TED Conversations

Letitia Falk

Lab Technician/Recent MSc graduate, University of British Columbia


This conversation is closed.

Would society benefit or suffer from volunteering replacing employment?

I heard a statistic last year that really struck a chord with me: that "the upcoming generation to enter into the workforce is less hard working, but more willing to volunteer" (source unknown). I found this so interesting because it seems paradoxical. Aren't there just hard workers and lazy people? What's with these lazy volunteers? And can't you volunteer and get paid to do the same activities? One explanation is that there are preferred activities that people would rather be doing, and that, finding it impossible to get paid to do them, people volunteer. Another explanation is that the actual form of payment for an activity (monetary reward versus gratitude and personal satisfaction) determines its enjoyment.

For some reason people FEEL better about having done something they volunteered their time to, than doing something they consider a duty. People like to have a sense of personal freedom.

There have been a number of talks in the field of business and education lately that have described research showing that creative thinking is done best without restrictions or rewards. In other words, people are surprisingly intrinsically motivated and will work better and more creatively without being forced to by the need for a job, but rather by the desire to contribute to society. These ideas run smack up against many of our preconceived ideas about human motivation. People worry that without rewards, there is no incentive for people to contribute to society.

Now, there ARE less desirable jobs (like manufacturing, cleaning, service) that are less enjoyable than others, and which people need to be "persuaded" into taking. But as more and more of those jobs are replaced by technology, will it become possible for society to function through voluntary contribution? Without the threat of poverty by unemployment what would you do with your day?

Also not a TED talk but relevant:


Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.

  • thumb
    Nov 29 2011: This strikes a chord that is starting to resonate more and more every day as people are challenged to do what they love. One question I think that needs to be answered is what will it take to sustain your food, clothing, and shelter requirements? If you need six figures to sustain yourself, then you may need to focus more on a job but if you are comfortable with a very modest income, then you may be able to focus more quickly on what you love. It amazes me how the jobs people love pay so little. Also, what sort of "payment" are you seeking? As you mention, some people are motivated by a labor of love and if that is the case, there will always be a "federal reserve" with plenty of money to go around.
    • thumb
      Dec 1 2011: Thanks Kevin, I like your concept of a "federal reserve of love" haha

Showing single comment thread. View the full conversation.