Episode #053: Promoting a Healthy Workplace Culture for Volunteers with Marianne Chance

Hey, welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, bringing you practical tips and big ideas on how to build, grow, and scale volunteer talent. I’m your host, Tobi Johnson, and if you rely on volunteers to fuel your charity, cause membership or movement, I made this podcast just for you.

All right, everybody. Welcome to another episode of the Volunteer Nation Podcast, and boy do I have a conversation for you. We are going to be talking with Marianne Chance about promoting a healthy workplace culture for volunteers, not only for volunteers, but in our nonprofits in general. I don’t know about you, but have you ever worked with a team that was toxic and felt like you were powerless to change things or are you losing volunteers because of a few “bad apples” whose energy or attitude is affecting others?

Or are you just sick and tired of the drama? I don’t know about you. But I have been in those situations and I am really excited today to have a conversation about solutions. So if those things are bothering you, you are in the right place. In today’s world, people are exhausted and really not willing to put up with much drama in their day.

I think our drama ability is just like on the downturn, which is probably a good thing, right? So we as nonprofit leaders must step up to ensure that we have a place that people want to come back to and engage with. And as a leader of volunteers or a nonprofit leader, it is job one, to create a space for everybody to be their best selves.

So today I have brought an expert in workplace culture. Her name is Marianne Chance. She’s the founder of Work Warrior and she is described as a brilliant, hilarious, awesome sauce and so engaging. You’ll forget to eat your snacks. Trainer, coach, consultant. Marianne has trained over 20,000 people in nearly every state and all over the world.

She’s recognized as one of the top trainers in America, and in 2013 she started Work Warrior, a training organization that provides manager and team trainings to companies across all states. Marianne provides professional coaching, utilization of certifications and business and entrepreneurship, spirituality, life purpose, and forgiveness.

She’s also the author of “Out is Through,” a Workbook that helps people heal by walking them through how to radically accept reality and deal with all the emotions that come with doing so. You are speaking my language, lady. So before deciding to go out on her own, Marianne spent over a decade in corporate America in leadership and management roles, and in 2010, she received her master’s in organizational development from Avila University.

Tobi: Welcome to the Volunteer Nation Podcast, Marianne.

Marianne: I am so excited to be here. Thank you for having me. And I feel that every podcast starts with that, right? Everyone’s like, thank you. I’m so excited. But no, like, I mean it, right? Like Tobi, I mean it, I’m so excited. This is such an important topic. So much so that for the past 10 years I built business around it. So thank you for helping spread the message of the importance of positive workplaces.

Tobi: That’s fantastic. And  so much needed. I’m really excited to share your insights, especially for how leaders of volunteers can promote a healthy work environment. Especially, there’s challenges between.

Tobi: Paid staff and volunteers. There’s challenges between volunteers to volunteers. There’s the leader of volunteers is often stuck in the middle being the negotiator between,  as a classic middle manager. And so I think this conversation is going to be fantastic for our audience. But before we dive in, tell us a little bit about,  I talked a little bit about in your bio, but tell me a little bit about why you got into this work.

Why have you built a business around helping organizations thrive and build better workplace culture?

Marianne: Absolutely. So I talk to people about how my journey to be a business owner is not the typical one. I didn’t have a brilliant product to sell. I mean, I do training. I mean, we’re, we’re a dime a dozen and I do manager training.

Like there’s, there’s 90 million of me out there. But what happened was I was in a toxic work environment, did not realize it. Something that I know that we’re going to dive into today is, how do you recognize you’re in an environment. And finally left with the support of my family. I finally left. And when it came time to start looking for a new job, I didn’t trust myself to not get back in that same situation.

And so I’m like, well, you know what I’ll do, I’ll just start a business. How hard could that be? If you’re listening harder than you can imagine. It’s harder than you can imagine if you’re wondering just like puppies harder than you can imagine. And at first, I don’t want to say it was a revenge thing.

I think at first it was a protection thing, right? Like, I’m going to protect myself and make sure that I only work with organizations that are healthy and whatnot. But then as the years went on, realizing what’s out there and what training can do to help prevent toxic workplaces. It very much became my mission to create healthy workplace.

Tobi: It’s fantastic. It’s fantastic. And something that’s so needed. I think it’s interesting, and maybe we’ll get into this later. I think it’s interesting to see how that might shift with more remote workplaces. But let’s start with the basics. So how would you define a toxic workplace?

Marianne: Absolutely. So a toxic workplace is a workplace where there is consistent negative behavior with no resolution.

Because every organization’s going to have conflict. And so it is looking at these behaviors. Are there team members that are sabotaging others? Is my boss supporting me and giving me the information that I need? Am I being micromanaged? What does the control thing look like? Do I have autonomy?

Or is my boss or coworkers always trying to control what I do and how I do it? And I think the really important thing to just establish right now is the difference between a negative person and a toxic person. And the reason that I think that is important is in my work when looking at cultures, the worst thing you could call somebody is toxic.

So let’s make sure that’s what they actually are. So the difference between a negative person and a toxic person is this, a negative person, they walk around with a little rain cloud over their head and they complain about everything. You see them coming and you’re like, oh my God, please just, oh my God. Just go. Just go.

A toxic person makes you question your value or your worth. So when we are looking at behaviors, and anybody that’s listening to this podcast, if you’re listening because you’re trying to determine, is this a toxic environment? I want you to start with that question. Is my value or my worth being compromised?

