The U.S. Labor Department announced in June that worker productivity recently experienced the sharpest decline in a year. As economists debate a host of conflicting reasons for the productivity drop – an improving economy, an impending recession, shrinking compensation, a downsized and overstretched workforce – there may be a decidedly un-macroeconomic approach to increasing worker output: volunteering and altruism on the job.
A recent study from researchers at the business schools of Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania found that when you give time, you get time … or at least you believe you do. It’s this perception of having more time, which is key. The new study, “Giving Time Gives You Time,” reports that while volunteering has traditionally been viewed as a burden on a busy employee, spending time doing good for others actually makes people feel less time-constrained and more effective in completing their other tasks and responsibilities. This research suggests that altruistic activities on the job may make employees feel more effective and capable – critical ingredients for productivity.
Another recent study from the organization Net Impact, Talent Report: What Workers Want in 2012, revealed that 45% of those who “worked directly on a product or service that makes a positive social impact report being very satisfied with their jobs,” compared with 29% whose work did not meet this criteria. Even more striking, people who worked in positions with a social-impact component were twice as likely to report being satisfied with their jobs as those in more business-focused functions. And this may have impact far beyond the workers’ happiness quotient. Research published in the January-February 2012 edition of the Harvard Business Review showed that those workers defined as “thriving” – satisfied, productive and engaged – showed 16% better overall performance, 125% less burnout and were 32% more committed to their organizations.
At Avon, giving back is one of the principles on which the company was founded in 1886. Today, 126 years later, Associates around the world are enthusiastically involved in everything from the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade to “Green Week” in celebration of Hello Green Tomorrow. Giving Associates the opportunity to be a change agent for good helps the person as much as it helps the cause.
You could say that volunteering is, in a sense, a way to “be ahead of one’s time.”