Dealing with Difficult Behaviour

Some volunteers are involved in tasks that could be high risk, such as looking after older people, people with drug or alcohol issues, or using technical equipment.

Volunteers also represent your organisation with service users and externally. If there’s not a procedure in place to manage problems when they come up then it’s easy for even small things to grow out of control. Providing guidance on what is acceptable, that explains how you will respond to a challenging situation is important to protect everyone.

Having a clear process also shows that you’ll deal with anything that comes up in the same way. It’s part of making sure that volunteers are treated fairly and helps make sure that all parties are treated with respect. All complaints should be dealt with openly, fairly and quickly to protect your volunteer, have a minimum impact on staff, service users and other volunteers. This shows that your organisation respects its volunteers.

Should volunteers follow the same procedure as staff?

No. As volunteers don’t have a contract like paid staff the grievance and disciplinary procedures for staff can’t apply to volunteers as well. Giving volunteers access to some or all employment rights risks creating a contract with your volunteers. So, separate policies for staff and volunteers are needed. Although they need to be different, it’s important to make sure that the process for volunteers doesn’t contradict anything that’s in place for staff.

When to talk about the problem-solving process

The problem solving process should be covered with volunteers as part of the induction process along with any other relevant policies. If volunteers are clear of the boundaries for their role, this often avoids misunderstandings from the start. Volunteers should be aware of the potential action that could be taken if there is a breach of these policies. There are three areas where a managing challenging volunteer situation process can be applied:

  • Capability: a volunteer’s ability to undertake the role
  • Performance: how well a volunteer is performing the role
  • Conduct: behaviour when taking part in volunteering.

Alternative to dismissal

There are options instead of asking a volunteer to leave. It might be that a previously punctual volunteer has started turning up late due to a change in personal circumstances. This may be due to caring responsibilities which they have not been able to discuss and that simply reorganising the volunteer’s time could resolve the issue. These alternative options still allow the organisation or group to address a decline in a volunteer’s performance but also to try and find a way for the volunteer to continue to remain with the organisation.

Other alternatives are suggested below:

  • Have regular meetings with the volunteer, until they understand their role, their responsibilities, and the relevant policies.
  • Re-assign the volunteer to a new role, perhaps better suited to their skills and motivations. This allows an enthusiastic volunteer to continue with the organisation, and the organisation to continue to benefit from their knowledge.
  • Retrain in line as some volunteers take longer than others to learn new skills.
  • Re-vitalise volunteers, perhaps by giving an opportunity to take a break. This is particularly relevant for very enthusiastic volunteers, who can sometimes over-commit themselves and suffer from burn out, who are performing a very demanding role, or who have had a significant change to personal circumstances such as a change of job or house move.
  • Depending on the situation, a referral to a different organisation or to a Volunteer Centre may be appropriate.
  • Retire/release with dignity if there is no alternative, but make this a very positive exit with the volunteer leaving, feeling that they have been appreciated.

What’s next?

You will have to write your policies for managing challenging volunteer situations to suit your organisation or group’s situation. Ensure the process is as clear as possible, with everything in writing and definite steps and timescales given for dealing with the issue. It is a good idea to get volunteers and other staff to help you create them.

“Volunteers don’t get paid not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.”

– Sherry Anderson

Further Support Available

Stockton Volunteers is dedicated to supporting volunteer involved organisations in Stockton-on-Tees. Further support is available through our website where you can:

  • Download more Good Practice Guides
  • Find out more about the Stockton Volunteers Good Practice Kite Mark
  • Place volunteer advertisements
  • Get information about our latest Stockton Volunteers Partnership Meeting
  • Contact us for advice and support on your volunteering programmes
  • Get advice on policies and procedures for volunteering.

The Stockton Volunteers Good Practice Kite Mark is awarded to organisations who demonstrate commitment to supporting and nurturing their volunteers.

Recognised across County Durham and Stockton-on-Tees, the Stockton Volunteers Good Practice Kite Mark follows the ethos of Volunteer England and National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).