Volunteering: credits and stigmas
People like to volunteer. Not only does it make them feel good, but all the research indicates that it makes them better employees, too. Corporate volunteers are more likely to work harder, to be more positive and to move jobs less often. But what do their non-volunteering colleagues think of them? The question has largely been ignored to date, mostly because people tend to volunteer in non-work time. But with the line between our private and professional lives blurring more and more, the question merits attention. Do colleagues and bosses give volunteers “credit” for being socially minded? Or do they stigmatize them for being focused on something other than work or for being morally superior? The answer carries with it important implications for the volunteer, who may receive more – or less – assistance, guidance and resources as a result.
The researchers assess the beliefs, perceptions, and attributions that colleagues form about an employee based on his or her volunteering. The crux of the issue comes down to motivation. If colleagues think a volunteer is driven by personal enjoyment and fulfilment, they tend to credit them for it - associating their volunteering with strong time management skills, concern for others, a sense of responsibility toward their community, and good ethical values. These positive reactions, moreover, are shown to spill over into additional benefits for the volunteer, such as prioritisation in promotion decisions or preferential job assignments.
The story around stigmitization is more nuanced. Put bluntly, volunteering is seen by some an attempt to fill a void in one’s life. This viewpoint is amplified when the volunteering is attributed to “impression management” motives. Moreover, the more this kind of employee volunteers, the more negative the reaction becomes. No one likes working with someone who is holier-than-thou. Having a colleague whose mind is elsewhere doesn’t go down well either, although the research suggested that volunteers actually tend to be more focused than the “stigma of distraction” would suggest. In terms of the effect on employees of such stigmas, the impact is relative. Stigmas may cancel out or diminish any credits the volunteer has won. Where volunteering is stigmatized in a business more generally, then it may also influence the impact of credits on others’ reactions.
At a practical level, managers responsible for implementing a corporate volunteering programme should consider evaluating participants’ motivations and weed out those who are doing it for the wrong reasons. Employees should be conscious that their reputations at work - and, ultimately, how they are treated - are influenced by what they do outside the workplace as well as inside.
Rodell, J and Lynch, J (Spring 2016). ‘Perceptions of employee volunteering: is it ‘credited’ or ‘stigmatized’ by colleagues?’ Academy of Management Journal. Vol. 59 (2): 611-635.
Do we know what ethical leadership looks like? Do we even care? The classic model of western corporate capitalism would say ‘no’ to both questions. Yet this short working paper takes a more optimistic view, pointing to the litany of corporate misdeeds and the gradual realisation that fundamental changes need to take place. But how do you go about developing ethical leadership? The business literature is curiously vague on the subject, the paper maintains. The overwhelming tendency is to focus on compliance-based processes and structures rather than on the values and behaviours that underpin these. Drawing on the fundaments of Western philosophy and ethics, the paper defines the five characteristics of ethical leadership: respect, service, justice, honesty, and building community. They all have two features in common: (1) they are “other-centric”; and (2) they are realized through “transactional events”, suggesting leadership is less a trait and more a process.
To the classic list of principles, Knights adds a sixth: human equality in the Rawlsian sense of treating others as we would be like to be treated ourselves. Such a leadership style demands overcoming our egos and suppressing our fears. Leadership thus becomes “more distributed, more informal, more shared”, the paper argues. Of course it needs an organisational culture that recognises and rewards ethical behaviour. Likewise, it needs the right personal values. Ask employees and they will tell you that integrity, trust and honesty are the essence of the ethical leader. Knights would add values such as fairness, forgiveness, purpose and resilience.
This short paper (the first in a series from Routledge on “transpersonal leadership”) finishes with an observation about behaviour. Don’t mistake ethical leadership as being innate. The right behaviours can be learned. An important spur in the learning process is to observe how your behaviour affects not only your own performance but that of others as well – both negatively and, hopefully as you change your management style over time, positively too.
Knights, J June 2016. ‘How to Develop Ethical Leaders’, Transpersonal Leadership Series: White Paper One. Routledge.
Jill Duggan has joined the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership as director of policy. CISL’s Policy team runs a number of collaborative business, policy and climate change initiatives, including providing secretariat for the Corporate Leaders Group and for the EU and Pacific Alliance Green Growth Platforms. Dugganwill also act as director of The Prince of Wales’s Corporate Leaders Group.
StreetSmart, a concept app for an app that helps individuals with visual impairments navigate their surroundings, has won the Next Generation Mobility Challenge. The US-wide student competition is run by the campus-based group Net Impact, in association with Toyota and the Toyota Mobility Foundation. The winning entry was the brainchild of an interdisciplinary group from Babson College, Rhode Island School of Design and Olin College.Academic news volunteering CSR ethical Leadership