We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” -Albert Einstein

This quote is written on the board in my workspace. It is a constant reminder before I enter any meeting that the solutions of yesterday often create the problems of today. So we must constantly change the way we think and the way we work.

But this is hard to do. Often meetings feel like the same people doing the same things the same way but expecting different results. This is the textbook definition of the word insanity. Collectively, we can all share the same vision, have all the resources needed to be successful, but still produce results that nobody wants. This is especially true when it comes to employee engagement.

Our generation expects social impact to be a top priority within a corporation. Social impact is defined as being the steps that a business takes in order to better the environmental, social, and economic factors within their workforce. The positive practices that a company undergoes creates a higher quality workplace for employees to excel in. Corporations can participate in these responsibilities by developing ecological efforts, knowing the value of donating services to non-profit organizations, forming a strong social environment, and finding volunteer events that are fitting to the employees. Nine out of ten Gen Z members expect their employer to address these social and environmental issues. These issues have become so valued in the workforce that many Gen Z members use it as a make it or break it factor when interviewing with their future companies.

Job Satisfaction vs Life Satisfaction

Most of our attempts to increase employee engagement are cosmetic at best. We focus on external features like:

  • Pay, including fringe benefits
  • Work environment (nice break rooms, free food, etc)
  • Social gatherings

You get the point. Let’s refer to external features as job satisfaction from here on out. Little-to-no attention is given to internal features like:

  • Purpose
  • Helping employees to master the skills needed for career success
  • Opportunities to build relationships and expand personal networks

And the list goes on. Let’s call these things life satisfaction moving forward.

Making Good Organizational Citizens

It’s not as if we don’t care about the life satisfaction of our employees as business leaders. We just simply have no idea how to pay attention to it. This lack of know-how is what’s causing us to produce the very results we are trying to change. Let me explain, research suggests that life satisfaction has a stronger effect on job satisfaction…not the other way around as our current employee engagement strategies believe to be the case (see Happiness & Economics: How the economy and institutions affect human well-being by Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer).

So how do we address life satisfaction in such a way that makes our employees more satisfied at work, productive, engaged, and committed to your company. In other words, how can we make good organizational citizens?

The Power of Unpaid Work

The research referenced above suggests that work is certainly not only undertaken because it is paid (as our economic models of today assume). Rather because it provides life satisfaction, which is revealed by the fact that many people are prepared to take on unpaid work. For many people, volunteer and charity work is a source of intense life satisfaction. See the research below that outlines the various benefits provided by volunteer work:

The Benefits of Doing Volunteer Work and % responses of “Very Important” and “Fairly Important”

  1. I meet people and make friends through it. 85%
  2. It’s the satisfaction of seeing the results. 93%
  3. It makes me feel less selfish as a person. 62%
  4. I really enjoy it. 93%
  5. It’s part of my religious belief or life philosophy to give help. 66%
  6. It gives me a sense of personal achievement. 78%

And when companies offer unpaid work to their employees, they experience higher employee commitment, increased trust in their employer, and better productivity (Seven Practices of Effective Employee Volunteer Programs, Points of Light).

So you want to increase employee engagement in your company? Start giving your employees jobs to do and don’t pay them. In other words, start tapping into the dynamic potential that volunteer strategies have on the life satisfaction of the people you depend on for results.