Tobi: Absolutely. I can think of situations in my mind where that absolutely was the case. I remember I was in a situation where I was good colleagues, I would say friends, but work friends with the HR director. We just had a really good working relationship and she would take me on walks and she’d say, look, I think you’re being bullied, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

Because I was an appointee, political appointee for my position as a director of my program. I was not a staff person per se, and I was not protected by the union. And so it was, and at some point I left, so I know, I had to leave because as I said before we started, I had pieces of my hair, like chunks of hair falling out.

I was so stressed out. I spent most of my time complaining about this situation when I was around family and friends, and it just started to take up like every part of my life. And I decided like, this is not for me. I’m not my best self here. I can’t even do my best work here.

So question for you, given the pandemic and remote work, is there a change in workplace cultures becoming more toxic lately? Or have they always been this way? Or maybe you don’t have the exact date on that, but what’s your intuition around the world? Is it getting tougher for people, easier for people, or has this always been just sort of a certain percentage of people that are creating problems?

Marianne: Well, statistically speaking, that’s always going to be really hard to figure out because there are times when like one, bullying is subjective. And then two, a lot of times people aren’t going to say that. And there’s the two reasons they’re not going to say it. First off, we see somebody’s bad behavior and we think to ourselves, well, I’m an adult, I should be able to handle that.

Marianne: Bullies are on the playground, they’re not in the workplace. Or they’re afraid to speak up because of retaliation. So when you were talking to your HR person who said, I can’t do anything about it, well imagine going in and not only telling your HR person, but then being worried that they’re going to go decide to have a conversation with that person, and then all of a sudden it gets even worse than it was.

But to answer, so that’s statistically speaking, we just don’t know. However, the trend and stomping out unhealthy workplaces actually started when millennials entered the workforce. Because they were the first generation that did not care about having a job before they quit. So what they would do is they would go into a negative environment and they’d be like, peace out, I’m done.

Like this is not for me, whether they had a job or not. Bring in the pandemic and that’s like a whole other 16 shows. So we’ll put that on the back burner. But now, I would say that cultures are the uptrend and that’s for a couple of reasons. First off, our labor market is crazy and it’s going to be that way for a while.

And it really is the employee’s choice. And so that is forcing organizations to really step back and say, okay, what kind of culture are we creating? Not only that, there’s a whole workforce out there that spent two years working from home for the most part. And now their managers are like, you need to come into the office.

And they’re like, this is dumb. I’m not productive. I am not this, I am not that. And so organizations really are having to listen because they’re having such a hard time filling open spots. That does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that toxic workplaces aren’t out there. Because I think, I know, I said statistics don’t matter or that they’re hard to get, but about 40% of people have in one study that I read from, I think it was from the Workplace Bullying Institute that said that they had worked in toxic environments.

So it’s the crazy, wonky labor market that we are in coupled with just generations coming up that is finding this to be unacceptable really are going to help shift this.

Tobi: Oh, that’s fantastic. I think too, what we know from volunteerism, which is unpaid workforce, is we’re finding from organizations that they’re having a hard time building back to pre-pandemic levels.

Or people will come and then they’ll leave, they won’t commit. And I’ll say,  like, people don’t invest their time unless it’s worth their time. Is it worth their time? And part of worth their time is having fun. Volunteering is serious leisure. People don’t have to be there.

They can vote with their feet even faster than a paid employee can. And pretty much they’ll just ghost you. Most of the time they’re not even going to tell you. They’re just going to stop showing up. So I find that there’s some similarities there in terms of people’s level of expectation about where they spend 40 plus for paid staff, often 40 plus hours a week.

And for volunteers, even if it’s just a few hours a week, they’re like, look, this is my leisure time. It better be fun. Better be easy, better be light. I mean, they’re not afraid of challenges per se, because they want to do the good work and with their nonprofits, but they don’t want to put up with unnecessary drama.

I think that’s the bottom line on. As I mentioned, I was a victim of workplace bullying. Not that I identified it as you said, like I’m just like, well, this is what it means to be at the top of the heap, right? The tall trees get the wind. I have high expectations of my team. I am a director level. I expect that I’m going to get pushback and resistance when I’m trying to make major changes happen, and I’m asking people to be accountable.

However, the HR director told me, look, I think you are being bullied. At some point, as I said, I left, but I also wondered for the longest time what drove the behavior. Like why was this person feeling a need? And it became like a pile on. There were like multiple people that joined in at some point. And so it really became untenable for me. And I was happy to leave. I can do other things with my life. And in fact, I started this fantastic business and it was great.

But do we know why people bully? Or is it even important for us to understand that?

Marianne: We do know, and it is 100% important for us to understand why. So people bully when they feel threatened. Usually it comes from low self-esteem. So keep that in mind. People bully when they feel threatened, and usually it comes from low self-esteem.

So another foundation that we’re going to lay for the next 26 minute or 36 minutes or whatever is this, happy people are not toxic people. You cannot be toxic and happy at the same time. Those two things are mutually exclusive. Here’s why you need to remember that. I can’t tell you how many people have come to me from a toxic environment and say, but I tried everything and their behavior didn’t change.

Well, of course they didn’t change, because you can’t fix, change or save people. You can only fix, change and save yourself. So when you’re in a situation where you’re like, well, maybe if I’m just a little bit nicer, maybe if I just give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe if. No, because you are dealing with somebody that fundamentally needs to decide this is not the way that they want to be.

So it is incredibly important because I don’t want anyone to waste their trying, trying to change a toxic person. I think this can be debated. I’m going to go ahead and say that, Tobi. I think it can be debated, but I don’t think you can.

