The Men’s Sheds movement, an Australian innovation that has spread internationally, has significance for HR management, in providing a useful alternative to paid employment for older workers, and as a research site where the HR challenges peculiar to voluntary organisations can be observed.
The primary goal of the Australian Men’s Shed Association (AMSA) is to provide men, particularly retirees, with a supportive, central environment in which to socialise, take part in community-based initiatives and learn about health-related issues.
The sheds, which could be described as larger versions of a typical backyard shed, provide these men with the opportunity to be trained in new skills such as using tools or a computer or learning how to cook, or to become involved in community programs and initiatives.
There are more than 690 Men’s Sheds in Australia with more than 90,000 members.
Such a large organisation poses a challenge for the Men’s Sheds to become efficient, specifically in HRM for paid staff and volunteers.
The purpose of this study is to examine the factors that influence men’s participation in the activities of the sheds.
- Two metropolitan case study sites were selected using a non-probability convenience sample – one in Queensland (Shed 1) and the other in Victoria (Shed 2).
- Each shed had a designated coordinator, responsible for daily operations.
- The coordinator’s tasks included creating and implementing policies and procedures, particularly those relating to OH&S and training and development.
- The Queensland shed debuted in 2009 and is open six days per week. There are around 90 members who are mostly retired middle-class professionals and tradesmen.
- This shed has ongoing projects, making toys for charity and possum boxes for wildlife care groups, and various other ad-hoc projects.
- The shed is self-managed by an elected committee of members.
- Shed 2 opened in 2002 and is at the rear of a community health centre.
- It’s open three days per week and has a membership of around 60 men.
- This shed is managed by a program officer from a local community health centre, funded by local government.
Two members of the research team conducted focus groups. All members (19 in Queensland and 15 in Victoria) who attended the shed on that particular morning were asked questions about how they came to be a member of the shed, their level of involvement.
- Eighty per cent of the focus group commented that the sheds provided them with a sense of direction in their retirement.
- Sixty per cent of the members reported altruistic motives for participating in the sheds.
- Seventy per cent of members discussed their awareness of the potential emotional risks they faced in their retirement years.
Discussion and conclusion
The Men’s Sheds provide a unique context in which to study the management of volunteer labour.
The Men’s Shed movement in Australia is gaining momentum, and as membership continues to grow there is a need to understand the factors that motivate the members’ participation in their local sheds.
Interestingly, members acknowledged the significant role of the management of the sheds in contributing to their individual and the collective outcomes.
Employing some basic HR practices, such as training and development, clearly articulated health and safety procedures and planning to allocate activities to particular days of the week, are important factors in the members’ decision to participate in the shed’s activities.
The members also identified how management practices helped facilitate their ability to learn new skills, how effective leadership adds identity and significance to the tasks they perform, and how feedback through effective management encouraged their participation.
It was evident at the two Men’s Sheds that the HRM systems and processes available to facilitate the men’s participation had a significant impact on the level of participation, with much stronger participation in the shed with the acknowledged HRM systems and processes in place.
However, the members and shed coordinators acknowledge the challenge of ensuring the sheds do not become ‘over-bureaucratised’, and the importance of maintaining the ‘grass roots’ culture of the sheds.
Members also described their need for social interaction as a primary motivation for their involvement in the shed, outlining their desire to develop and maintain social bonds with other members and members of the community, and the ways in which the shed facilitates these exchanges.
Overall, the members of the two sheds included in this study identified rationality, reciprocity, group gain and altruism as key factors that influenced them to participate.