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What If We Thought of Our Employees as Volunteers?

Posted by Eric Putkonen on 05/04/2016 in Recruiting articles |

I believe it is important to think differently as a recruiter or leader.  Today’s post is about our employees.  How we treat them is derived by how we think of them.  Because we pay them, many believe this should be enough for them to keep coming back, give us their best, and do as we say.

Today, I would like to challenge that idea and suggest we think of our employees as volunteers.  I know some people may be still thinking – “we are paying them, so they are not volunteers.”  I know that, but I am suggesting we think of them as volunteers and that may change how we treat them.

Thank you to hey skinny (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Thank you to hey skinny (CC BY-NC 2.0)

But if we are being completely honest, if your company’s salaries are coming in at below average market rates…you are asking them to volunteer (even though they are being paid some kind of stipend) because they could easily leave to be paid more elsewhere.  And if your company is paying average market rates, what you have is basically a commodity and then it comes down to what else you can offer in order to get them to volunteer to take your position.  Only those companies who are paying more than most everyone else might get away with thinking, “we pay them…that should be enough.”

So, how would this shift in thought change how we recruit our employees?  How would this shift in thought change how we treat our employees?

First of all, we would be focusing on bringing on (i.e. hiring) people with (primarily) passion for our cause and then secondarily skills or talent (which can be trained and training is a way to attract people as well).  We would need a cause first of course, so how are we making the world a better place?  Once you know that, look for people who want to further that cause.  You inspire potential hires with the cause, not the organization.  Ask them to help the cause, not the organization.

We can not just generically say “join our cause”  or “help us change the world” either.  We need to be specific and show that the role we need them to play is a practical and actionable step in furthering the cause.  How will that job specifically make a difference in other people’s lives.

Thank you Nichole Burrows (CC BY 2.0)

Thank you Nichole Burrows (CC BY 2.0)

We would also need to figure out their other motivations for “donating” their time to the cause (even though they are being paid as well).  There are usually additional motivations other than joining the cause.  Is it to meet new people, work with certain people, develop new skills, feel needed, or something else entirely?  There may be multiple motivations within one person, but as a company we need to look for ways to satisfy as many motives as possible.

Again, training would have to be available.  If developing new skills is a motivation, then they will not have everything right now.  As we are looking for passion for the cause primarily, we also might not get someone for a position who has been there and done that already; and may need some training or mentoring.  Having a passion for the cause and interest in the work is more important than not needing any training and being able to hit the ground running.

Once you hired someone, imagine they were not being paid and were volunteers.  How would you treat them differently to keep them coming back and volunteering their time and energy day after day?

First of all, you express gratitude and appreciation frequently and openly.  Not just the top performers…I mean everyone.  You do not wait for the annual review or awards ceremony to say something.  You make them feel needed and appreciated.  Never forget to tell them – as often and in as many ways as possible – that your organization could never accomplish all it does without their help.

Additionally, you need to often show how they have furthered the cause and how they have made a difference in the world and a difference in other people’s lives.  There’s no motivation as powerful as knowing that you made a difference in the world.

Also when new people start, have a peer who has been there for a while show them the ropes. They will get up to speed faster and, if your mentor does his or her job well, they will feel more like a part of the team from the start.  Building the feeling of community is important.  A feeling that we are are in it together.  Make them feel welcomed and wanted.

Make sure that new people are not sent to an office to work only to find that the office is unprepared. So they sit around trying to look busy when really they are twiddling their thumbs.  This is being disorganized and inconsiderate to the new person and is very uncomfortable for the person in this position.  The quickest way to lose volunteers (or good employees) is to waste their time.  So too do not hold countless, unproductive meetings that do not really further the cause.  Wasting time and boredom will cause employees to leave as surely as volunteers from a cause.

Thank you uncoolbob (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Thank you uncoolbob (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Regular and consistent communication (two way) is an absolute necessity.  Give feedback often and consistently…not just annually (as I said).  Respond to any concerns or issues immediately. This is not just for managers, but encourage communication (even small talk) among the staff.  You do not want people to feel isolated or cut off…or feeling they do not know what is going on.  You want them to feel part of a team/community that is in it together furthering a cause.  Let them know the progress being made towards goals within the cause made by the organization, their team, and their individual efforts.

These are just some of the things that immediately come to my mind when I think about what might change if we thought of our employees as volunteers who are not being paid.  I am sure that there are many more.  What do you think would change if employees were treated as if they were volunteers?

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