Management for the masses: Effects of employee community involvement

Indiana University Kelley School of Business  8.31.10Your employees are already trying to juggle their work responsibilities with their family obligations and the time-consuming business of life. Should you encourage them to add another commitment to their schedule in the form of volunteering in their community? A recent study says yes.

Dr. Jessica Rodel at the University of Georgia surveyed volunteers and their co-workers to determine what kinds of effects volunteering had on job performance. She found that volunteering did not appear to hurt work performance, but instead enhanced it. Respondents reported (and their co-workers confirmed) that working in the community added a sense of “meaning” to volunteers’ lives, and this feeling of well-being made them more effective at work. Employees who volunteered did their work more correctly and with a better attitude than those who did not.

Other studies have noted professional benefits from volunteering, include strengthening skills and making personal contacts that can help individuals in their professional work. This is particularly true when employees use skills they hone at work to help others in the community – when an accountant helps an agency prepare financial statements, for example.

So, I can safely recommend that, if a good performer asks you to support their community service endeavors, you can say, “Yes” with little fear that that individual’s job performance will suffer. And rather than seeing a job applicant’s record of community involvement as evidence that they will be distracted from their work, realize that person’s volunteer activities likely reflect the skills and commitment of a strong employee who will seek meaning in both their community and work life.

Finally, if your employees have to complete a lot of routine work that provides little intrinsic motivation, consider providing opportunities for them to volunteer. The meaning they find in community service may help them maintain the positive attitude and motivation that can compensate for this deficit in their work experiences.

Rodell, J. B. (2013).  Finding meaning through volunteering: Why do employees volunteer and what does it mean for their jobs?  Academy of Management Journal, 56, 1274-1294.