Previously we talked about how volunteers and employees are motivated by different things, and how these motivations help provide some very important lessons for the workplace that are beneficial for everyone.  But while we may know what drives volunteers to do their best over employees and vice-versa, is there any difference to managing volunteers and managing employees, and are there any lessons that can be shared?

Managing volunteers is a game of balance.  It involves navigating through not only the needs and demands of your organization, but also the expectations of your volunteers and how these expectations translate into the specific work outputs they generate. Because volunteers, as we mentioned previously, are driven by intrinsic motivation — motivation that makes them do something because it feels good, rather than because they’re expecting money or gifts — managing volunteers improperly could cost you some valuable talent that could set back your organization.

At the same time, using volunteer skillsets may not always help employees. Employees require a very different touch — while you have to keep them happy, their output is even more important to the success of your company or organization, if only because of the significant resources invested in them.

Given this, are there any common lessons that could help you manage both volunteers and employees to do well in the things they do?

First, set clear expectations to what the roles of volunteers and employees are, especially if they will be working together.  In situations where employees and volunteers have roles that aren’t clearly defined, there is always room for conflict. Volunteers won’t like it if employees step into their roles, feeling that the organization or company is disempowering them in favor of paid staff who may be considered “more compliant” to their demands.  Conversely, employees may feel that volunteers are stepping in to replace them, sacrificing quality of work for cost and efficiency savings.  Having clearly-defined expectations as to what these two often-disparate groups of people are supposed to do will help set up boundaries which these groups will not be able to cross easily.

Second, treat your employees and volunteers in a manner befitting of their role in the organization.  That is, simply put, treat your employees in a manner befitting of them being employees and your volunteers in a manner befitting of them being volunteers. Don’t demand too much of your volunteers by giving them a workload that employees are supposed to handle, while at the same time, don’t belittle your employees by treating them with kid gloves the way you would with your volunteers.

Finally, establish a culture of working together.  When employees and volunteers know what their roles are, and are aware of how they should interact with one another, the most important thing now is to build an environment where there is an incentive to working together and building projects together.  Isolating these two groups into their own working bubbles only strengthens any potential animosity that may arise from them coming together, leaving them incapable of understanding the specific needs and demands of the roles given to them.  By putting them together, you allow for that understanding to take place.

It isn’t easy managing volunteers and employees, especially when you need to manage both.  But if you do need to manage both, it always helps that setting clear expectations, treating them in a manner befitting of their role, and growing community by having them work together will help go a long way to making it easier for you, the employer or organization, to excel.