Volunteers and Committees - 19 December 2013
This is the time of year commonly associated with people volunteering for an event or some kind of committee. Whether it’s organising the staff Christmas party or joining one of the many working groups that kick off a new year, it can be hard to engage people who voluntarily give up their time without any compensation. They often have great intentions when they start, but their enthusiasm and interest quickly diminish.
Insight on how to maintain this momentum can be gleaned from an analysis published a few months ago by professors at the University of Louisville. The researchers discovered it's unlikely for employees to be engaged unless they first see meaning in their work. If they’re able to do so, they not only become engaged but their performance accelerates, too. This is especially important when working with volunteers and committee members.
Meaning at work is comprised of three main components: contribution, influence, and reward, all three of which need to be present in order for engagement to follow.
Contribution focuses on statements beginning with ‘If…’ For example: “If I volunteer for this cause, will it make a difference?” – or – “If I join this committee, will it really matter?”
It’s a reflection of whether an individual feels as though his or her involvement will end up having an impact. If the answer is ‘yes’, there’s a higher chance the employee will invest sufficient amounts of effort in pursuit of the objective. Your role as leader is to provide clarity on the necessity and urgency of their input.
Influence focuses on employee statements beginning with ‘What…’ For example: “What will the impact be if I volunteer?” – or – “What will result from my contribution?”
It represents a belief that tangible change will be generated as a result of the employee’s effort. It can’t be subtle; the change needs to be significant and long-lasting, affecting those the employee cares about and to whom the employee is connected. Your role is to articulate this influence and to provide updates (and evidence) of its progress.
Reward focuses on employee statements beginning with ‘How…’ For example: “How will I derive value from volunteering?” – or – “How will I benefit from being in this committee?”
This represents the currency to be earned by the employee. Since extrinsic currencies are unavailable in this context, intrinsic currencies need to be sourced instead. When it comes to meaning, the most potent include pride, autonomy, accomplishment, belonging, dignity, love, support, and commitment. Your role is to identify which of those is the strongest for each employee and to then find a way to amplify them in the absence of monetary incentives.
So, if you’re managing a group of volunteers or leading a workplace committee and the people in front of you seem lethargic and disinterested, consider what may be missing. They might need clarity on their contribution, or scope to have influence, or perhaps a stronger intrinsic reward. As the professors wrote in their journal article: “As human beings, we yearn for meaning in our lives; as employees, we yearn for meaning in our work.”
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