my boss is strong-arming us to “volunteer” for company events

A reader writes:

Recently, and with little notice, my boss and our PR person have issued mails calling for volunteers for events outside of working hours.

Of course, no one wants to turn their five-day week into a 12-day week, for no additional pay/leave. However, my boss and our PR person have made last-second promises, and they can’t be seen as liars. So the next email comes out:

“I strongly recommend you consider to volunteer for the chat booth this weekend. Have a good Friday!”

“Leadership is something that is taken into account during evaluations. I think volunteering for the annual shoelace knitting competition shows leadership. Not volunteering, however, does not show leadership.”

“I don’t want to work with those who don’t feel a strong need to volunteer for the football weeny roast. I was just talking to our PR person, and she says I don’t need to worry… Right?”

Those aren’t exact wordings, but they capture the tone of “volunteer or else.”

I suppose they can’t say, outright, that attendance is mandatory or it would be an item that went onto job descriptions, and they don’t want to give anyone ammunition to bid for a raise or promotion. That’s not great.

However, there are a few things going on lately that have me angry-typing that “Ask-A-Manager lady” my wife is always reading:

1. These mandatory volunteer requests have very little warning time and are coming during one of the busiest times of our year.
2. My boss and the PR person are, of course, exempt from volunteering. They haven’t show up to one such event, but demand… sorry… request with utmost severity that others give their time.
3. These demands are frequently fielded by the same few people, and that strikes me as unfair.
4. They have started “strongly” suggesting that we donate money to various charities/events.

Adding insult to injury, I’ve been around long enough to know that minimal effort is rewarded exactly the same as those who are being coerced into giving up their weekends.

What do you do with a boss who uses thinly veiled threats to “encourage a spirit of volunteering,” but never outright requires attendance?

And since I’m exempt, couldn’t he just out-and-out require I (or anyone) attend? Why wouldn’t he just say, “Sally, Mark, John, Joe, see you at the tree hugging ceremony on Sunday. It’s your job”? Why all the carefully worded mails?

Yep, since you’re exempt, he could indeed just require you to attend. (He could require it if you were non-exempt too, but he’d have to pay you for the time.) And he could require it even though it’s not in your job description; job descriptions generally aren’t comprehensive lists of everything you might end up doing, and no law requires that employers stick to what’s on a written job description.

I suspect he’s not outright requiring it because he wants to maintain the fiction that these are truly volunteer assignments. Usually when managers do this, it’s because they like the idea of people volunteering for this stuff; it signals to them that people are enthusiastically supporting their team or the company. If they simply assign someone to do the work, the work gets done, but they don’t get the cozy feeling of “look at how my team pitches in to staff these events.”

Obviously, that’s ridiculous, because by the time that you’re basically ordering people to volunteer, that fiction should have collapsed. But somehow in their heads it doesn’t.

I think you have a few options here:

1. Ignore the emails. Take him at his word that he’s looking for “volunteers,” and decline to volunteer. Be aware that this option may come with penalties, such as not getting the same consideration for raises and promotions as people who volunteer, and/or simply not currying favor with your boss, which can potentially affect everything from what assignments you get to how far he’s willing to go to bat for you during a financial squeeze. On the other hand, it’s also possible that it’s won’t really affect you much at all. His language about taking it into account during evaluations could be a lot of bluster. (And your comment that minimal effort is rewarded exactly the same seems to indicate that might be the case.)

2. Say something to him directly about the situation. For example: “Bob, I’ve noticed that you and Sue have been asking for volunteers at weekend events lately. I know you know what a busy time of year this is for us, and I’ve got other commitments on the weekend that I can’t break, so I wanted to explain why I’m not generally attending these events.” (Normally I might suggest that you call him directly on the veiled language, but if you asked something like “are these truly volunteer or are you instructing us to attend them?” you risk him telling you that you do have to participate … so it’s probably better not to open the door to that.)

3. If you calculate that it is actually in your professional interests to volunteer for one of these, suck it up and do it once. If you go this route, pick something particularly high-profile where you’re likely to have maximum visibility.

But yeah, no one likes to be voluntold. If it’s truly voluntary, treat it as voluntary. And if it’s not, don’t pretend that it is. And sure, there actually can be a middle ground there — the “you really don’t have to do this, but we do reward people who volunteer.” But when that’s the case, (a) you can’t pressure people the way your boss is, and (b) you have to really follow through on the promised rewards.

