LAST September, the networking site LinkedIn added a feature that allowed its members to say whether they wanted to volunteer or serve on the board of a nonprofit. In just eight months, one million members raised their virtual hands.
But here’s the rub. LinkedIn has posted only about 1,000 listings seeking volunteers. That can’t begin to meet the demand from those on the site who are looking for ways to volunteer.
In much of the nonprofit world, there are more volunteers than there are spots. Staff workers don’t have time to manage more volunteers. As one executive told me, “If I get another volunteer I am going to go out of business.”
This demand to volunteer masks a broader problem in our society. It points to the lack of purpose that we experience in our jobs. As Jessica B. Rodell, a professor at the University of Georgia, has found in her research, “when jobs are less meaningful, employees are more likely to increase volunteering to gain that desired sense of meaning.” The numbers speak for themselves. In a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of American workers said they were not engaged with their jobs, or were actively disengaged.
Finding meaning is about being engaged. When Amy Wrzesniewski, an associate professor at Yale, and Jane E. Dutton, a professor at the University of Michigan, along with other researchers, looked at workers in a wide range of organizations, from hospital cleaners to administrators and managers, they found several ways in which workers crafted purpose in each profession.
Their findings reinforced previous research that had demonstrated that the ways individuals viewed work might be more tied to their personality traits than to the work itself. They infuse their work with purpose learned from past experiences. How they view work may largely be driven by the role models they had growing up. Some see it as merely a chore in their lives, while others view it as the core of life.