Why do individuals perform knowledge work on behalf of organizations in both non-paid (i.e., volunteer) and paid work contexts? And, what spurs an individual’s organizational engagement and commitment during this lived experience of performing knowledge work on an organizations’ behalf? In this mixed methods study, we sought to explore the potency of learning—specifically, informal learning—on satisfaction, work engagement, employability, and organizational commitment in both paid and non-paid (i.e., volunteer) work environments.
Informal learning is rapidly emerging as the preferred learning mode in the workplace, especially in learning-oriented organizations and knowledge-based firms as a potent countermeasure to the ever-shortening shelf life of workers’ employability both within and outside the firm. Yet, institutional ambivalence towards the recognition of informal learning and the implementation of systems and structures to facilitate its use are pervasive. This ambivalence is due to the current inability to measure, quantify, or otherwise account for informal learning to meet employer needs, as well as the current inability to assess the efficacy of informal learning, as well as translating informal learning experiences into perceptions of realized value both within and outside the firm.
In our first qualitative study (phase #1), we used grounded theory to explicate context-specific, situational factors which contribute to volunteer commitment. In our second quantitative study (phase #2), we used existing survey data from the American Society for Association Executives (ASAE) and structural equation modeling (SEM) to further quantify how and/or to what extent two of these factors, learning and career orientation, contributed (or failed to contribute) to volunteer commitment. We found that an individual’s learning orientation is positively related to volunteering satisfaction and future volunteering intent, whereas an individual’s career orientation is negatively related to volunteering satisfaction and future volunteering intent.
Our third study (phase #3) demonstrates, through the use of structural equation modeling and the consideration of three discrete samples, that the perceived importance of informal learning has a significant and positive effect on employability, organizational commitment, and work-related curiosity, while controlling for age, gender, and level of education. These findings demonstrate the potency and efficacy of informal learning as a viable workplace activity which fosters work engagement, employability, and organizational commitment, and likely in turn, firm performance.