The Workplace Reprecussions of Volunteering

Workers who volunteer for the right reasons will benefit on the job.
People who volunteer for charitable causes might harm their reputations at work if their colleagues think they’re only doing it to get ahead. Since social media makes it easy for co-workers to keep up with each others’ activities, today’s workers are at the mercy of their colleagues’ appraisal, says Jessica Rodell, an associate professor of management at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business in Atlanta. Rodell researched the topic with John Lynch, a former UGA graduate student and current assistant professor of managerial science at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

While volunteering is generally seen as pro-social behavior, it can have negative repercussions when colleagues find the volunteers to be smug or superior, when they feel volunteers forsake office work in order to volunteer, and when they think volunteers just want to get credit for the work. Colleagues have more positive attitudes toward employees who seem to have personal motivations for volunteering, and they hold these individuals in high esteem.

“If you have two people who have the exact same performance ratings at their job, but one of them volunteered for what appeared to be good reasons, that person would be more likely to get a raise or promotion because that volunteering positively affects their reputation at work,” Rodell says.

Some people might not like the notion that co-workers could get promoted for doing non-work-related activities, she notes. “That’s why this finding is important. Employees should know that if they’re going to volunteer, it’s going to have consequences depending on how they manage it. And, if done for the right reasons, it’s ultimately going to benefit them.”

“Perceptions of Employee Volunteering: Is It ‘Credited’ or ‘Stigmatized’ by Colleagues?” was published in the April 1, 2016, edition of the Academy of Management Journal.