Employees Versus Volunteers

Employees Versus Volunteers

Employees are different from volunteers. 

Volunteers, by definition, do not get paid. They work because they want to. They are motivated. They have a desire to contribute, to be involved. On the other hand, it is assumed that employees must perform, whether motivated or not, because they are being paid to do the job, and the employer has the right to expect a certain standard of performance from the employee for the salary paid.

Expecting people to perform just because you pay them is an approach that worked for managing employees who lived through poverty or war, those scared of being unable to bring enough food to the table. They will perform for money, but do not expect them to be motivated. 

Years ago, Frederick Herzberg claimed in a Harvard Business Review article that salary does not motivate. Employees assume they deserve to be paid for the work they do. They will work all right but forget motivation. So where will the motivation come from? Bonuses? It could be. That is how you train an animal: to get the bonus you must perform. This might work with dogs, but not people. Research shows that salary increases, and bonuses will only motivate an employee for two weeks. After that, once the person feels accustomed to the bonus or raise, the motivation evaporates. 

So, here we are: unpaid volunteers are highly motivated, yet paid employees are not. This problem is especially important for employers of the new generation, a generation that has neither lived through war nor suffered from poverty. What has worked in the past for a generation that knew scarcity will not work for a generation that knows abundance. They are unwilling to perform for money alone. The people of this new generation want a mission, a purpose. They want to know that they are making a difference. They are committed to serve and do good. It is an internal motivation to be of service that propels them, not their manager’s instructions. They are like volunteers. If you behave like an entitled employer because you are paying for work done, your new-generation employees will disappear in a heartbeat. 

Now, imagine if employees were driven by the same kind of motivation that drives volunteers. How much more productive and efficient would the organization be? 

I suggest that every manager should ignore the fact that they are paying their employees. Assume they are all volunteers. Give them a mission, a reason for why they are doing what they do. What benefits are they bringing to the world? What difference are they making? 

Practically every business, product, and service should be understood as a contribution to society. Even producing shoes can be motivating if you are trying to produce the most comfortable shoes for the most reasonable price so that everybody can enjoy them. That should be the goal. Profits are not the goal but the by-product of doing something of value for society and doing it most efficiently.  Rather than employees responding to the expectations of their manager, the modern manager or leader must respond to the expectations of their employees.

Just thinking,

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