Tobi: Yeah. I mean, we’ve heard, right? Hurt people, hurt people. And we’re not therapists nor are we magicians or et cetera. So that’s good. I mean, for me, my decision was, look, I’m out. Nobody’s protecting me here. I don’t want to spend money on a lawyer. I’m out. I’m going to go find something else to do with my life.

But we don’t always have that choice, or we do have that choice, but we want to, we, we are dedicated to other people in our workplace, whether it be our volunteers, et cetera.

So I want to get into the, the little bit about the down and dirty, about how to manage a situation that’s problematic. But before we do that, we’re just going to stop for a quick break and then we’re going to get into all the details. So those of you who are listening, now that you kind of understand a little bit of the framework and fundamentals of how we want to think about this, I want to get into what we can actually do about it.

We’ll be right back after this break with specific actions you can take to improve your workplace culture, so volunteers and your coworkers and yourself can thrive with Marianne Chance. So don’t go anywhere.

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Tobi: All right, everybody, we’re back with our discussion with Marianne Chance about how to promote a healthy workplace culture at your nonprofit, and I cannot wait to get into the specifics now.

So first off, how can our listeners self-diagnose whether there’s a problem? You talked earlier about, look, am I feeling like I’m devalued? Is there more to it that maybe it’s not, I’m not feeling devalued. Maybe I’m seeing something else in my volunteer team or with my coworkers. So how can folks self diagnose whether or not there’s a problem with their workplace culture?

Marianne: We’re going to start by saying that you want to look for behaviors that are sabotaging. So let’s talk about what that looks like. So people that are toxic usually will exhibit a number of these things. So the first thing that they do is they withhold information. Well, there’s six steps to do this, but I’m only going to tell you three.

And then when you get caught doing it wrong, I’m going to say something like, well, she just must not have been. It’s withholding information. Like, gosh,  I really probably should tell Tobi what’s going on, but you know what, if she were on top of it, she would know. She doesn’t need me to tell her. Not my business.

It looks like vicious gossip, and I don’t mean, oh, have you seen Marianne’s hair today? I mean, like stuff that is demoralizing, stuff that if the right people heard, it could really have a career impact on someone. It looks like constant tattling. Usually they are tattling on others for things that just don’t even matter.

Like they’re not making mountains out of molehills. There’s no molehill to even make a mountain out. Sometimes they just ignore and like, this is mind blowing to me. But they will walk into a room with three people and they’ll be like, hi Joe. Hi Susie. And they won’t even say anything to that third person.

It also looks like, and this is going to be a big one, if you find yourself constantly having to defend yourself. So you go and you have a conversation with, we’ll just say Toxic Tina, and you don’t think anything of it, but then your boss comes in or your volunteer coordinator, or I mean whoever comes in and says, Hey Marianne, I heard you had this conversation and these were the things that you said, I need to talk to you about that.

And you’re like, I did not say those things. Absolutely not. So if you’re always having to defend yourself because the other person is misinterpreting what you’re saying, that’s going to be a big one. And you can tell me to move on at any time. I get so stuck on this that I could probably sit here for 12 hours.

So if you’re like, great, Marianne, next question you please, please, please interrupt me. So that’s going to be the first layer. I want you to look at the actual behavior and then I think it’s really important. And the next part is going to be to determine where is the toxic behavior coming from?

Because this is going to have a huge impact on what you can and can’t do. Am I going to stay and continue to volunteer with this organization? Is it worth it to continue on with this cause because it’s only one person versus leadership. So you have a real problem and it is your management team that is toxic.

And usually this trickles down in smaller organizations. And I think that you and I both know that many, many, many, many nonprofits are smaller organizations. The reason that this is so hard is because the leader is the one that sets the tone. They’re the ones that oftentimes make decisions on what policy and procedure looks like.

And oftentimes if they’re at the top, it is really, really, really hard to report to the board to get them out if that’s what’s happening. So first and foremost, is it that, or is it a specific person? And so if it’s a specific person, those are a lot simpler. Notice I say simple, not easy.

Those types of people are a lot simpler to deal with because you can do things like create boundaries, document and whatnot. So first off, what is the behavior? And then secondly, identify where it’s coming from so you know what your options are.

Tobi: Right, right. Yeah. I tell folks if the issue is with leadership, it’s very hard to manage up.

I mean, you can manage your response to things. You can decide, look, just not even going to let this be a problem for me. But with leadership, it’s difficult. And at some point,  I’ve left organizations because I realized this is not going to change. I don’t have the power to make it change.

I can only control myself. I can’t control the leaders. What are your thoughts on that?

Marianne: So one of my favorite trainings that I do with organizations is emotional intelligence. And one of the baselines of emotional intelligence is you can control your reaction. You can, we are human. And when you are in a toxic environment, you are in an unhealthy environment.

And when you are in an unhealthy environment, day in, day out, week after week, month after month, your response is not going to be one of reason. It is going to be one of protection. And so while we can absolutely choose, here’s the problem. When you’re in a toxic environment and you’ve been there for a while, you can’t see past the four walls that you’re in.

So you can’t see that there’s other opportunities out there. A lot of times people will say, oh, but if you’re in a toxic environment, you need to build your support system. Well, okay except your support system usually just says, well just leave, just go find another job. But it’s not that easy.

Like an impact of toxic workplaces that we don’t often talk about is PTSD. Like that is a very, very, very real thing. And so think about the self-care and the therapy and the emotional support that goes through to get over something like that. It’s the same thing if you’re in a toxic environment.

