Following-up on my last week’s post about corporate volunteering, I would like to review the latest academic research on the topic. Specifically, Paula Caligiuri together with colleagues (2013) has examined the conditions of employees’ corporate volunteer assignments, majority of which took place abroad, and their effects in relation to the different parties involved.
Stemming from previous research, Caligiuri and colleagues look at corporate volunteering as one of the CSR initiatives that has the potential to create a ‘win-win-win’ situation by benefiting business, satisfying stakeholders and employees in particular, as well as ‘doing good’ for society and the environment. However, it is difficult to believe that just about any volunteer assignment would have such largely spread benefits. For example, even though a simple corporate volunteering action may receive positive social feedback and add exciting diversity to employees’ daily routines, the business itself might expect a loss of profit due to missed working hours. As such, the discussed study looks into the conditions under which volunteer assignments are beneficial, as well as their effect on employees, NGOs and business units.
To answer these research questions, Caligiuri and colleagues (2013) analyzed questionnaire data of 116 corporate volunteers, their NGO managers and their business managers at three different time points: at the start of volunteer assignment, at the end of the assignment, and 6 month upon completion of the assignment.
In relation to the employees undergoing the volunteer assignments, it was hypothesized that volunteerism could benefit employee engagement and sustain it even upon return to their corporate work. The results supported the hypothesis, however only under certain circumstances. First of all, to feel more engaged, employees should have perceived their volunteer project as meaningful (i.e. make a difference to the NGO and people one worked with). Secondly, this moderating effect on improved engagement was also affected by perceived availability of resources. Specifically, the study found that experiencing either lack of funding, lack of relevance for volunteerism skills or lack of NGO staff member’s time would compromise employee engagement. Finally, employee engagement was improved when perceived social support of the NGO throughout the assignment was high.
From the NGO’s perspective, the benefits of a volunteer assignment were operationalized as the sustainability of the volunteer project 6 month after the volunteers completed their assignments. Project sustainability was rated based on the contribution of the volunteering to several aspects of NGO performance, such as increasing funding, increasing geographic scope of impact, improving the reputation of the organization, etc. It was found that when employees could utilize their generalist skills from their corporate jobs during the volunteer assignment, the projects also turned out to be more sustainable, hence had a greater impact on NGO performance indicators.
The benefits of volunteer projects for business units were viewed through the capability development of the volunteering employee. It was found that employees develop capabilities at their best, when the project is international, and when employees perceive the project as meaningful. There was also a positive, though non-significant, relationship between social support from the NGO and employee capability development, suggesting that social interaction could create situations for developing interpersonal skills. Surprisingly, it was found that the more employees were utilizing their generalist skills on the volunteer assignment, the less it benefited their capability development. These results suggest that the specialists – not the generalists – have the greatest opportunities to develop, as they encounter more novel situations that do not fit with their existing specialized skills.
As seen from the results, employees can carry over the positive effect from volunteering to their ordinary work experience, in terms of engagement and improved capabilities. Importantly, it was shown that this positive transfer happens if employees find the volunteering project to be meaningful. Therefore, the main implication I would derive from the reviewed study results is to be attentive and careful when choosing volunteer assignments, and try to match the NGO area with something significantly valued by the employee. For example, if an employee attributes significant value to environmental sustainability, volunteering for an NGO such as Greenpeace would be a good match to ensure perceived meaningfulness of the job.
As an NGO representative, I would try to ensure the transfer of the volunteer’s corporate skills to NGO staff, in order to create volunteer project sustainability even upon completion of the volunteer assignment.
Finally, from the standpoint of a business manager, it is important to ensure an international environment of the volunteering project, because similar to international expatriation, being abroad on a volunteer assignment is quite likely to develop cross-cultural skills of an employee.
Caligiuri, P., Mencin, A. and Jiang, K. (2013), Win–Win–Win: The Influence of Company-Sponsored Volunteerism Programs on Employees, NGOs, and Business Units. Personnel Psychology, 66, 825–860.