keeping young by keeping others young
Robyn scored her job as (with ten being the most fantastic job imaginable).
by Yukun Liu
It is 9:00 AM on a Wednesday morning when we walk into an indoor stadium located at a community centre in Australia.
Robyn, the exercise instructor, walks to a podium and stands in front of 60 class participants. The participants, all in white uniforms, quickly self-organise into rows. In a gentle voice, Robyn greets everyone, warmly welcomes new members, and gives her best wishes for the forthcoming Chinese New Year. Then Robyn turns on her cassette player, faces people as a mirror-image, and the class is underway.
Perfectly synchronized movements
The first song of the set, carefully selected by Robyn, is ABBA’s Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!. With the ups and downs of the familiar melody and the cheerful lyrics, the participants follow Robyn’s lead: “Two steps right, two steps left, one step backward, one step forward...” Their movements are perfectly synchronized and enthusiasm abounds.
After a few more aerobic exercises, including some slow-paced ones for stretching muscles, Robyn leads a mindfulness meditation, and recites a beautiful poem. The atmosphere in the stadium is peaceful. The class ends, with participants refreshed and eager to come back for their next class.
Robyn is a non-paid volunteer who has been working as a voluntary exercise instructor role for fifteen years, ever since she retired from her full-time job as a secretary. Every week Robyn runs four classes, each with a different structure and content. Behind the scenes, she needs to spend considerable time and effort designing each session, selecting songs and poems, and recording songs from CDs to cassette tapes. Like any job, this volunteer job also has its challenges, with the biggest ones being getting the class ready on time and remembering everything to run the class well.
"When I see their faces and they are enjoying it, I’m relaxed and I’m happy."
Robyn loves this volunteer job and rates it as 9.5 out of 10. It helps keep her fit and healthy, yes, but mostly she is happy to see her students – many well into their 60s and some even in their 90 - benefiting from the classes. She experiences a strong sense of achievement: “When I see their faces and they are enjoying it, I’m relaxed and I’m happy, and I got a lot out of it!”
Robyn is part of a team – there are more than 30 volunteer instructors doing similar classes in the community centre. Defined as “the act of freely giving one’s time, knowledge, or skills for the benefit of other people, groups, or causes” , volunteering is very prevalent in Australia, with 5.8 million people every year contributing a total of 743 million hours .
Research [3,4] shows that one of the strongest motivators for volunteering work is the enjoyment and meaning that the work can provide. Importantly, volunteering doesn’t only improve ‘hedonic’ well-being in the form of happiness and more positive emotions, but it also contributes to ‘eudemonic’ well-being in the form of enhanced meaning and stronger feelings of fulfilment and achievement.
Robyn brings these research findings to life, showing us the power of well-designed volunteer work.
 Grant, A. (2012). Giving time, time after time: Work design and sustained employee participation in corporate volunteering. Academy of Management Review, 37, 589-615.
 Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2015, June 30). Retrieved from
 Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behaviour. New York, NY: Plenum.
 Gagne, M., Cordery, J., & Dunlop, P. 2015-2019, 'Designing Human Resource Practices that Promote the Retention of Volunteers', ARC Linkage Projects.