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Take this Job and Love It!

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Volunteer managers like their jobs! A 2008 study of over 200 full-time volunteer managers in Canada found that volunteer managers were highly satisfied with their jobs “despite their modest compensation and the large numbers of volunteers they supervise” (Gottleib & Shera, 2008, in Gottleib et al, 2013, 66). In this Research to Practice, we look at a subsequent study that explores factors that predict job satisfaction and affective commitment (emotional attachment to the workplace) for community-based paid managers of volunteers:

Take this job and love it: A model of support, job satisfaction, and affective commitment among managers of volunteers (2013). By Benjamin H. Gottlieb, Scott B. Maitland and Wes Shera. Journal of Community Psychology 41 (1), 65-83.

Canadian researchers Benjamin H. Gottlieb, Scott B. Maitland and Wes Shera use a community psychology lens to develop their model. Community psychology seeks to understand the relationships between individuals and the community in which they operate, and so goes beyond focusing on personal attributes to look at the social, cultural, economic, political, environmental and global influences on health and wellbeing (SCRA, n.d.). The researchers draw from previous research and theories in the traditions of psychology and sociology and, from this literature, come up with four components they thought would be significant in predicting job satisfaction and affective commitment of this group. These four factors are closeness with volunteers, the value-expressive nature of the work, perceived supervisor support, and perceived co-worker support.

1. Closeness with volunteers

As an occupation, the management of unpaid staff is distinctive from the management of paid staff (see a 2010 Points of View essay, “The Marriage of HR and Volunteer Management: The Odd Couple?”). One key difference is that volunteer managers “cannot leverage money as a source of reward and coercive power” as managers of paid staff might be able to do (67). Instead, volunteer managers build relationships with volunteers by forming “psychological contracts,” getting to know them in-depth and, as a result, gaining their loyalty (discussed in a 2008 Research to Practice,Commitment With or Without a Stick of Paid Work”), while also providing them with feelings of status and esteem because of their civic contributions.

Based on studies that show how positive relationships between managers and subordinates leads to job satisfaction, the hypothesis was put forth that “managers who experience a subjective sense of closeness with their volunteers will have higher levels of both job satisfaction and affective commitment” (67).

2. The value-expressive nature of the work

According to self-verification theory, people who engage in work that expresses or verifies their values, feel comfort as they can “be themselves” in their workplace (68). Thus, the second hypothesis was that the more that the work and workplace reflected a manager’s deeply held values and pro-social identity, the more the manager will be satisfied with her/his job and the stronger her/his affective commitment to the agency will be.

3. Perceived supervisor support

The extent to which supervisors value the contributions of their subordinates and care about their well-being has been found in many studies to be linked to job satisfaction and organizational commitment. The third hypothesis of the model was that the support of the supervisor will be positively related to job satisfaction.

4. Perceived co-worker support

The final component of the proposed model is support derived from the perceived respect of co-workers. As the authors state, “co-worker respect may constitute an important intrinsic reward for these managers because it is tantamount to an endorsement of the personal values that underlie their pro-social identity” (69). Thus, the final hypothesis was that the greater the perceived sense of respect received from co-workers, the greater the volunteer manager’s job satisfaction.

The Proposed Model

Taking all of this into consideration, the authors concluded:

…we hypothesize that the perceived respect of co-workers, the support of the supervisor, and the formation of warm, personal relationships with the volunteers will be positively related to job satisfaction, and, in turn, to affective commitment. Support that shores up the managers’ pro-social identities is the fourth component of the measurement model, gained from the perceived correspondence or goodness-of-fit between their personal values—to benefit others—and their values inherent in the work they perform. We hypothesize that this value-expressive work will also exert a positive influence on the managers’ job satisfaction and, thereby, affective commitment. (70).

