07/05/2015

By Richard Morris, UK CEO at global workspace provider, Regus


Every day, millions of people give up their free time to work hard for organisations that don’t pay them a penny. Many of these people work for free on a regular basis for years on end. Why do they do it?

Clearly, voluntary organisations are implementing effective strategies to retain dedicated workers without any monetary rewards. Here I will argue that businesses can learn from these strategies in order to help with their own staff retention.

1. Be flexible

Charities and non-profit organisations need their volunteers more than their volunteers need them. That’s why – in most cases – they’re more than happy to bend over backwards to work around the schedules and needs of their volunteers. If a volunteer can’t help out on the weekends, the organisation doesn’t strike that person from their roster. They find a way to make things work and that makes any volunteer more likely to stay.

Things don’t have to be much different just because you employ someone. Giving workers the flexibility to work from home or in a professional business centre can help them to avoid the commute and go a long way towards creating a work culture that’s considerate and convenient.

2. Give praise and recognition where it’s due

Charitable organisations can’t pay their workers in cash, so they have to find other ways to make their volunteers feel rewarded. Instead, they pay them in words. Public recognition and praise for a job well done can make someone feel valued and needed.

Unfortunately, many managers and business owners seem to think that a salary is reward enough. But what they might be forgetting is that a good worker can get a salary anywhere – from one of your competitors, for example. If you want a work culture that produces loyal and motivated workers then dish out some praise and recognition in the next newsletter or staff meeting – it’s effective and completely free.

3. Dilute the hierarchy

While most volunteer-based organisations will usually have someone in charge, that person is rarely found breathing down the necks of the volunteers, demanding sales reports and project updates.

Try taking a back-seat on the next project. Let your capable teams learn to manage themselves, and work towards their goals in a collaborative effort. Implementing a more flexible approach to work goes hand-in-hand with trusting your staff to deliver when they might not be in the same physical location as you. Our customers often find that with a flexible approach to work their staff feel much more involved and committed and that productivity improves as a result.

4. Encourage healthy communication

Without the fear of competitors getting hold of sensitive information and without workers fearing the loss of their job, charitable organisations are free to enjoy a culture of open, honest two-way communication. Colloquial small talk is more common between seniors and juniors, and there’s a much lower chance of there being any need for deception and politics. That means lasting, honest relationships are more able to form at every level of the organisation – and criticisms and suggestions are more likely to be voiced and heard.

Do what you can to foster an environment of productive debate and discussion. Let existing policies be questioned, and actively encourage fresh ideas or approaches. A workplace with open communication leads to more trust and personal bonds – which makes for a much more inviting and attractive culture.

5. Drop the formalities

There’s usually no need for suits and ties in a volunteering position. And, in the modern age, there are plenty of businesses that do away with them without any loss in productivity or professional values. If you can’t afford to relax the dress code permanently, you could at least try and get away with casual Fridays.

Put a few sofas or beanbags in the office, encourage friendly banter, and let your employees play the radio while they work. Anything that helps them forget that they’re stuck at work could make them more inclined to stick around for longer.

Of course there are fundamental differences between voluntary organisations and profit-making businesses, but that doesn’t mean they can’t learn from each other. Many of these strategies to look after employees cost little or nothing, yet making the effort could be the difference between keeping and losing perfectly good staff. As well as saving associated recruitment and training costs, better staff retention offers continuity and stability; important aims for any organisation.