Abstract: Supporting Older Workers and Caregivers Who Volunteer: Examples from the Field (Society for Social Work and Research 26th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Racial, Social, and Political Justice)

Supporting Older Workers and Caregivers Who Volunteer: Examples from the Field

Friday, January 14, 2022
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington, DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jennifer Crittenden, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Abbie Hartford, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Maine, Bangor, ME
Rachel Coleman, Graduate Research Assistant, University of Maine, Bangor, ME
Background and Purpose: The nature of older adult volunteering has been changing over time requiring volunteer programs to innovate and respond to the new realities of the “retirement years.” Older adults are increasingly filling multiple social roles, such as caregiving, working for pay, or volunteering on a formal or informal basis. Despite the benefits derived from volunteering, the rate of formal volunteering is decreasing as rates of participation in other roles are increasing. In fact, only about a quarter of older adults currently participate in formal volunteering.

Much of the older adult volunteering literature examines volunteerism without consideration for additional life roles that an individual may hold. Yet research indicates that volunteering is likely to provide distinct benefits for the roles such as knowledge, skills, and social connections that are transferable across role domains. This paper fills the research gaps around organizational level practices that encourage older adults who are also working and/or caregiving to engage in volunteer activity.

Methods: This study recruited Retired and Senior Volunteer programs (RSVP) throughout the U.S. to participate in semi-structured interviews. Participants were recruited from the pool of program sites that took part in a prior multi-phase study of older adult volunteering and role conflict. Additional participants were recruited from the National Senior Corps Association, a group of volunteer program administrators and staff connected with AmeriCorps Seniors Programming (formerly Senior Corps). Sites were recruited with an initial e-mail solicitation and those interested in participating completed an informed consent form prior to interviewing.

Semi-structured interviews were carried out with eleven interested sites using a twelve-question interview guide. The interview guide elicited responses regarding specific self-reported program-level practices that site contacts identified as facilitating the recruitment and retention of older volunteers who were employed or served as family caregivers. Interviews were recorded and transcribed via Zoom with the resulting transcriptions undergoing a basic thematic analysis to identify themes from among the responses. Participants were also invited to submit documentation and materials to support their responses such as sample newsletter write-ups, volunteer application forms, and policy documents. Participating sites represented seven different states and were recruiting and managing a range of 50 to 650 volunteers per program.

Findings: The following themes were identified among the responses as practices that support volunteer involvement by working and caregiving older adults: 1) On-boarding processes that are sensitive to the needs of caregivers and workers including the subthemes of intake procedures and volunteer training; 2) The provision of breaks and flexible scheduling for volunteers; 3) Time-limited and intermittent volunteer opportunities; 4) The use of substitute volunteer positions; 5) Remote and home-based volunteer opportunities; and 6) Supports, resources and wellness resources, with a subtheme that touches on collaborative practices.

Conclusions and Implications: Interview findings describe tailored program-level practices that can be replicated by volunteer program staff and administrators with a commitment to engaging a diverse volunteer workforce, one that is responsive to the needs of those who are juggling paid work and caregiving demands.