And so I agree with you wholeheartedly, that you can’t lead up. I agree with all of that. I agree to an extent that you can choose your response. But please remember, the longer you’re in that situation, the less options you’re going to feel you have to respond with

Tobi:. Yeah, absolutely. You become conditioned in a way. It’s similar to abuse, right? Domestic violence. You become conditioned. You hunker in the bunker and you just try to survive. So our listeners are often volunteer coordinators or nonprofit leaders, and some of the questions I get around managing and coordinating, supervising leading volunteers, there’s a common scenario, it doesn’t come up all the time, but it comes up enough that I thought I would ask you as the expert in this area is organizations will have volunteers who have contributed time and money and sometimes significant amounts of money.

And yet they are really negatively impacting the organization’s culture. And so the volunteer coordinator is like, look, they’re a major donor. I don’t think I can do anything about this. What is your recommendation for, I have my response. I’m curious what yours would be about dealing and managing a situation like this where they are really causing drama on my team. I don’t need it. We all want to get along here and get the work done, but they give us a lot of money. So I don’t know what I should do.

Marianne: I’m really anxious, I’m really excited and I’m anxious. I’m really excited to hear what your response is, but I’ll go first just so I don’t say ditto. Because you’re probably going to sound amazing.

Tobi: Well, we’ll see.

Marianne: Alright, so here’s the first thing. One bad apple ruins the bunch. There’s a reason that we say that. And so when we talk about toxic behavior, I can have 10 volunteers, nine of them are exactly what I need them to be, and then that one is not.

So bear in mind that you need to look holistically at what you’re losing to keep this volunteer on board. Am I losing other volunteers? And you need to remember that if you lose five volunteers, think about how many other volunteers you’re losing. Think about the backdoor conversations that are be going on about that organization and the terrible leadership.

And then think about too, like the money that you’ll be losing if that is the reputation that you have. So that’s the first thing, like calculate the total costs. Don’t just look at this one person and the money that they give. Another thing that you can try and do, and I know that this is difficult and sometimes it’s not possible, but isolating that volunteer to do things that limit the impact they have on other people.

So let’s not put this person as the volunteer coordinator for the upcoming 5k. Like let’s not give them access to all of our volunteers for that. Can they do something like put together an event or a fundraiser? Can they be in charge of some type of data input or solo project?

So that’s the second thing that you can do. Holistically, this is really important for all organizations to do because it can become an accountability tool, and that creates a very specific code of conduct. And when I talk about specific, it’ll look like in this organization, we respect others. Respect means that I will show up on time because time is your most valuable asset.

Respect means that when I disagree, I will tell you that I disagree, but I will do it in such a way that protects your dignity. Respect means that I will listen and not interrupt. Respect means that I will do what I say I will do and keep my commitments, and I want it to be that specific because when you have a volunteer that doesn’t meet those statistics or doesn’t meet that code of conduct, you’re already thinking to yourself, but how am I going to have this conversation?

They’re unpaid, they’re giving me their time. You already said that you hear from nonprofits that they’re having a hard time getting more volunteers, so you’re also going to be thinking about, and if this person leaves, who’s going to do their job? And you’ve got all these things going on in your mind, but if you have this code of conduct, it’s so much simpler to go and have that conversation and say, look Sam, you this morning when we were in the meeting, I really saw some dis disrespectful behavior and I want to talk to you about it.

The behavior that I saw was this, can you and I have a conversation about what we can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again? And so that code of conduct becomes incredibly important for accountability tools and this is the hardest thing. You need to use it.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I am on the same page. I love that you’re talking about the opportunity cost because it is true. I remember an organization that I actually  didn’t leave, but I stopped working with that team and it was the first time I had worked with that small group of volunteers as a volunteer. And the first day I came to the first shift, there was a lot of gossiping going on.

And I was like, yeah, I’m done. I’m done with this team. Now I love the organization so much that I kept volunteering for it, but I could have just as easily said, this isn’t the kind of environment, because most of us are,  I would hope to think that most of us are adults and know what healthy relationships look like.

Well anyway, our volunteers know when they’re having fun and when they’re not having fun and they know when they’re made uncomfortable. And,  I was made uncomfortable because I didn’t want to be complicit. I didn’t want to like grouse about, plus being an expert in volunteerism, of course I knew this wasn’t right.

But what I didn’t do is I didn’t go to the volunteer coordinator and say like, look, this is not good. I just moved on and did my thing, right? Which was maybe my lack of bravery or courage in that way, or maybe it’s not my job, right? Either way, we could argue for both.

I don’t know. But I do like the idea of opportunity cost of thinking about when we allow one person, the one bad apple to start to spoil the bunch, how much we’re really going to lose and erode, even erode productivity.  Maybe people keep showing up but they sign up for less fewer shifts, or they leave early or they don’t engage as much.

It might be many things. I also like the idea of code of conduct. We absolutely recommend that folks have volunteer handbooks and operationalized procedures so that you have some backup. So it’s not your subjective opinion. It’s really like it’s documented here. We like to talk about operationalizing values into behaviors.

Like why does it matter that we have these healthy behaviors with one another? And then tie it back to the mission of the organization, right? This is what we believe in, and I know you believe in this too, otherwise you wouldn’t be here. So you’re kind of circling around. The only other thing I would add is oftentimes the major donor, if you call them on the carpet, they’re going to go up the ladder, up the chain to leadership.

