4.1 Skills and tasks
People generally appreciate some variety in their activities and want to feel a sense of achievement, of doing something worthwhile or of having learned something new. Routine and repetitive jobs can adversely affect the health and well-being of the people doing them. Too many tasks with wide-ranging and unbounded responsibilities can be equally stressful. These are issues that could cause volunteers to leave organisations.
Box 3 outlines skill variety, task identity and task significance. These are aspects of jobs that affect job satisfaction and how people feel about their work and can be applied to volunteering roles.
Box 3 Skill variety, task identity, task significance
Skill variety is when a person carries out a variety of activities and uses a range of skills and talents to complete a particular job. People get a sense of achievement if they feel they are contributing specific skills that are valued. If there is not much variety, there is limited scope for learning.
Increasing skill variety can be achieved through job rotation (for either a few hours or a few months), or by providing training and/or development. However, too much variety can also be stressful and reduce job satisfaction.
Task identity is when a person is expected to carry out a job as a whole piece of work, from the beginning to end, with a definite outcome. Task identity can be increased by adding related tasks to the job.
Task significance is when a job has a substantial impact on the lives or work of other people, whether in the immediate organisation or the external environment. Some people (perhaps in campaigning or service delivery) can see the impact that they have, whereas others (for example, in administration) do not. Supervision and feedback can help volunteers to see how their work fits into the broader work of their organisation.
Activity 7 Thinking about your skills and tasks
Choose a volunteering, paid or other role (e.g. family/caring responsibility) for this activity. Using the information in Box 3, write notes on the following:
- Define your job or role in terms of the different skills you need to do it.
Do you feel you have too much or too little skill variety (i.e. in the range of skills used)?
Can you suggest ways in which the skill variety of your job might be improved?
- Can you identify the whole of your task, from the beginning to the end, and what the outcome should be when it’s been completed?
If you are unable to identify the whole of your task, can you think of a way that your manager can help you understand it?
- Do you feel you know why your task is significant (i.e. why it matters)?
Here is an example of one volunteer’s job role and how they feel about it:
Jodie volunteers in a charity shop. She needs skills in operating a till and talking to customers and other volunteers. She is happy with this skill variety but would really like to learn how to create window displays. However, another volunteer who has been volunteering in the shop for 10 years has sole responsibility for this and will not delegate or share. Jodie would like to develop this skill as a more creative part of her work, as she is studying A-Level Art and is planning to study fashion at college.
Jodie is happy with how her tasks fit together and their outcome in selling to customers. However, she feels that sharing the work on window displays would improve the whole selling-to-customers experience. She thinks that improving the window displays would sell more products.
Jodie knows that every product they sell in the shop makes a difference to the people the charity aims to help. The shop manager gives them weekly sales figures, so the volunteers know how their efforts are contributing.
This might be the first time you have thought about your volunteering or other roles in this way. Of course, it may not be possible for organisations to make many changes to volunteers’ actual activities (due to time and other resource constraints). It is good practice, however, for organisations to give feedback and acknowledge good performance as this helps to motivate and retain volunteers.