What volunteers can teach the paid workforce

This week, as part of Volunteering Week, I had the pleasure of attending a workshop run by Martin J Cowling on how organisations sabotage their volunteer programmes. In summary, he lists The Five Lethal Factors Volunteer Managers Employ to Harm Their Programs:

  • Muzzling the message – “..failure to continually and successfully communicate positive and strong messages about volunteering and our roles..”
  • Damaging the system – “.. they actually sabotage their own chances of success through poor volunteer systems.”
  • Demoralising the troops – “..the outcome of volunteering should be that volunteers are changed by their experience, otherwise volunteering isn’t doing its job..”
  • Garrotting the Leadership – “..Need to possess a clear vision for their volunteer program; one that links to the organisation’s overall mission and that is understood and agreed by both leadership and staff..”
  • Undermining the Future – “..To be effective, volunteer programs must marry best practice organisational culture and good human resources techniques, whilst simultaenously positively impacting participants..”

And it’s certainly true, that where there are examples of extraordinary success within volunteering that the opposites of those five factors are not only present, but emphasised.  It’s also true that once you take remuneration out of the equation, there’s little to fall back upon unless you get these factors right.  You have got to get clever about your volunteers’ motivation and work with that.

Importantly though, I’d argue that these lessons apply just as equally to those in paid employment.  Key factors in an engaged workforce will almost always include :

  • Clarity on roles;
  • Strong, positive communication;
  • Appropriate recognition and reward (note, not just remuneration!);
  • A clear organisational vision and a clear link for employees from their own roles to that vision;
  • Systems that enable not disable people from being able to get the job done; and
  • (Most important) strong, positive leadership;

It is a sad fact that many organisations feel that payment for the job being done is sufficient to engage employees, and “if they don’t like it, they know where the door is..”.

Martin’s lessons are a timely reminder that all those working in organisations (salaried, volunteer, permanent, casual, full time or part time) need to feel as though they are part of something, need to feel that what they are doing is worthwhile, need to know how what they do matters.

What lessons can you learn from your local volunteer organisation that could help with the way that you engaged with your employees?

Tammy Tansley
I am a coffee loving, energetic human who loves words, bright colours and spots, silly t'shirts and good champagne. Mum to two beautiful mischiefs. Long time wanderer around the world. Author. Blogger. Speaker.

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