So it’s always a good idea before you have a conversation like this to like let leadership know, like, look, I need to have this conversation, here’s why. And they may come talk to you about this and I would prefer that you would send them back to me for another conversation rather than triangulating

And if your leadership isn’t willing to support you in that, then it’s easy to have the rug like pulled out from under you and then your power is gone. And if the leadership says, well, they were wrong in doing that. You’re like, that’s it. Your power’s gone and you have nothing, you have no leverage at all.

So that’s the only thing. What else would you add to this conversation that we’re having about how to manage a situation like this? Is there anything I said that you’re thinking, no, I would not go about it that way.

Marianne: There is absolutely nothing that you said that is making me think I wouldn’t go about it that way. There is one thing that you said that I think is really important to reiterate. So when you were talking about going and talking to your management team about a person’s behavior before you do it. I think that that is a hundred percent exceptional advice. What I want listeners to remember is it’s a lot easier to get your leadership to support you in doing something than it is in asking them to do something.

So here’s what I mean. You’ve already touched on it, so I just want to make sure that the listeners are like, oh, oh, that was really important. Hey, boss, I’m going to go have a conversation with Susie because this is the behavior that I saw. I want to know that I have your support, and if Susie comes to you, which she probably will, that you will simply say, I was made aware of this. I want to make sure that this is resolved. Why don’t you go back to Marianne since this is where the conversation started.

So give them instruction as to what you want them to do so that they don’t have to feel like they’re put in the middle. I don’t have to feel it. And so that is the one thing that I would want to add.

And then the second, this is just going to be, I want you to just put this in the back of your mind. If management and leadership does not support you, I want you to put that in the back of your mind about what does that say about the culture that I’m in? And it may not say anything, right? It could just be you have a manager that’s very conflicted verse.

It could be that this donor is donating a billion dollars and they’re like, heck no, we’re not losing this donor. I’m not saying automatically say, oh, this leadership is toxic. Nope. But I do want you be like, I’m just going to put that in my brain somewhere.

Tobi: And we do hear a bit about that. Volunteers are undervalued, that leaders of volunteers, their work isn’t understood, et cetera, et cetera.

And part of it is a middle management thing. Having been a middle manager, if you talk to any middle manager, they’ll say, I feel stuck in the middle. People don’t understand what I do, et cetera. However, when it starts to block your ability to make progress in your job, what your area of responsibility, that’s when it becomes an issue where we have to get,  it’s not just being about a middle manager, it’s actually about our culture and whether or not we really believe in the investment of our community and getting them involved in making change.

And,  our volunteers day laborers, is that how we’re going to treat volunteers? Or are they like trusted and valued community partners? Those are very different cultures and perspectives on volunteerism.

Marianne: Well, they are. And one thing that I want people to start thinking about too, if you’re not addressing the toxic, whether they’re volunteer coordinators or the toxic, there is rarely only one nonprofit that supports a single cause.

And so even though I may absolutely love volunteering at organizations that support reentry into the workplace after incarceration, if I have a negative experience, I will just take that experience elsewhere. And so I think that we also need to remember like, hey, we don’t get to lean on this cause we don’t get to go and treat like day laborers.

I like that. We don’t get to treat them like that because they believe in the cause. Well, yeah. And I’m going to believe in it so much that I’m going to go someplace that will appreciate it as well. So I think that’s a really, really, really, as you’re talking about those two, let’s add another layer and realize they could take their passion elsewhere.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. Let’s talk about another scenario that I hear a lot from leaders of volunteers, and that is that we have many volunteer coordinators who are working within a volunteer services department where they’re insourcing, they’re recruiting volunteers from the community, and then they’re insourcing folks to departments, other departments.

So in the end, they’re not the ones that are directly supervising the volunteers, but they are responsible in some ways for the volunteer culture and for bringing the right people in and for making sure they’re matched with jobs. And what I’m hearing from folks sometimes is that sometimes they believe a coworker, a paid staffer, is not treating volunteers appropriately, and they’re not their direct supervisor.

And so they’re having a hard time. Well, how, how can I manage this? I’m not, I’m not their direct supervisor, therefore, I’m having a hard time figuring out whether or when I can intervene to ensure this volunteer has the best experience possible. Now, it’s not always a situation of toxicity or bullying, but it might be.

And is there a difference in the conversation if it’s something less intense, more about they’re just neglecting or not supervising properly or supporting properly to something further on down the continuum where it’s actually, they believe there’s some bullying going on or some toxicity there.

Marianne: So this is when it’s really important to talk and look at specific behaviors. And this is going to include the situation and then specifically what was done about that. So if I’m a direct person and I come in and I say, hey, I saw this happen. Not appropriate. Don’t do it again. Somebody might be like, well that was rude.

That needs a little more finesse. Okay, sure. Go and learn to take a hard conversation class. But that’s not toxic. I’m not even sure that’s negative. That is a person’s personality being direct. So first off, let’s actually look at what happened and see if we can determine, is this personality or is this behavior that is intimidating?

Is it behavior that is name calling? Is it behavior where they are threatening? And if I see this again, I’m going to make sure you never volunteer anywhere else, or I’m going to make sure that you are going to get set to another team. So like, what is that behavior to determine which camp you put it in. If you want to give feedback, I’m going to give you a little line that you can use that maybe can help.

Because if it’s just like, hey, you should probably work on your finesse and your communication. A simple, and I reiterate simple, not easy way to start that conversation is to go up to that person and say, hey Joe, I care about your success, which is why I’m mentioning this. I saw blah, blah, blah, and I wanted to let you know that volunteers could perceive this as…

So that I care about your success, which is why I’m bringing this up. I noticed, insert whatever you. And volunteers can perceive this as, can be a way that you can have a kind conversation and actually put that intent to support behind it versus you are wrong.

