I was invited to give a talk at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and had to cancel my participation in the judging of two companies as part of a competition run by the Council for a Beautiful Israel.
I realized with regret that I might not participate in the judging process for the first time in twenty years. Considering this, I tried to think what it was I regretted. Judging is unpaid, I have to pay for gas for the long drive north, and miss a work day.
So what is it about volunteering? What draws me to it year after year?
This is not the only volunteering I do. For example, I take part in a project mentoring recently discharged soldiers. For the last nine years I've been mentoring young people as part of this project. Why? What draws me to volunteer?
Why I Volunteer
There is of course the immediate and direct reward. For example, as part of the Beautiful Industry competition (run by the Council for a Beautiful Israel) I get to know very interesting industries. The factories which take part in the competition are usually cutting edge. I meet interesting people and learn a lot.
I'm of course not the only one. Hundreds of people volunteer in that competition.
Thanks to the mentoring project I got to know the field. Today I'm a personal and professional coach, and use the mentoring tools I learnt.
But those aren’t the main reason. The main reason is feeling I take part in something important, meaningful. That I'm a small part of something big.
Every year, in the concluding meeting of the mentoring project, all mentors mention the personal, meaningful experience they've had, and ask to mentor again the next year.
Project Dare, for example, is a very large project which recruits hundreds of volunteers to work with thousands of teenagers in Ofakim, Lod, and Hatzor Ha'Glilit. News spread word-to-mouth and young people from all over Israel volunteer.
In one of the companies I've worked with, a young mother of two told me she and her husband heard about the project, and joined a mentoring cycle as part of it.
She remembered her time volunteering with Project Dare as a positive and unique experience.
Volunteering as Part of Work
If volunteering creates a sense of exaltation, meaning, and satisfaction, why not leverage it with employees, for the benefit of work?
This, of course, doesn't mean employees should volunteer with the company, but that the company should organize employees to volunteer in the community.
Everyone can contribute something to someone else. For an employee, knowing this and feeling they can do something meaningful for someone else, brings great satisfaction. When your employees renovate a youth club in the nearest city, or help kids with homework at the community center – they feel incredibly meaningful.
True, they don’t have to do that through work, there are other ways to go about it. But when volunteering is organized by the workplace – employees connect the positive experience with the workplace.
Something like: "thanks to the company I work for, I get to volunteer and gain a wonderful sense of meaning."
What Do You Need to Do?
Very little. The hours are voluntary, that's the point. The workplace is required to fund, perhaps, renovation materials, travel costs (when needed), organize the activity and create "shifts". That last one (organizing "shifts") you can delegate to one of the employees.
Delegation to an employee will give them a greater feeling of meaning, satisfaction, and pride.
What Will You Gain?
If you understand how your company benefits from having happy, satisfied employees who feel meaningful and proud – then no further explanation is necessary. Volunteering with the community is a great way to achieve this goal.
If you don't understand the benefits inherent in it and don’t see the financial damage created by having unhappy employees and high turnover rates – then this article isn’t for you.
What's Better: a Monetary Bonus or a Pizza?
The understanding that companies benefit when employees feel meaningful is spreading to more and more companies. Especially in hi-tech industries, where competition for employees is fiercer and the ability to monitor "output" smaller.
Dan Arieli is a professor of behavioral economics. As part of the "institutional" events run by The Marker and Kesem Funds, he said the following: "Sitting at the beach all day and drinking bear – that isn't a life. You wouldn’t want your entire life to be made up of a pleasant moment followed by another pleasant moment, and then another one. We look for other things that are to do with achievements, and the work itself gives us meaning."
Arieli presented research he did at Intel's chip factory, testing which motivated employees better: a monetary bonus or pizza.
His research showed that the monetary bonus given by Intel not only didn’t create motivation, but even caused disgruntlement and damaged production (as described in the following Hebrew article).
Summary and Recommendation
I often write about the close connection between employees feeling meaningful and their motivation (see a collection of such articles here).
Employees who feel meaningful are motivated employees. Volunteering in the community makes employees feel meaningful.
When the workplace organizes a volunteering project, employees connect their feelings of satisfaction resulting from it, with the workplace.
If, as managers, it seems to you doing such projects is a waste of time and you only do them for appearances – I recommend you change your thinking. Look at the direct benefits they bring.
If you are interested in my professional help, personally or for your company, the best way to contact me is to send a request through the Get in Touch form here.