Human Resource Management – Do You See Your Staff as Employees or Volunteers?

I guess it’s always been true that employees ‘sell their labour but volunteer their commitment’ and I’m sure it’s never been truer than with those highly talented, highly sought after ‘Gen Y’ employees.  Peter Drucker says that we have to ‘accept the fact that we need to treat almost everybody as a volunteer’. Whilst I’m not totally convinced that we need to take Drucker’s statement too literally (there is a fundamental difference between both the legal and psychological contract between a person who is paid to make a contribution and one who is not) I do think we could gain some interesting insights into how to motivate our staff by exploring the idea of employees as volunteers

So here’s a question

How would you manage your staff differently if, instead of being paid employees, they were volunteers?

I count myself lucky that as President of my local branch of a national charity I get the opportunity to ‘manage’ volunteers. Reflecting on how I work with these volunteers compared to how I used to manage my staff I’ve identified some key differences;

  1.  Praise and Thanks

I thank and praise the volunteers much more often than I thanked and praised my staff. I guess there’s an argument here that one should praise and thank people more who are giving their time and expertise without any financial reward. However research shows that ‘appreciation for a job well done’ consistently ranks highly as a motivator in employee surveys and research also shows that most people don’t feel they get enough praise. I can see that, in retrospect, I had many more opportunities to praise my staff than I could have, and should have, taken advantage of

Read more on how to give praise in my blog ‘5 Ways to Give Praise’

  1.  Job Satisfaction

I spend significantly more time with our new volunteer recruits exploring what motivates them – what their specific interests are, what type of work they feel they are most suited to etc. We know from research that showing a high level of interest and concern for our employee results in higher levels of motivation and performance. No surprise there then. The mistake I used to make as a manager was to try and discuss employee satisfaction as an ‘add on’ to another conversation (e.g. a performance review). I’ve learnt that having a conversation specifically about how to maintain or improve the employee’s current level of job satisfaction works much, much better. After all, who wouldn’t feel motivated by having a manager who cares about our satisfaction at work and who is happy to spend the time talking to us about something so close to our hearts?. Read more on how to have a conversation with your staff about their job satisfaction in ‘Four Steps to Improving Employee Job Satisfaction’

  1. Performance Management

I spend more time discussing with our volunteers how important their work is, highlighting the value of their contribution in light of what we are aiming to achieve as a charity. We know from research that employees want to ‘connect their efforts to the mission and purpose of your business’. In short, I guess, they want answers to the questions:

‘Why am I doing this?’

‘How does my work help our business be successful?’ 

The mistake I made as a manager, and what I see business owners and managers making, is assuming that the answer to that question is obvious. Well maybe it should be, but often it just ain’t

Read more at ‘Management Skills – Helping Employees to Understand the Bigger Picture’ 


Now, I’m willing to accept that this list may say more about my lack of skills as a manager than anything else (and it’s been some time since I’ve managed a significant number of people – think Iron Age) and as I’ve mentioned, there are some fundamental differences between both the motivations and responsibilities of paid employees and volunteers. But it’s not difficult to see how a style of management which seeks to take account of the ‘voluntary’ element of our employee’s performance and commitment could have a positive impact upon both that commitment and the employee’s motivation – irrespective of the generation they belong to



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