Tobi: And absolutely. I mean, leaders of volunteers are responsible for coaching and consulting inside the organization around volunteer involvement.

And not everybody’s born a great leader of volunteers. It’s actually, I believe, harder to lead volunteers than it is paid staff, because it’s just like you’ve got to really get into the participatory leadership style. You’ve got to share share power. There’s just like so much you need to do to really create an environment where people can thrive.

What if folks, this is another thing that I think people struggle with. I didn’t personally see it happen. Therefore, I don’t feel like I can say anything. The volunteer told me about it or someone else told me about it. How can folks manage that and negotiate that?

Marianne: When we hear somebody tell a story of how they were treated, so we’re going to say a volunteer came up and said, this is what happened, and you’re listening and you’re like, gosh, this does sound like bullying, or it sounds like harassment.

I want you to start under the assumption to believe them.

Tobi: Yes, of course.

Marianne: Yep. Believe them, and I want you to believe that something happened that bothered that employee enough to come and talk to you. I don’t want you to do any other conclusions except for something happened that bothered them enough that they decided to come and tell me.

And that’s where I want you to start, then going and talking to the other person. At this point, let’s have somebody else in the room as well. Like let’s just go ahead and have somebody in the room. This is not at first need to be treated like an interrogation, but it’s just, hey, I heard something and we need to figure out what we can do to solve this.

So tell me what happened. Give me your side, give me your point of view and start it there. And then also, please be looking for trends and patterns. This is not just happening with one person. If it’s just happening with one person, it could very much be a personality issue, not a toxic one. So keep your ears open the first time you hear it.

Tobi: So if you heard from a coworker reporting that a fellow coworker did not treat a volunteer well, you speak first with that coworker. And then the coworker that’s reporting and then talk to the coworker who, the alleged behavior, who was the perpetrator of the alleged behavior? Or do you bring the volunteer in at some point?

Marianne: There’s so many moving parts. Okay. So I am going to say, okay, that somebody came to me about a way that one of my team members treated an employee.

Tobi: That’s your framework.

Marianne: So that’s my framework. Somebody came to me that did not witness it, but heard an employee say this about my team member.

Marianne: The first thing that I would do in that situation is talk to the team member. That’s going to be the very first thing. And I’m just going to say, hey, this is what I’ve heard, and I’m coming to you because I want to know the scenario and the situation in which is going on. Then depending upon how that conversation goes is going to determine whether I have a conversation with that volunteer in a serious manner.

Like, hey, I’m really concerned that one of my team members has treated you this way. I’m really concerned and want to make sure that we don’t do it again. Or am I going to follow up with that volunteer from just kind of a casual seek to understand, hey, I heard that maybe something happened at that event. I want to make sure you’re ok.

I want to make sure that you feel safe in this organization and there’s nothing more that you need to talk to me about, or if there’s anything that you want to share with me. So that’s what I would do is talk to my team member first. You’re absolutely going to talk to the volunteer, but let’s figure out.

Is this going to be something serious, I’m afraid. You’re being harassed or is this more of a casual, how are things going?

Tobi:  Well, and I think it’s interesting because what the person, the team member who’s reporting it, whether they’re paid or volunteer, doesn’t really matter.

Somebody’s reporting and you’ve got to hear them out and try to get, ask some specific questions and not jump to conclusions. Try to be just the facts ma’am kind of thing. And thank them for sharing. But it could possibly be, and we can’t rule this out that the volunteer was not even impacted by it.

Like they were just like, huh, what are you talking about? No, it didn’t bother me at all. Whatever. That’s just how they are, you know what I mean? So we can never like assume that the bystander who’s witnessing is going to actually have all the information or know the emotional impact on the volunteer themselves.

So I think, I love these, this advice and I love some of the language you’re giving folks, gang. Go to the transcripts page for this and like cut and paste Marianne’s scripts here because they’re really good, to have these kind of conversations to surface. And you’re right, I think you’re right that there is an art to this to try to suss out in your gut whether or not it’s like a high level, high impact thing or it’s a not  so big of a thing moving on thing.

So if you hear that it’s a intense, hard thing for that volunteer, then are you having a conversation with the person that was perpetrating that without the volunteer, I’m assuming?

Marianne: Oh, absolutely. If this volunteer has already had a terrible experience right then, like, you’re not going to put them in the same room together.

That’s a horrible idea. And then I would tease out with that employee and treat them as though, okay, we are now turning to policy and procedures. We are now looking at what type next steps we need to take. Is it a write up? Is this something that is coachable?

Is this something that has potential legal ramifications? And so we need to do a final written warning or even possibly terminate, but you’re not going to know that until you know the impact and what happened. So at that point, I’m going to use very corporate speak, but at that point, that’s when we go into, this is serious and we need to look at corrective action.

Tobi: So what if you are not the supervisor of that person? You don’t have the power to write people up. Are you having a conversation with them and saying like, look, as a peer, I’m responsible for the health and wellness of our volunteers. That they have great experiences that they’re able and using that terminology you talked about before. I’m here because I care about your success, et cetera, et cetera.

And do you say like, look, hey, if we hear about it again, then I have to elevate this. Or how do you deal with that? I can see peers going like, well, I’m not their boss. I can’t say a thing. I know it’s a complicated like scenario I’m taking you down.

