Personal Trainer

I manage a challenging team of 12 volunteers. My CEO is bullying me about their underperformance. What should I do about her?

Are you sure you're not just being a wimp? Bullying is a serious allegation, and you shouldn't use it to turn attention away from your own underperformance. Managing volunteers can be very challenging, but that's no excuse for failing to deliver.

Any project, especially one involving volunteers, needs strong leadership and good management. You need to set explicit objectives and motivate your team to achieve them.

Our sector has many passionate staff and volunteers. Highly committed people have strong views on priorities, which can be difficult to manage, particularly when volunteers' priorities don't match yours. You need to paint an inspirational vision that your volunteers can buy into. Be a leader, not just a manager.

You must train and induct your volunteers appropriately. The Institute for Volunteering Research recommends induction that balances informality and efficiency. Volunteers want to make a difference, not to be bogged down in bureaucracy, so you need to be clear in advance about policies that affect them. Training your volunteers properly shows you value them, and valued volunteers are more committed to their work.

Most organisations now have procedures in place for evaluating volunteers' work, and for managing staff/volunteer relationships. If you don't, perhaps now is the time to review this.

I hope you'll find that your boss's 'bullying' was really a well-intentioned attempt to increase your effectiveness. Once you have shown you have ideas and want to deliver, your relationship with your boss should improve dramatically.

However, it may be that your boss really is bullying you.

Growing pressure on CEOs can show in how they treat staff. For example, the tough 'target culture' of the public sector has sent complaint figures soaring. Bullying and harassment is now the top workplace complaint, making up 45 per cent of the total.

Bullying is destructive and needs to be dealt with. Definitions vary, but if your boss consistently undermines or humiliates you, you will need to confront the issue head-on.

To start with, you should consider trying to solve the problem informally.

Your boss may not realise she is being a bully, and telling her how you feel may cause her to stop. If this fails, your organisation may have a stated policy on bullying. You can look to grievance procedures to resolve a serious internal dispute.

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to: stephen.bubb@haynet.com.

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