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Discovery Surveys, Inc.
Specializing in Employee Opinion and Customer Satisfaction Surveys
Improving the Workplace
LESSONS FROM A VOLUNTEER WORKFORCE

By Bruce L. Katcher, Ph.D. President, Discovery Surveys, Inc.

20 percent of employees don't understand how their work contributes to the goals of their organization.

Earlier this month I had the privilege of spending the weekend as a volunteer for the Pan Mass Challenge (PMC). The PMC is an annual fundraising bicycling event that has raised more than $125 million over the years for cancer research and treatment at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. More than 4,000 bicyclists and 2,000 volunteers participated this year. The cyclists raised an average of more than $5,000 each in sponsorships. Volunteers helped to coordinate the event, feed the cyclists and make certain their luggage was safely transported from the start to the finish line.

As a student of the world of work, what struck me as fascinating is how hard the volunteers (including myself of course) worked. We worked together like cogs in a huge machine. We cooked and served food, transported luggage, picked up garbage, unloaded trucks, and carried heavy tables.

I saw men and women, teenagers and the middle-aged (like myself) standing tirelessly on their feet for hours in the hot son hustling in everything they did and maintaining a smile and upbeat attitude throughout the day.

THE PROBLEM

This extremely strong work ethic is not very common in the work place. Here are some of the reasons why the PMC volunteers were so motivated.

  1. Volunteers Had a Common Goal

    Ever present in the minds of many of the volunteers was the knowledge that they were contributing to a good cause. No matter how hot or tired, they knew they were having an impact on the goals of the PMC.

  2. Many Had Strong Personal Reasons for Volunteering

    Many of the volunteers were cancer survivors, friends of cancer survivors, or had lost someone in their family to cancer. Their work, therefore, had a deep personal meaning.

  3. Volunteers Were There By Choice

    No one was there to earn money or impress a supervisor. The volunteers were free to come and go as they pleased, but almost everyone stayed for the entire event.

  4. Management Had Its Act Together

    Over the years, the PMC management has developed time-tested systems and procedures for making the work easy for the volunteers. The tools and equipment are there and the jobs are clearly defined. It is a relatively flat management structure with very few supervisors or managers.

  5. Praise Aplenty

    Throughout the day the bicyclists thanked the volunteers, the volunteers thanked the bicyclists, and volunteers thanked each other. There was a strong feel-good attitude that lasted all day.

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WHAT TO DO

Here are some lessons corporate senior management can learn from the PMC.

  1. Help Employees Find Meaning in Their Work

    Employers need to help their employees understand how their work contributes to the larger purpose of the organization. Consider this story that I often weave into my speeches.

    A young boy walks up to several men who are unloading furniture from a moving van. He asks one of the movers, "What are you doing?" The man says, "I am carrying furniture." The boy asks the second man what he is doing. He replies, "I am moving all of the furniture out of the van into the house." The boy asks yet a third mover the same question. He says, "I am helping a young family start a new life in your community."

    Which man do you think was more motivated?

  2. Value All Contributions

    No matter what their job, management should make all employees feel they are contributing to the goals of the organization and that their contributions are valued.

  3. Enable Employees to Succeed

    It is management's responsibility to provide employees the tools, equipment, systems, procedures and training they need to succeed at their work. They should also minimize the layers of bureaucracy.

  4. Praise Employees

    Providing sincere recognition to employees should be an everyday part of the job of all senior managers.

CONCLUSION

Take a lesson from a volunteer workforce. Instill in your employees the true value of their work.

I am very much interested in your views on this topic.
Please reply with your comments and suggestions to .

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