Marianne: You are, I’m like, oh my gosh. Where the rabbit holes going? Where’s the rabbit hole taking me next? So here’s what I want you to remember. I want everybody to write like if you’re listening to this podcast, like obviously don’t write this down if you’re driving, but silence is compliance. And you need to be like TSA. And if you see something, you need to say something. Period.

We are talking about people’s dignity. We are talking about the health of an organization and a cause. We are talking about potentially, depending upon what you heard or what you saw, something that could have legal ramifications. So this whole, yeah, but I’m not their boss. It’s not my job. That almost in and of itself is at least incredibly unhealthy behavior.

If not bordering on some of this toxic behavior that we’re talking about. Like one of the things that I said in the very beginning is toxic behavior looks like, well, I should really tell somebody, but I’m not going to. So keep in mind there’s so much more at hand. I would actually probably just go straight to my boss.

Tobi: That’s exactly what I was going to say. Go to your boss, get some feedback, and then have them direct you on next steps. I think there’s times in these situations where you need another, not only you need another set of eyes, but you need a higher level of authority to help decision make around and navigate some things.

Marianne: Agreed. A hundred percent.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. So let’s discuss one more question that’s more of not a rabbit hole, more of an open-ended, but this has been really, I’m telling you, people are like, I need the transcript because I got to go back and get Marianne’s script. I’m telling you right now, these are two common, common, common situations.

Speaking on the positive side, what are ways to proactively promote a positive workplace culture between paid staff and volunteers and volunteers and volunteers? This is another area where people are challenged. They feel like the teamwork really isn’t there. Just in general, what are some principles for promoting a positive workplace?

Marianne: This is such a happier question. I  love it. I do. I’m like, oh, good. Except for now I’m like but now I got to put my positive hat. Hold on. Who, what, what? Let me get my brain back into that mode, scenario you just gave me.

Tobi: I got to tell you, like, I’m just going to say this. Sometimes leading volunteers can be quite dramatic. There, there’s a lot going on there. There’s a lot of personality types and there’s just a lot for folks. Leaders of volunteers are like managing so much. So I’m, I’m so happy that you gave us all that advice. I tell people it is rocket science.

Marianne: I’ll say this and you can choose to edit it out or not. But it was just a couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine came up to me and she said, well, do you work with non-profits? And I said, it depends on how generous I feel. And she says, oh, no, no, no. They would pay you. And I said it depends on how generous I feel.

Exactly what you’re talking about, right? I love volunteering and I have also witnessed and seen like it’s weird. It’s just weird. Let’s just put it that way.

Tobi: Let’s promote positive.

Marianne: Okay. So first off, let’s make sure, and you had mentioned this before, but like, let’s make sure we have a meaningful onboarding process.

Tobi: Yes. Yes.

Marianne: So let’s make it meaningful, like let’s give them an orientation of sorts. I love the idea of a handout. Let’s figure out, so that’s the first one. Let’s have a meaningful onboarding process with our volunteers. Secondly, please make sure that you are tapping into that volunteer strength and what they want to do.

I think that where a lot of nonprofits get it wrong is they have these volunteers, and they just call them and say, hey, can you go and do this event? And the volunteer has no desire to do it, but they feel like they have to say yes because they did sign up to volunteer and all of a sudden, they’re doing things that they don’t necessarily align with or find joy in.

So let’s make sure that we’re utilizing their skillset. Third, I would also promote extracurricular activities. So this is going to be, hey, we’re having a volunteer happy hour. Come and join us. I will say on that, when you are promoting extracurricular activities, whether it’s a barbecue, whether it’s a happy hour, please make sure that it’s inclusive.

And what I mean by that is there are a lot of people that don’t drink, so have non-alcoholic beverages available. There are people that don’t eat meat. Please don’t say, oh, I didn’t know that. Here’s a hamburger bun. Like, make sure that you’re like actually making it inclusive. So when your volunteers go, they’re like, oh, my gosh.

Make sure they remember that. I think that is really important as well. The last one is to make sure that your policy and procedures within the organization make it simple.

Tobi: Yes.

Marianne: To write up toxic, disrespectful behavior. Put them in your policies.

Tobi: Yes. Yes. Yes. I think sometimes it’s difficult for people to do that because they’re having difficulty setting boundaries in general, right?

I think people are like, well, I don’t know what a policy look like. And people aren’t given permission sometimes I think in nonprofits boundary setting, it’s interesting because a lot of nonprofits have a lot of social workers working there and if you work in social work, you’ve been trained pretty well on professional boundary setting.

At the same time, it’s ironic, but it happens in nonprofits that there’s like massive boundary transgressions and vague boundaries and I think when people, it comes down to the volunteer program. People have a really hard time like really putting in writing specific behaviors because they themselves are not clear about their own boundaries.

I feel like it’s a symptom of a bigger problem sometimes when we can’t say no, it’s not okay to do that. And the more we can be clear with ourselves about our own boundaries, but also our boundaries within our organization, our program, the more we’ve got backup, we’ve got confidence.

And I say, get your volunteers involved with helping you write these up, so much easier. Again, simple, not easier, as you said

Marianne: No, you got it. It’s simple. It’s not easy.

Tobi: But you can feel like you have an honest set as well, an honest set of boundaries. You get a volunteer team working with you.

Say, hey, gang, we’re just going to tighten this up a little bit so we all feel safe and productive and happy with one another. Who wants to help me with this?

Marianne: Absolutely. This is our last question, so I want to give another thing, another very tangible thing that you all can do, and that is one thing that was said earlier is so many organizations tie back to their values.