{ 192 comments… read them below }

  1. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor*

    Angry-typing. I love it. I’m going to use that.

    And if I were in your shoes, I just ignore the emails and not volunteer.

  2. neverjaunty*

    Also, 4), consider looking for a new job. It’s one thing to be at a company that is rah-rah about volunteering and where the people doing the cheerleading THEMSELVES participate. It’s another thing to have a boss who issues not-all-that-thinly-veiled threats that y’all ought to volunteer for these events, which he of course is far too special to attend himself. This kind of attitude is rarely compartmentalized to that one aspect of work.

    1. Ama*

      Yup, I’ve worked for both kinds and it’s strange how much more willing I am to volunteer for an employer when I know the C-level staff will be there right along with us.

      1. nofelix*

        It can even be a great benefit to have a chance to talk to higher-ups in a different context.

    2. INTP*

      Yeah. In this case, I don’t even necessarily feel the boss is going after a warm and cozy feeling of a team that loves to volunteer, because someone who values it so much would do it themselves at least periodically. I’m thinking he wants to get visibility for his department (and therefore himself) by saving the day at these last-minute PR things, and the way he does it is to voluntell people to work extra uncompensated hours. (I know that when you’re exempt, there’s no such thing, legally, as “extra” hours, but I’d consider anything that far removed from your job description and function as “extra”.)

    3. Grey*

      This would tempt me to volunteer for an event by saying, “Sure, I’ll help. See you there.”

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I agree, mostly because of this:

      Adding insult to injury, I’ve been around long enough to know that minimal effort is rewarded exactly the same as those who are being coerced into giving up their weekends.

  3. Sassy AAE*

    How has the PR person not attended any of these events? Like, I know we’re not supposed to go to everything, but if I know attendance is low enough to volun-tell people to be there, you better be sure I’ll show up, too. Shame on them. It’s part of your job as a PR rep to support your company,

      1. AnotherHRPro*

        Sometimes all you need to hear is validation that “yep, that is crazy/wrong/etc.”.
        Yes, it is wildly inappropriate to expect people to attend these somewhat-volunteer events when the people asking you are never volunteering.

    1. Jane, the world's worst employee*

      In a former role, I worked as the PR person for a non-profit organization. I was at every single event that I owned as a part of my job responsibilities (it was a very big non-profit org with many different arms, thus, more than one PR person). I also volunteered at select events sponsored by the non-profit because I wanted to. My boss never demanded that I do that however or “gently suggested it” – and believe me, he was the king of “voluntelling.” I was also a volunteer of this particular non-profit organization before I because a paid employee, so it’s safe to say that I was very passionate about the work the organization did.

      Yeah, unless I’m missing something here, this is part of your PR person’s job responsibilities. They definitely need to be there, especially if there is media is in attendance.

    2. K.*

      Yeah, that’s crazy. I’ve worked in corporate communications and someone from the department was always at this stuff. We would usually divide and conquer so that not everyone went to every event, but at least one person was there. We would never have asked for volunteers and then not showed up ourselves – hell, it was usually our team coordinating the event so one of us had to be there to tell people what to do.

    3. The Strand*

      At my last organization, I saw people show up on weekends and evenings from Marketing and PR – even if they had to bring their children alone due to lack of a sitter.

    4. Ad Astra*

      Yes, and I’ve found it’s far more effective to walk my hiney down to the desks of my coworkers and ask them individually to come to my event. When you send a mass email, it’s easy for everyone to act like it’s someone else’s problem. When you’re asking them in person, they sort of have to respond.

      1. Snarkus Aurelius*

        Why would you do this? If you’re not getting participants, maybe it’s because no one wants to do it.

    5. DVZ*

      As a fellow PR…I have to actually strongly disagree with this. Some companies have a really broad and unfair interpretation of PR duties, and it sounds like OP’s company is pretty small, which would explain why the poor PR is getting roped into this, but I’d like to stand up for the profession and say that attending charity events really has nothing at all to do with the job.

      This is a job for the event coordinator, or a CSR exec, etc. Not PR. It’s equivalent to saying that the software developer is responsible for making sure everyone has a working desk phone in the office, because it’s all “technology”.

      1. Sassy AAE*

        Dude, in small companies the PR person IS the event coordinator. And the marketer, and the catch-all persona of having to do weird out of the box stuff.

        Let’s assume that I, as the PR manager, want to organize a day of community giving in order to write a release (or internal newsletter article) about it. I’m damn going to make sure I’m there with my camera catching the faces of the smiling employees in order to curate some great content. Attending any company event (although maybe not ALL) is for sure a part of your duties, at least to be on-hand in case something hinky happens.

