Your veterinary practice's next amazing team member will be a volunteer


Ask prospective hires about their volunteer and social habits, suggests Dr. Ernie Ward. Find out why.

I’m a fan of volunteerism. I volunteer my time and energy to many causes and have asked my staff to do the same. Such prosocial behavior as volunteerism is so important to me as a business leader that it is one of my most desirable traits when evaluating prospective team members. New research validates my hunch.

Researchers at the University of Missouri recently published a study that sought to understand how a person’s physiology or genetics affects prosocial behavior. Could certain people be more hardwired for volunteerism than others? These scientists say our genes may play an even greater role in whether or not we donate our time to others.

Scientists identified that the 5-HTTLPR triallelic genotype is associated with prosocial and antisocial behavior. The same cluster of genes also appears to be associated with social anxiety, meaning that individuals with this genotype are either less likely or more likely to experience social anxiety; additionally, the genotype has been linked with our desire—or lack thereof—to help others. Here’s what the researchers say: “Triallelic 5-HTTLPR genotype was significantly associated with prosocial behavior and the effect was partially mediated by social anxiety, such that those carrying the S′ allele reported higher levels of social avoidance and lower rates of helping others. These results are consistent with accounts of the role of serotonin on anxiety and prosocial behavior and suggest that targeted efforts to reduce social anxiety in S′ allele carriers may enhance prosocial behavior."

Researchers haven’t discovered the specific genes for each social characteristic (e.g. genes that explicitly determine antisocial characteristics in a person), only the genes that seem to be involved with all three. Further research is needed to distinguish those details.

The study’s lead author, Gustavo Carlo, PhD, explains: "Prosocial behavior is linked closely to strong social skills and is considered a marker of individuals' health and well-being. Social people are more likely to be healthier, excel academically, experience career success and develop deeper interpersonal relationships that may help alleviate stress."

For me, this research validates my hiring principle: if someone participates in volunteerism, chances are they're more socially capable and stable and will make better employees, whereas someone who typically experiences more social anxiety isn’t as likely to participate in volunteerism and might not make the best team member because they have other antisocial traits.

This is why I prefer to hire and work alongside team members who love to volunteer. Over the years, I’ve seen firsthand that prospective staff members who are already active volunteers tend to be better employees. They perform better, remain employed longer and are usually more fun to be around. I can now thank their good genes.

My advice to you is to begin inquiring about a person’s prosocial behavior during the initial interview process. Ask if they regularly volunteer or support certain causes. I’m not necessarily concerned with the specific organizations they help, only that they do something good for others. In my experience, these people make the best team members. This doesn’t mean that a person who doesn’t volunteer won’t be hired or make an excellent employee. Watching for prosocial behavior is just another factor in hiring. It also doesn’t mean that team members who love to volunteer can’t be anxious—I can tell you some stories.

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