Sadly, however, dealing with problem behaviour remains a common issue when it comes to working with volunteers. There can be all sorts of causes for this.
I've seen problem behaviour in volunteers as a result of organisations focusing so much on processes around volunteering that they fail to remember that volunteering is a people business and thus fail to treat volunteers as individuals. Instead, volunteers are viewed almost like widgets at the end of a process, faceless units of production who should keep quiet and get on with things.
I've seen problem behaviour in volunteers as a result of organisations slashing the resourcing for the volunteer programme, leaving no capacity to engage and support people effectively yet assuming that volunteers will do as they did before. They are free after all, aren't they?
I've also seen problem behaviour in volunteers as a result of staff (including volunteer managers) treating volunteers with kid gloves. I see it in agencies that will not challenge problem behaviour in case the volunteer leaves, in agencies that think they can't hold volunteers to account for what they do and in agencies that think you can never sack a volunteer. In these organisations, volunteers are often seen as always being right.
If we don't hold volunteers to account for what they achieve they we effectively say we don't care what volunteers do because it has no value!
If we say we can't fire volunteers (and that should always be a last resort) then we effectively say any behaviour by volunteers is acceptable.
The reason I was prompted to write this post was an article I read recently from a customer service blog I subscribe to. The article is entitled "The customer is not always right, but is always a customer". I encourage you to go and read it now but replace the word 'customer' with the word 'volunteer' and think about the article in the context of your volunteer programme, then come back to this post.
American colleague Jayne Cravens has written about why people often see no complaints from volunteer as a measure of success. In the same way I think we mainly see problem behaviour by volunteers as a bad thing and the absence of problem behaviour as a good thing. Yet as winthecustomer.com argue (and I've made minor edits to make it fit our volunteering context):
"Negative feedback is the best place to start working to make your organization or team even better. Some people just never complain, they won’t say what bothers them, even if something really does. A volunteer complaint, expressed to you or not, is an opportunity for a competitor to take your volunteer. A volunteer who is bothered by something you do or don’t do, will leave the door open for someone else to try and meet their wants and needs."
"Be open to the complaints, the negative feedback, the upset people. Show them you care, ask them to be involved in the process of making things better. Get ideas from them on what would make their experience perfect. Then get to work on making it happen. You’ll make yourself better, your team better, your product, good, or service better. And in the process, create loyal, committed, passionate volunteers who believe in your cause because they know you truly care about them, not just the time they give."So to summarise, volunteers are not always right. Sometimes they can be a royal pain in the butt. Yet every time you get a 'problem volunteer' situation you encounter a brilliant opportunity to learn, develop your programme and make volunteering with your organisation an even better experience.
Now isn't that a better way to look at the issue of problem behaviour by volunteers?
See also - The lessons for volunteer programmes from customer service