the work, they will come back for more because they need the money.
Not so a volunteer who can walk away if the work becomes a drag.
* The value of volunteering
* I am a stay-at-home mother. I’m not a stay-at-home cleaner, cook or personal assistant
* So you’re going to be a working mum…
* Ways in which motherhood is exactly like work
The decline in stay at home parents. (First published December, 2020)
Managing or directing a team of volunteers is a real skill. You need to be able to encourage/cajole them so that the work gets done, and then enable them to get sufficient satisfaction that they’ll stick around and continue helping out.
This involves respecting the volunteer and their time, and profuse thanks afterwards to indicate how much their effort is valued.
All too often though, volunteers are not respected or valued. Their work is not acknowledged and thankless.
The most common volunteer (unpaid) job in the world is being a fulltime caregiver of a relative. Most of those are mums, and increasingly dads.
Many fulltime parents are also volunteers at school or sport or church, or look after the children of others after school where people in paid work don’t have time. Fulltime parents are the top tier of volunteers, and they are gold.
Yet, our society seems to have been fooled into thinking that, if someone is not paid, their work has little value. And it follows that the more someone is paid, the higher their status and the more valuable we think the work that they do.
However, when you have a hard look this, the reverse is mostly true.
People that are paid least are cleaners, early childhood workers, agricultural labourers, and nursing home staff. People that are paid most are senior executives, marketing gurus, and financial wizards.
I would hazard a guess that we could do without many of the latter, but society would cease to function without the former. No-one has yet been able to explain to me exactly what contribution a future trader makes to society for example, but they still make plenty of lolly.
International Women’s Day was held recently, and among other things, it occasioned celebration of the achievements of noteworthy women.
Outstanding professionals are put up on a pedestal because they are paid a load of money to be directors, executives, high flyers, and tell other lesser paid people what to do. I guess someone’s got to do it.
But not once during Women’s Day celebrations, or in the weeks since, have I seen acknowledgement of those doing the most important work of all; that of being a mum. And since when has being a dad been put at the top of the totem pole?
I suppose there is Mothers’ Day and Father’s Day, but those events are commercial, it’s not about elevating the societal value of primary caregivers or the value of their input to the community.
I fear women and men are being strongly discouraged from aspiring to become fulltime parents because little value is attached to it, and so it goes, little societal status.
Instead they are being encouraged into job roles for reasons little more than attached status which can then define them. Oh, and tick the parent box if you want, but it’s your career and status which is most important.
But the problem about being defined by the status of your job is that one day you won’t have either. On the other hand, being a parent is a permanent position, poorly paid, but mostly fulfilling.
As my elderly German aunt used to say “once a rooster, now a feather duster”; a description, obviously, for high-flying men past their prime. Modern men and increasingly women, in their flight to the top roost, would do well to take heed.
Steve Stannard is a former academic and Palmerston North business owner.