Workshop: Personal Trainer

Stephen Bubb

One of our volunteers is not pulling her weight. She has also been quite disruptive on a couple of occasions. Can we get rid of her?

Well, yes you can. Indeed, it is important to tackle this if you don't want to cause problems elsewhere. But what steps have you taken to deal with this so far? And what lessons can you learn from it?

If there's a problem, the first step is always to talk to the volunteer.

Does your organisation have regular feedback sessions where you can ask the volunteers how they feel about their work and their contributions to the organisation? If you create a culture of communication, volunteers may bring difficulties to you well before things start to have a negative effect on their behaviour.

By talking to the volunteer you should be able to get to the root of what's wrong. Is it a lack of training? Perhaps the volunteer isn't aware that she's doing anything wrong, or isn't sure how to carry out certain tasks.

She may be bored in her role. Are there any changes that could be made to her task description? She may simply need fresh challenges from her work. Or the reality may be that this is not the right role, and she should be moving on.

There could be any number of other valid reasons why the volunteer doesn't seem happy with what she's doing. Whatever they are, she needs to be told that there's a problem, and given a chance to either change her behaviour or go.

If the matter isn't resolved informally, you should resort to a disciplinary procedure. Do you have one for your volunteers? If not, then I strongly suggest you draw one up. Many organisations have such procedures, and you can get advice on them from Volunteering England at www.volunteering.org.uk.

Your procedure should have clear and reasonable steps, with a right of appeal. Using a procedure means volunteers feel they have at least been through some form of due process. Arbitrary dismissals cause bad feeling, and not just from the departed volunteer.

If the rest of your volunteers think that they could be dismissed at any time, they are hardly likely to feel valued and secure.

If all else fails, then yes, ask the volunteer to leave. If someone's really not happy in a role then this will affect everyone around them, and the performance of the team as a whole. Don't be too soft just because you're not paying your volunteer. A professional approach is as essential to volunteering as it is for paid staff.

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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