A Little Respect

“Oh baby please give a little respect to-ooooooo meeeeeeeeee!”, a line from the brilliant 1988 electro-pop anthem A Little Respect from pop tour de force, Erasure. Over the years, I must have heard this song a million times! Recently it’s assumed a new relevance following an incident that happened a couple of weeks ago. I’ll elaborate on this in a bit, but first a bit of background for you…

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m relatively new to volunteer management, having had a variety of other positions within the heritage and arts sector. For the past six months I’ve held two part time roles at different museums, with responsibility for around 130 volunteers. Throughout my career I’ve managed teams of paid staff, both large and small, but never such a large volume of people coming from all corners of our society. One of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my career is become a volunteer manager (VM) and I have the privilege of working with an amazingly diverse and talented group of people. In my opinion, it is this diversity that’s central to a successful volunteering programme; the differences between us make us stop and think and often lead us to better ways of doing things whilst enriching our own personal learning and development.

Much of my time is spent ensuring that our volunteers are happy, well trained and feel supported in their roles whilst developing skills that will be useful to them in outside of the museum. I try my hardest, as do VMs everywhere, to treat everyone with professionalism, courtesy and respect. We have volunteer agreements in place which state what our organisations will do for the volunteer, and what in turn we can expect from them. Aside from the usual day-to-day niggles, this has been a positive and enriching experience. A couple of weeks ago I received a phone call from a frustrated and somewhat animated volunteer who made it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that they were unhappy with a decision that I had made that day. The strong tone of voice and colourful choice of language used took me by surprise and I felt somewhat anxious and demotivated afterwards.

This incident really got me thinking about how we care for ourselves as volunteer managers; many of us work in organisations with limited resources and often we work in relative isolation. Most VMs appear to be extremely patient and resilient, but we do have our limits! I’ve since sat down with the individual involved, their passion and enthusiasm (two qualities that are to be applauded!) had run away with them. They were mortified that they had caused upset, things are now fine, and we’ve moved on. We are only human after all. I know I’m far from perfect, who is? However, it’s made me think about the relationships we have in the workplace and how we look after ourselves when things become challenging

In February, I attended AVM’s Ways to wellbeing and productivity for volunteer managers, the first event of its kind and a litmus test to gauge the appetite for this topic amongst the VM community. I found the productivity session, led by Rob Jackson, exceptionally useful and I’ve radically changed my relationship with email as a result (this is worthy of its own blog article and I digress slightly!). The other wonderful speakers presented us with some amazing tools, developed to deal with our internal response to difficult situations with guidance on how to adopt them in the workplace. We also received suggestions on how we can improve our overall resilience.

Managing difficult situations and adopting self-care comes with time and practice. This event certainly gave me pointers to help me navigate my way. However, one thing remains clear to me and that is give a little respect to me and I’ll certainly give it back to you.

Colin is the Manager of East Grinstead Museum as well as the Volunteering and Training Manager at the London Canal Museum.

Love thy neighbour…

Carol Carbine, Trainer / Facilitator / Consultant at Carol Carbine Consulting , will be sharing a range of resources at AVM’s Ways to wellbeing and productivity for volunteer managers on 21 February to help you better look after yourself so you can better look after others.

Passion led us here

I was recently discussing with a friend the complex demands we volunteering professionals find ourselves under, I am sure you will be familiar with some or all of these.

  • Juggling the various aspects of our day to day roles whilst trying to keep abreast of changing trends
  • Attempting to meet the many and diverse needs of the volunteers that we support
  • Finding new, creative and collaborative ways to engage people in our mission
  • Trying to secure support and/or funding for our work

Like many people outside the profession she was surprised by these insights and genuinely interested to know how I managed to make time for myself, my family, and look after my own wellbeing in the midst of all of this. I confessed that the latter had somewhat lapsed towards the end of last year and that I was aiming to get back on track. I also admitted it is an ongoing challenge for me and many people I know in our area of work.

She smiled knowingly and said what you need to remember is ‘Love thy neighbour’.

No, not the rather cringe worthy 70s sitcom but the second commandment* ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’. I was rather puzzled as to the relevance of her comment so I asked her to explain how this would help. She said very simply, if I am supposed to love my neighbour the same way I love myself, then I need to do a good job of loving me. I need to take good care of myself – eat well, sleep well, exercise, and rest and recharge my batteries when needed. For me, whether you’re religious or not this makes a whole lot of sense.

If I do a rubbish job of loving myself how I can possibly do a good job of loving and looking after others?

We hear a lot in the media about volunteering being a positive force for mental health and wellbeing but less about the challenges for people supporting and leading volunteers in an increasingly complex environment.

There are some enlightened companies that are now enabling their employees to stay healthy and supporting them to move through challenges when they occur. New initiatives include mental health first aiders, adjustments for women experiencing the menopause and more equitable sharing of parental duties, to name but a few.

So whilst we know that volunteer management has an additional layer of emotional complexity, thanks to the University of Leicester researchers and the National Trust, it still feels like the voluntary sector is lagging behind. We may have great awareness and good intentions but it’s the small simple actions on the ground, which can make a huge difference that seem to be missing.

  • Are we genuinely encouraging a culture where we talk about not just the practical but the emotional demands of the work we do?
  • Do we talk with colleagues about good self care, maintaining our resilience and making time for this to happen?
  • Is it ok to admit you are feeling a bit overwhelmed and ask for support, and if you do what response will you get?

Good self-care starts with the individual but if we are consistently working in an environment where eating on the move, skipping breaks, staying late and where going above and beyond is the norm then the underlying message is that self-care isn’t a priority no matter what the policy statement says.

I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I do want to open up the conversation……

  • What are you doing this year to take care of yourself? – (I‘m learning to Zentangle)
  • How are you and your team looking out for each other?
  • What one small thing could your organisation do to support and empower you to love yourself just a little bit more?

Join the discussion at #AVMWellbeing and come along and learn more at our Ways to wellbeing and productivity for volunteer managers event.

*Bible – Mark 12:29-31 | Torah – Leviticus 19:18 | Qur’an – Surah 24:22

Food for thought, discussion and debate by Carol Carbine
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