Voluntold

People want to work for organizations that care.  At least that is the “known fact” that underlies a lot of thinking in corporate culture and leadership advice these days.  Like a lot of “known facts” this one has a strong basis, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t misunderstood or misused by organizations in their efforts to create a positive culture.  Organization show care through any number of efforts:

  • Paying fair wages to a diverse employee base
  • Treating their suppliers with respect
  • Developing and changing products so they can be produced in a sustainable manner
  • Providing a reasonable rate of return to their owners and investors
  • Continuously developing their employee’s skills for an ongoing career
  • Supporting the community

It’s the last point that sometimes leads to efforts that result in a culture clash.  The problem starts with the assumption that for the organization to get credit for supporting the community it means money raised and volunteers provided must be in the name of the organization.  This leads to money raising efforts where employees feel compelled to give, and voluntold “opportunities” where the whole group goes out on a day to support a charitable effort in the community.  Organization leaders then pat themselves on the back because not only did they check the box on supporting the community, they also checked a box on a team building exercise.

The question is, how many employees are gripping behind the leaders back about “having to go work” for a charity they don’t want to support when they had important work to do for the organization itself which they will now get told is late.  Maybe they would have preferred to use those eight hours by leaving a half hour early two days a week to go couch a youth sports team where one of a bunch of kids was their own.  Maybe they would have preferred to give money to a different charitable organization that supports their view of how to make society better.

My point is not to do away with community outreach programs.  My point is two-fold.  First, make sure they are truly voluntary.  As soon as people start feeling like these are voluntold “opportunities,” the impact goes from team building to culture crushing.  Second, provide options for people to participate.  Instead of giving money to a specific charity, have a contest or drawing where an employee gets to select this month’s or quarter’s recipient from a list of potential charities.  Instead of having a team day, provide a clearing house of volunteer opportunities or participate in the President’s Volunteer Service Award program as a certifying organization, and celebrate your employees who received recognition by highlighting them to the community.

Supporting the community is a great way to show your organization cares, but be careful that you do so in a way that builds a positive corporate culture, not a negative one.

 

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