And most nonprofits do have a set. They do have their vision, mission, and values. One thing that you can do with those volunteers is when it comes to that team code of conduct that I talk about, make it a team event. So simply say, these are our values and most likely they’re defined, but the word is defined, not the behavior.

And say, we want to make sure that our actions are living into our values. So what we are going to do is create a team code of conduct around these values so that we know what behavior looks like. And that can be incredibly empowering. And what a cool way to show your volunteers that you care about them.

Like what a cool way to say, we think that you support us enough, we want you to be a part of this.

Tobi: Yeah, absolutely. And that you respect their points of view. And they’re going to come up with things that you don’t know about. I mean, you know what, look, if you’re a white volunteer manager, I can guarantee you that there’s a microaggression or two or three or however many that are going on that you don’t know about.

So you’re offering like a safe space for people to bring stuff up. And we don’t have to talk about a specific personal thing. We’re just going to, in general, develop these together. It’s sort of like norms, but in a more codified way.

And if you already have them, you can just say, hey, we’re going to update these. This has been fantastic, Marianne. I hope it gives people bravery, courage to not rush stuff under the carpet gang. It just festers, it grows, it keeps people from coming back. You don’t want to do that.

Plus our volunteers don’t deserve it. Nobody does, right? So it’s been such a great conversation.

Marianne: I have enjoyed this tremendously. And I do want to just, one other thing that I want people to think about, and that is toxic people tend to go after the people in the organization that are the most liked and the best at their job.

And here’s why I say this. People that are liked and that are good at their job usually give people the benefit of the doubt. And I think that when I look back at my toxic work environment, the hardest part for me was actually saying out loud, this is a toxic environment. And so if you find yourself saying that, make sure that you do what you need to do to take care of you.

Make sure that you are doing self-care. That I would probably seek therapy, not my partner, not my best friend. Like let’s go to a professional and see what you need to do to come up with a plan to get out. And then if you do get out of a toxic situation, wow, what an unhappy note to end on.

If you do get a toxic situation, I want you to remember that it’s called detox for a reason.

Tobi: Yeah. Yeah. Hey, I don’t think that self-care is never a bad, bad way to end. But I’ll ask you one more question so we can leave on a positive note. No, self-care is awesome.

Tobi: Well, let me, let me give you a question that will let you leave with like absolute inspiration. Okay. So one more question before we wrap up and obviously I’d love to have you share some of the ways people can get in touch with you. Before we do that, what are you most excited about in the year ahead? There you go.

Marianne: I know, I’m super excited. I’m like, yes. So I’m going to share two. I’m going to share personal and professional. So the thing that I am like so far beyond excited about is in two weeks, I will turn 44 and I’ll be spending my birthday 44 and I’ll be spending it in Paris. I’m so excited because 43 was kind of a rough year. So we are going to honor it and give it the respect that it deserves as it gets out.

And then who can’t have a great year when you started at the Louvre, like who doesn’t want to be looking at the Mona Lisa. Yeah, I’m 44, this is life. So that’s personal. I’m so sorry. I like, I always talk about it and I’ll be doing trainings and I’ll be like, no, that’s not a humble brag, that’s just a flat out brag.

That’s just a flat out brag. I’m going to Paris on my birthday. And then professionally, and I’m going to say this because I know that you have a very wide range of listeners. So professionally, I am very excited because I only have three states left to train in in the US and that is Alaska, Oregon, and Alabama.

And by gosh, this is going to be the year I get those three states. So I am very excited to see what doors open, how those connections happen and whatnot. So that I can go from, has trained almost everyone in every state to has trained every state.

Tobi: Oh, that’s fantastic. Manifest that girl. Okay, gang audience, let’s help her out. Let’s help her out. So if yes, if folks want to help you out or are just interested in learning more about your work, Marianne, where can they go to learn more, to get in touch, et cetera.

Marianne: So obviously the easiest place to start is work-warrior.com, my website. That is going to show you the offerings that I have.

There’s actually a whole section on toxic workplaces. So if you are in one, it’s going to give you some facts on that. There’s about at least six videos, I think, on what you can do to protect yourself in a toxic workplace. So that’s absolutely a resource that you can go to. And then I would actually really encourage people as well to go and find me on LinkedIn and then also Facebook.

That’s going to be where I promote primarily my stuff. I’m not going to lie, I don’t even have a blog on my website because I can never keep it up. So you’re not going to get ongoing information on that. You’re going to get ongoing information on LinkedIn and Facebook. So that’s how you can meet me, reach me,

Tobi: Awesome.

Marianne: And send me messages. I love messages. I get excited, but people send me a message. So inundate me.

Tobi: Okay. Inundate Marianne with messages. Let her know how much you appreciate her. And if you like this podcast, I hope you’ll rate and review it. Share it with a friend. You have a friend who’s struggling with their volunteer culture or just their nonprofit workplace in general.

Go ahead and share this with them and it’ll help us ping that algorithm and make sure more people can find us. But also, I think this is good stuff for folks in our field. Our work isn’t easy. It can be challenging the work itself, but on top of having not the best work culture, it just makes it really hard.

And so be brave, you all. Be courageous and check out Marianne’s video. They’re really good. So, all right. And we’ll post those links in the show note. So thank you everybody for joining us for another episode of The Volunteer Nation. We will be here same time next week. See you there.

Tobi: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Volunteer Nation Podcast. If you enjoyed it, please be sure to subscribe, rate and review so we can reach people like you who want to improve the impact of their good cause. Bring more tips and notes from the show. Check us out at Tobijohnson.com. We’ll see you next week for another installment of Volunteer Nation.