By Steven G. Rogelberg and others, Nonprofit Management & Leadership, Summer 2010
Although one may think that employees in not-for-profits (NFPs) would always be happy to have volunteers in their organisations, we know that sometimes the working relationship between the NFP employees and volunteers can be challenging for several reasons, and when it does not work well, it can have a negative impact on the volunteers, the employees, the organisational leadership and the organisation.
In this article the authors examine the ways employees in animal care organisations perceive and describe volunteers, and what variables may be related to positive or negative perceptions. The first part of the study examined employee descriptions of the volunteers they interact with. Overall, the ratings were quite positive. More than 80% of employees described volunteers as hardworking, helpful, friendly, and kind. However, less than 60% described volunteers as knowing what they are doing, being open-minded, well trained, and independent. While some employees reported very positive experiences with volunteers, others reported more neutral to negative experiences. Employees who had poor experiences with volunteers reported being more stressed, overworked, and less committed to the organisation, and they expressed greater intention to leave the organisation.
Although the findings describe only statistical relation and not causal direction, the authors believe that poor experiences with volunteers may drive employee discontent and stress rather than already discontented employees blaming volunteers for their job dissatisfaction. Ineffective volunteers can take a toll on the employee workforce and lead to negative personal and organisational outcomes. Negative employee experiences with volunteers seem to translate into ill- feelings toward the organisation itself.
The study further demonstrates the importance of volunteer management practices in creating better employee-volunteer relationships. Employees reported more positive experiences with volunteers when their organisation had any (and especially all) of the following factors: mandatory structured volunteer training; a volunteer performance evaluation system; a formal policy for handling volunteer problems; a policy for dealing with employee-volunteer conflict; formal volunteer recruitment efforts; an interview or screening process for the “hiring” of volunteers; and social gatherings to promote volunteer-employee interactions. These practices help in selecting the right volunteers, training and placing them effectively, and establishing relevant foundational policies. Collectively, these practices represent a proactive approach to volunteer resource management.
The most obvious and general implication of this project’s findings is that NFP leaders cannot take for granted employee experiences with volunteers. Positive experiences with volunteers can promote employee well-being and retention, whereas negative experiences can promote stress and a wilting commitment to the organisation. This study offers additional evidence for the need to proactively and carefully introduce and manage the volunteer component of the workplace.
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