Support for employee volunteering is a corporate social responsibility activity that signals commitment to social values and citizenship. It is also a strategic initiative that helps companies recruit new talent. Indeed, both researchers and practitioners argue that companies that facilitate their employees’ volunteering are viewed more favourably by job candidates and are therefore more likely to attract talent, especially young talent.

As a result, many companies have set up programs that help match employees with community organisations and offer them paid time off to work on volunteering projects. The underlying assumption behind these initiatives is that when employees are presented with volunteering opportunities and with the time to pursue these opportunities they are more likely to engage in community volunteering.

The impetus to create these programs is happening, though, at a time of worsening employment conditions. The increase in precarious contracts, inequality in promotion and compensation, and poor job security contribute to a decrease in satisfaction with work experiences for people across industries.

As researchers of work and organisations, we are aware that what happens at work often has spillover effects in the non-work domain, and that job satisfaction is an important resource created at work but used also outside the workplace. To date, numerous studies have shown that employees satisfied with their work experiences are also happier in their personal lives and that they have more energy and emotional availability to engage in family activities than those with low job satisfaction.

This led us to wonder whether job satisfaction might also affect other non-work activities, such as employees’ volunteering. If it did, it would expose a yet unknown reason why, despite best intentions, organisations would not be able to contribute to a significant increase in employees’ volunteering for communities. We also felt that aiming to create corporate volunteering programs while at the same time overlooking potential downward trends in the job satisfaction of their employees is a contradiction that responsible organisational leaders would eventually need to address.

To explore the impact of job satisfaction on employees’ volunteering, we tracked changes in job satisfaction over time for over 12,000 British employees as well as the volunteering behaviour that followed these changes, both likelihood to volunteer and volunteering frequency. The longitudinal nature of the data and the rich information in the dataset allowed us to isolate the impact of job satisfaction from other factors known to affect volunteering behaviour such as age, gender, education, working hours, wage, managerial and professional jobs, employment sector (see the published study for the full list of control factors).

After controlling for the above factors, we found that an increase in job satisfaction is accompanied by an increase in the likelihood to engage in unpaid volunteering work for the community. Specifically, on a job satisfaction scale from one to seven, an increase in satisfaction by one point is followed by an increase in the volunteering chance by about 6.5 per cent. Likewise, decreasing levels of satisfaction with job experiences are followed by a retreat from volunteering activities.

Moreover, for employees who already volunteer, an increase in their satisfaction with work experiences makes it more likely that they will increase the frequency with which they volunteer. In turn, for those whose satisfaction with work experiences decreases, the frequency with which they volunteer drops significantly.

Given that many corporate volunteering programs use paid time off as an incentive to boost volunteering participation, we were also curious to investigate the link between time spent working and volunteering behaviour. If employees do not volunteer because of lack of time, which is what is often claimed, then we should see a reduction in volunteering participation following an increase in working hours. We tested this hypothesis and found no significant effect that longer working hours affected volunteering behaviour, evidence that time off alone may not necessarily be an effective incentive for employees. If employers are eager to increase their employees’ volunteering, they may want to complement time benefits with practices that enhance job satisfaction.

At a time when many companies aim to broaden their social impact through employee volunteering programs, our findings suggest that setting efficient and long-lasting programs requires paying more attention to employees’ work experiences. Volunteering partnerships with community organisations and incentives for employees to engage in meaningful volunteering projects are important initiatives, but they are also difficult to sustain if not fuelled continuously by employees’ energy and enthusiasm. Our study shows that some of that energy to contribute to social causes is generated inside companies, when employees are satisfied with the workplace experiences.

Knowing that employees who are satisfied with their job experiences are more likely to volunteer and to volunteer more frequently, while those dissatisfied retreat from civic life and volunteer less, is relevant for organisations truly vested in social impact and for their leaders. For instance, organisations with high levels of employee job satisfaction can now make more credible claims of social responsibility through community impact; in turn, this would help them attract talented employees who care about social values.

A better understanding of the relationship between job satisfaction and employee volunteering should also prompt organisations with lower levels of job satisfaction to become proactive and to more thoroughly investigate the sources of dissatisfaction among their employees.

Unless organisations pay serious attention to the quality of work experiences that their own employees have, their claims of citizenship behaviour via community volunteering could likely be challenged.

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Notes:


Daniela Lup is associate professor of human resources and organisational behaviour at ESCP Europe, London. She has a broad interest in sociological aspects of work, employment and organisations, with a particular focus on understanding how various characteristics of the organisational structure and culture affect employees’ attitudes and behaviours at work, and beyond the work domain (family, community).  E-mail:  dlup@escpeurope.eu

 

Jonathan Booth is an associate professor of organisational behaviour and human resource management at LSE. His research interests include employee prosocial, giving, and volunteering behaviour; corporate volunteering programmes; and workplace stigma and mistreatment. Prior to pursuing his PhD, he was a consultant in information technology, change management, and training development for banking, energy, hospitality, and technology firms. E-mail: j.booth@lse.ac.uk