Freiwilligenarbeit | Foto: Africa Studio/

Volunteering efforts encouraged by the company boost employees’ organisational commitment

Employees who volunteer are not only a boon for the image of the company: In cases where an organisation supports volunteering, it profits through increased organisational commitment. These are the key findings of a new study recently presented in the journal “Applied Psychology”.

Already a wide-spread phenomenon in the USA, the idea is now enjoying growing appeal in these parts: By launching special “employee volunteering” programmes, companies encourage the volunteering efforts of their employees, thereby pursuing a variety of objectives. One of these could well be the boosting of employee commitment, as a study by Heiko Breitsohl (now at the Department of Human Resource Management, Leadership and Organizational Behavior at AAU) and Nathalie Ehring has revealed. The range is highly diverse: from prescribed programmes, which are also aligned to corporate targets, to other kinds, where the involvement is quite independent of the company, but the programme benefits from corporate resources, such as the donation of funds, infrastructure or time.

For the purposes of the current study, Breitsohl and Ehring investigated so-called “inter-organisational volunteering”. As part of the study, 385 employees of the European subsidiaries of a production company headquartered in the USA completed online questionnaires. The company offers employees the opportunity to participate in a programme in which teams perform self-selected tasks on a voluntary basis. They might, for example, rebuild an edifice destroyed by fire in a summer camp for children, or prepare lunch for children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds during the summer holidays. On average, the teams which had a mean size of 6 members invested 80 hours (during their free time and at weekends) per project. The questionnaire asked about participation in the programme, motives, and characteristics of employee commitment.

The central result of the study is the insight that the participation in the volunteering programme leads to a higher degree of organisational commitment. As Heiko Breitsohl explains: “If one considers that research to date has already been able to demonstrate that greater employee commitment also leads to a greater willingness to perform, lower levels of absenteeism and less employee fluctuation, clearly companies can benefit significantly from this knowledge.” One aspect that is of particular interest is that the volunteering can have a very tenuous connection to the place of work, as was the case in this example. This provides organisations with the means to increase commitment in a way which is inexpensive and which can also be easily implemented, unlike other measures, which would frequently require structural changes. “A volunteering programme often helps all of the involved parties: The employees, the company, and those who can ultimately enjoy the results of the volunteering efforts”, Heiko Breitsohl concludes.

Heiko Breitsohl joined the Alpen-Adria-Universität as Full Professor of Business Management in February 2017. The work involved in carrying out the study presented here was performed while he was based at the Universität Wuppertal.

Breitsohl, H. & Ehring, N. (2017). Commitment through Employee Volunteering: Accounting for the Motives of Inter-Organisational Volunteers. Applied Psychology, 66/2, 260–289.