Testing the Model

The next step was to test the model.  Managers of volunteers from the Ontario Community Support Association (OCSA) and Professional Administrators of Volunteer Resources-Ontario (PAVR-O) who had been in position for more than six months and supervised at least 50 volunteers were invited to participate in an online survey. In total, 314 volunteer managers responded. The overwhelming majority were women (94%), with a median age between 41 and 50 and under 10 years of experience (58%). Over 80% percent had completed a college or university degree, and 55% were certified as managers of volunteers. They answered questions about their relationships with volunteers, co-workers and supervisors;  the extent to which their job was an expression of their personal values; how satisfied they were with their work; and their positive emotional attachment to the organization.

Using a statistical procedure called confirmatory factor analysis, the results confirmed all but one of the hypotheses. The top predictor of job satisfaction was the extent that the work reflected personal values, followed closely by supervisor support, and then by co-worker respect. Closeness to volunteers was not a significant factor in explaining job satisfaction. Volunteer managers with less than 10 years’ experience were compared to those with 10 years or more of experience, with similar results.

Implications for Practice

The importance of co-worker support is a key finding of this study. The authors of the study refer to exchange theory when they state that “employees who gain the respect of co-workers reciprocate by demonstrating positively valenced1 attitudes and behaviors toward peers, which further promote job satisfaction and affective commitment” (69). This reinforcing behavior is one that executive directors, supervisors, volunteer managers and other staff can all influence. Executive directors and supervisors set the stage for creating a culture of co-worker respect and fostering teamwork and collaboration (see Merrill’s “Team Building Training Module”). In this regard, it is important to communicate volunteer value, show the interrelationship of paid and unpaid labor as it contributes to achieving organizational goals, and recognize particularly strong and healthy relationships (see e-Volunteerism for “How Volunteer Value Is Communicated” and  “Earning Power and Respect for Volunteer Services”) . Volunteer managers can provide information on the achievements of volunteers and be sure it is included in annual reports, internal communications, and the organization’s Web site. They may also push for resources to support gathering this information by showing how increased co-worker appreciation leads to increase success of the organization overall.

Over to You

What are you doing in your organizations to build teamwork and collaboration? How would you rate the level of co-worker and supervisor support you receive? What other factors contribute to your feelings of satisfaction and to the level of emotional commitment to the work you do?

Also, why do you think that “closeness to volunteers was not a significant factor in explaining job satisfaction”? Is this true for you?

Leave a comment below!


Gottlieb, Benjamin H., Maitland, Scott B. & Shera, Wes (2013). Take this job and love it: A model of support, job satisfaction, and affective commitment among managers of volunteers. Journal of Community Psychology 41 (1), 65-83.

Society for Community Research and Action (SCRA) (n.d.). What is community psychology? Available for download from: http://www.scra27.org/resources/educationc/cephandoutpdf

1 A term used in psychology meaning ‘direction.’


To me “closeness to volunteers was not a significant factor in explaining job satisfaction” makes sense. My thoughts on this is that our favorite volunteers are always moving on to bigger and better things as they gain more skills and abilities from our projects and mentoring. Many will get offered high paid jobs and some become managers of volunteers themselves.

As more and more moved on I found myself becoming a little less connected and dependent on volunteer relationships and more connected to the more consistent relationships in the office (example other paid staff and managers). I also become more interested in the pleasure of project outcomes.

Another factor might be that we only communicate with many of our volunteers about once ever 2 weeks or so. This creates a different dynamic to the relationships.

But that is just my experience.

I agree with Gary. In the 23 years I've worked as a Volunteer Manager, I've had my favorite volunteers too. But in a City setting we send volunteer off to many different departments and you only connect if we make the effort, over lunch or coffee.

It has been easier to build relationships with volunteer supervisor. This always me to find out how the volunteers are doing, if I've placed them well and what new projects are coming up.

My greatest satisfaction has always been starting new programs and assisting deaprtments find the perfect match to help with projects. I enjoy watching them success and know we are helping elevate the services the City provides to the community.

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