Hospice volunteering: work, socially useful leisure or just filling in time?

Watts, Jacqueline H. (2012). Hospice volunteering: work, socially useful leisure or just filling in time? European Journal of Palliative Care, 19(4) pp. 195–197.

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Work as paid employment is economic in character and is undertaken across the life course usually as a means of sustaining self and dependents. Orientations to work, however, are complex and are shaped by education, cultural values and family practices that influence the choice of career or occupation (Taylor, 2005). The choices and decisions people make about their work are also shaped by the structure of the labour market that operates to economically ‘value’ some forms of work more than others as well as some types of worker over others and there now exists a wide body of literature that debates the experience and meaning of work in contemporary society.

An emerging theme in recent years has been the blurring of boundaries between paid and unpaid work that challenges the preoccupation of policy makers with employment as the only work of value such that those outside or excluded from employment are not recognised as ‘working’. Indeed, recent debates about the centrality of paid work to living a useful life have been increasingly tied to the credentials for citizenship that Lister (1997) argues is an essentially contested concept. This notwithstanding, there is growing acknowledgement by commentators of the significance of the voluntary sector in the provision of a range of services particularly in the field of health and social care giving rise to new understandings of work. The importance of voluntary work (unpaid work outside the home) is central to these new understandings and is now the subject of considerable government interest in its attempts to stimulate social engagement in a plethora of community programmes. For the hospice sector, however, volunteering has long been embedded within its operational ethos such that Howlett (2009) argues that many hospices could not continue to offer a range of services without the commitment of their volunteer workforce. Recruiting and retaining volunteers to work in different parts of the hospice is thus an important priority for hospice managers and this article considers some of the factors that influence the experience of both becoming and being a hospice volunteer.

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