Secret Volunteer Expectations
When serving as a volunteer, have you ever said to yourself, “Oh no, what did I get myself into?” If so, you’re not alone.
In a 2016 research study Walker, Accadia, and Casta found that something called psychological contract breach is a contributing factor to volunteers quitting. The theory behind psychological contract breach believes that people form expectations (either stated or unstated) about how an organization will treat them in a certain role. When these expectations are not met, it’s called a psychological contract breach.
For example, if I sign up to serve with second graders during the Sunday service at church. I may begin serving with numerous assumptions about the nature of my service. I may assume I’ll be able to simply show up on Sundays with no pre-service preparation. I may also assume that I will not be the lead volunteer with the group and another person will actually lead group and prayer time. These assumptions may or may not be true.
But, understanding these assumptions matter to a volunteer leader. When a volunteer finds out their expectations are not accurate, it can lead to frustration and an increased desire to quit. They’ll consider it a breach of the secret contract they made to serve when signing up (psychological contract breach). Often the volunteer will find out a particular role will require more effort than they’re willing or able to offer. As a volunteer leader, if you’re looking for a way to limit volunteer turnover, examine people’s expectations.
Fixing Contract Breach
A volunteer leader can address psychological contract breach through clear communication with new volunteers. Volunteer leaders should begin by creating defined job descriptions for every volunteer role. A volunteer should understand what’s expected of them in a particular role, along with the time involved. Along with this, don’t undersell the role. It is tempting for a volunteer leader to sometimes prioritize having “warm bodies” over waiting for quality volunteers. But, “warm bodies” can quickly become like needy puppies always needing attention. Clear role expectations will help protect against later misunderstandings. No one wants a volunteer thinking, “What in the heck did I sign up for.” Helping a new volunteer truly understand what they’re signing up for can help them not feel overwhelmed or even lied to about the role. This will help protect them from wanting to quit too soon.
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