How to Balance Volunteering when You Have A Busy Day Job

  • How Not to Treat Volunteers

I wonder what gets into people’s minds when they disrespect those who are working for them and with them as volunteers.

The other day, I received a call from a dear friend who was really discouraged and irritated. In her spare time, she helps to lead a particular area in the community, and was asked to complete some forms and needed clarification. The ‘leader’ of said organisation then rebuffed her, and implied that she didn’t have the intelligence to know what to do with the forms. My dear friend was not too pleased, and rang me to declare she was going to resign from her volunteering role. I managed to talk her out of it, but clearly volunteers were not being valued here!

The issue is, in our paid employment, more and more employers are adopting a zero tolerance to any behaviour that can be seen as disrespectful and demeaning. The employer I work for is committed to creating an environment where we respect and value others. However, I marvel at the number of volunteering roles where that kind of ethos is not observed. I have sat in meetings and on committees, where I have witnessed leaders literally throwing their weight around to volunteers, treating some of them as though they were naughty schoolchildren.

Volunteers must be respected and valued not berated.
How not to treat volunteers

They speak to them, completely forgetting that these individuals are not on their payroll, and so shouldn’t be expected to go over and beyond the call of duty at the drop of a hat. They demand from them long hours of work and sometimes unrealistic demands. These ‘leaders’ act as though the volunteers are obligated to deliver unreasonable requests to unrealistic deadlines.

When you have a day 
job or other responsibilities – irrespective of whether you’re busy or not – to be
 spoken to or treated in this way can be infuriating, especially when you could really be at home, unwinding in front of the TV.

Whilst no volunteers should provide poor standards of work, poor attitudes, nor create a bad atmosphere (sadly, I’ve met a small number guilty of these behaviours), those that do, According to Vi, should be very subtly side-stepped or encouraged to reconsider whether this pastime is really for them. Those who are clearly committed, enthusiastic and trying their best, however, should be treated as prized possessions! Really valued, cherished and respected. They need to know that you couldn’t do your work without their input.

I have volunteered in different settings, and can sympathise when being made to feel like an undervalued pair of hands. I have since learnt the importance of being measured in the amount of my time and resources I now give!

  • The Dangers of Unfettered Volunteering 

A few years ago, I volunteered to support a particular counselling service. I had worked really hard at my day job and then, after work, had travelled directly to the venue to undertake my duties. A while later, I became increasingly tired and weary, and mentioned this to the leader – half hoping he would agree for me to take a break. Instead, he showed no regard whatsoever for my physical and mental wellbeing, and simply told me to keep going.

The tipping point came: after a full day’s work, followed by an evening volunteering, I was ill-prepared for an important training course the following day. I was mentally and physically exhausted, and performed appallingly throughout the day.

The course faculty couldn’t believe I struggled so much and, because they had seen my performance at another stage of the programme, thankfully they decided not to fail me. They requested that I repeat the entire course. I was devastated and wept bitterly about how badly I had performed. I later learnt that other candidates had been failed outright, and I was one of the only ones they’d allowed to re-sit the course without prejudice. Soon after, I passed the training course, and served as an instructor for many years later, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Furthermore, across the county are candidates whom I have had the pleasure of training, and who have gone on to help many patients/people as a result.

The experience taught me that my unbalanced approach to volunteering for service at church or in the community needed to be revisited and clear boundaries set. It was not honouring to be poor at my day job, as a result of overstretching myself in ‘extra-curriculum activities’. I promptly resigned from my involvement in the counselling service, and took a few months off every non-work-related activity until I had fully recovered.

Seven Keys to Keeping a Balance

If you are a willing, committed and capable individual, it is very likely you will be ‘snapped up’ to do this, that or the other as a volunteer, and overstretched if you are not careful.

With this in mind, I have listed below seven key considerations for when you are volunteering for extra-curriculum activities. Valuing volunteers is essential if you are to enjoy the activities you are undertaking at your own cost and time. Therefore, it’s important that you:

1. Identify your essential key core activities (to include work, worship, family time, exercising, for instance). Set boundaries to protect these, e.g. put them in your diary and treat them as non-negotiable!

2. Carefully consider all your volunteering responsibilities. Map them against your essential key activities, preferably over a three-month period. This will help you see the real impact on your time. Remember to schedule in your preparation time and your travel time. These are hidden extras.

3. Priorities – do “first things first”. This is good advice from Stephen Covey in the Seven Habits of Successful People. Use that to help you.

4. Focus – remember why you are doing what you’re doing, and don’t lose sight of the bigger picture. When it becomes challenging, keep focused, balanced and…

5. …Learn to say NO! instead of Yes all the time. Bear in mind that you need to be at tip-top performance for your paid job, family, etc. Do not allow yourself to be overstretched, unrested and ill-equipped for your day job.

6. Observe the leader. Beware if they become too demanding, intolerant, belligerent, ungrateful or seem to be taking you for granted. Consider whether you want to call it a day or reiterate your boundaries.

Look after your body, soul and spirit. Don’t over-work to the detriment of your health and wellbeing – it simply isn’t worth it. So I suggest you schedule in at least one evening a week to get home early. Schedule in at least one weekend a month for minimal activities and more YOU time.

Volunteer helps an elderly patient get ready by putting on her slippers for her

Volunteering is one way of giving back to the community or to a cause beyond the remit  of your day job. I’ve done it for years and have no major regrets. BUT, I have learnt to be balanced, and to set boundaries. When I am on ‘volunteering’ duties, I aim to provide high standards and a high level of commitment.

Finally, it is essential to effectively manage your time. Remember this: if you don’t manage your time, someone else will manage it for you!

Please let me know which activities you have volunteered for. How have you juggled that with the day job or other family commitments? I’d love to hear from you. Until next time…


According to Vi


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