Volunteer work: A Q-methodological Study of Volunteers' Subjective Experience of Working at a Crisis Helpline
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The aim of the present study was to take a closer look at the subjective experiences of volunteers working at a crisis helpline, since there has been very little research on this group of volunteers. A research method, called Q-methodology approach, was chosen because it makes it possible to systematically study subjective phenomena such as values, opinions and attitudes (McKeown & Thomas, 1988). Earlier research has revealed that volunteer work is beneficial for volunteers’ well-being (Thoits & Hewitt, 2001). Having this study from Thoits and Hewitt as a starting point, the volunteers from one of the Kirkens SOS centers in Norway were invited to participate in this present study to investigate closer what contributes to their eventual happiness and well-being. Altogether 22 volunteers were willing to take part, and they got to rank their subjective viewpoints through a set of stimuli called a Q-sample. Afterwards, their Q-sorting patterns were entered into the Q-method factor analytic program (PQ-method). It was decided to utilize a three-factor solution. Factor analysis revealed defining statements and consensus statements for these factors. Since the participants appeared to represent a quite homogenous group, the factors had naturally also great commonalities but there was to be found slight differences as well. All the factors were defined by volunteers’ experiences of gratefulness and appreciation of their own lives as they have realized how serious matters many callers struggle with. For the factor one, the subtle differences were seen in expressions of how important positive feedback was to its representatives. The second factor was represented by volunteers who did not see the habit callers as a problem, but as a challenge, and those callers as important as any others. The third factor was represented by volunteers who had especially positive way of thinking about life. For them it was natural to focus attention to goodness rather than to life’s many miseries. These insights into the experiences of the volunteers at this particular SOS center may have implications for other SOS centers as well. The realization that the volunteers do have different motivations can help the employees gain new ways how to keep their volunteers longer in duty. This study will hopefully open up for greater interest for studying these matters even more accurately.