Managing a Volunteer Workforce: Working Outside the Conventional Employment Relationship

Sunday, June 26, 2016: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
56 Barrows (Barrows Hall)
Anne-marie Greene, Leicester Business School, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Jenna Ward, Leicester Business School, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
Against the backdrop of austerity spending cuts within the UK public sector and the wider context of the ‘Big Society’ agenda, a number of services now being transferred to third sector organisations and volunteer workforce. Extant literature on the management of volunteers has revealed many challenges that result from the absence of a conventional employment relationship (Brosnan and Cuskelly, 2001). Much of this literature laments either the absence of a conventional employment contract, or the infiltration of management techniques on the volunteer. However, we argue that the volunteer context is an opportunity to explore the often hidden facets of the employment relationship and that mainstream management theory and practice based around conventional employment settings, may have much to learn from the way that volunteers are managed.

We present analysis from two case studies of properties run by the National Trust. The National Trust is the largest conservation and heritage organisation in the UK with a paid workforce of around 12,000 and an estimated 61,000 volunteers. A range of qualitative methods were utilised including: interviews with managers and volunteers, non-participant observation collection of management activity involvement records, respondent-led photography and participant-produced drawing.

We identify five key points of difference between the management of volunteers and paid staff, namely:

1)      Performance Management

2)      Communication

3)      Task Differentiation

4)      Trust and Fear v Autonomy and Creativity

5)      Emotional Labour

We argue that there is a re-construction of the employment relationship within the volunteer context as a space freer of rules that otherwise might shape conventional employment situations. This has significant implications in terms of a contribution to classic debates about what a manager does (e.g. Hales, 1986; Stewart, 1982). We argue that managers of volunteers work in a context where their ability to manage their own and the emotions of their volunteers i.e. their ability to perform ‘emotional labour’ (Hochschild, 1983:7) is much more exposed and critical than conventional employment contexts. Our case study thus fills a gap around the lack of empirical research considering the role of emotional labour within the volunteer context, while there is significant potential for the management of volunteers to offer a unique perspective on the emerging literature exploring the importance of emotional labour in leadership and management roles (Iszatt-White; 2009; Humphrey, 2013). References.

Brosnan, P. and Cuskelly, G. (2001), ‘Volunteer workers: On the margins of the industrial relations system?’ Australian Journal of Volunteering, 6: 2, 99-107.

Hales, C. (1986) ‘What do managers do? A critical review of the evidence’  Journal of Management Studies, 23:1, 88-115.

Hochschild, A.R. (1983) The Managed Heart, University of California Press: Berkley

Humphrey, R. (2013) How leading with emotional labour creates common identities, in M. Iszatt-White (Ed) Leadership as Emotional Labour, Routledge: London, 80-105

Iszatt-White, M. (2009) Leadership as Emotional Labour: The Effortful Accomplishment of Valuing Practices, Leadership, 5(4):447-467

Stewart, R. (1982) ‘A model for understanding managerial jobs and behaviour’, Academy of Management Review, 7: 1, 7-13.