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Volunteering and social business


There still remains a degree of confusion around the nomenclature of social business, with the CSR orientated version often mistaken for the collaborative version.  Suffice to say, most readers of this blog will know that I write primarily about the latter, but I’m going to touch on the topic of volunteering today.

I’ve written a bit recently on the issue of time, and its impact upon any attempts to build a collaborative organisation.  For instance, if the job descriptions you provide each employee are overly prescriptive, it affords them precious little opportunity to lend their knowledge and assistance to colleagues in need of help.

This sort of issue has led many organisations to openly allocate employees a chunk of time each week to do other things.  3M kicked off this movement with their 15% time, but arguably Google brought it into the mainstream when they allowed employees 20% of their work week to work on projects that interested them outside of their day job.

Murmurings that Google are either squashing this privilege, or at least tightening access to it, is indeed a worrying sign, so I thought a study into corporate volunteering might be a good tonic for stout defenders of this noble ideal.

The researchers wanted to explore the psychological effect volunteering had on general employee wellbeing, including of course their productivity.  For instance they believed that volunteering helps us to switch off from the usual office grind, aiding mental recovery.

To test this they surveyed a number of German people that were in work and volunteered at least one day per week.  They provided ratings on the psychological variables of detachment, needs satisfaction and mastery experiences.

Selfless people = happier people

The researchers found that the volunteers felt more connected to others, competent, and in control of their lives after volunteering. Equivalent effects were found for psychological detachment and mastery experiences: volunteering helped to shrug off workplace concerns and gave opportunities to meet challenges.

These benefits also carried through into their work the following day.  The volunteers were found to be happier at work and were better active listeners.  It proved particularly effective at cushioning the stresses of office life.

If volunteering to external projects can have such a positive impact upon the workplace wellbeing of employees, what odds that allowing employees to ‘volunteer’ on internal projects too would have a similar outcome?

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