        Not attending any is really bad, cause then why even organize them?! Like, from a PR perspective these are worthless cause the PR person in charge does no follow-up. These are purely grandstanding with no point. There’s no videos, no photos, and probably no content coming out of these events.

      2. OP*

        Without giving away too much, my department alone employs 165 people, and at any given time we have 12,000+ clients.

        I don’t know if that makes us small or not.

        1. DVZ*

          I tried to reply to Sassy but I think it got deleted :(

          Anyway – wow, in a company that size, the idea that a PR person would have to attend a charity/volunteering event is kind of insane, tbh. Because sure, if it’s a small company then fine, you might have to have one person who writes press releases and also organises charity events and also does marketing. But…press, marketing and events cannot be rolled into one PR job. Idk what you’d call that role (because it should not exist, as those are three very distinct skill sets)…but it’s not PR.

          So my issue was just with people saying that because this woman is in PR, she MUST attend the events. If she’s harassing other staff to attend and not doing it herself, then that’s one thing, and she should go, but not because she’s a PR.

          1. OP*

            I hear you.

            My employer wants me to be six different specialists rolled up into one position, (but 2/3 the pay), and our PR person does bridge multiple roles. I guess I’m saying, we All have demanding, full time, jobs. So, yeah, asking anyone to volunteer for X thing on top of other duties “is not our job.” However, the PR person for sure has a lot of power in what events “we” have signed up for… Don’t start none, won’t be none.

            One point of confusion, though. Are you saying:

            1.) “Wow, in a company that [small] the idea that a PR person would have to attend [things] is insane, tbh.”


            2.) “Wow, in a company that [Large] the idea that a PR person would have to attend [things] is insane, tbh.”

            If #1, I’m understanding you, and that’s inline with what you’ve said previously.

            If #2, then you are effectively saying in one breath “PR people shouldn’t be expected to show up to every event at a Small company.” and in the next breath “PR people shouldn’t be expected to show up to every event at a Large company.” Which we might then reduce to “PR people don’t need to show up to events.”

            1. DVZ*

              I don’t want to derail the thread, but just to clarify…

              I actually sort of stand by both statements! My point was, attending events isn’t really a PR job. If you’ve invited the media, or are holding a press briefing, or you need to introduce a key partner to a journalist, then yes. But it’s really not a PR job as a rule.

              So yes I was saying that in a company that is large, it seems odd that the PR person would have to attend events a rule because surely they don’t just have one PR doing a broad marketing, events, charity, etc. type of role – i.e. I’m surprised there isn’t someone in the company whose job role is more in line with this.

              The point about the small company (where I said initially it sounds like your company is small so I’m not surprised this woman is involved in the events) was that, no the person SHOULDN’T have to attend as a rule but I do understand why they might be expected to because smaller companies tend to give lots of varied job functions to the PR person, many of which aren’t even remotely relevant.

              I’ll get off the PR soapbox now!

              1. OP*

                No problem.

                I wasn’t being snarky when I said I have no idea if we are a large or small company. I just honestly don’t know how we measure up!

                Our PR does cover events, talks, social media, extraworkular activities, take photos, runs internal and external publications, send mail outs, and I’m sure much more I don’t even know about.

                So, if it’s not the job of the person who slated the attendance at the event, and promised contribution, to show up at said event, then who’s job is it?

    6. NickelandDime*

      All of this. I think that angered me most about this. I bet PR is signing up for all of these events, and then they aren’t actually doing them?

  4. OP*

    Ignoring similar mails has gotten me flack in the past, with my direct supervisor scolding: “When Boss recommends, treat it as an order.” and that “I should know that.” Which strikes me as unreasonable. Not that it’s going to change my behavior. I’m stubborn like that.

    Re: “I suspect he’s not outright requiring it because he wants to maintain the fiction that these are truly volunteer assignments.”

    That’s completely in line with their personality. They want collaboration on a problem, so long as the agreed upon solution is the same solution he has already, secretly, settled on. Very much a case of maintaining a “Buddy ‘o Pal” illusion, despite the fact that everyone sees through it.

    1. Jennifer*

      Well, you’ve been told it’s an order. And it is.
      Unfortunately, that’s how jobs go these days.

      1. OP*

        Sorry, I’ve left out some important context.

        I’ve been told that when the boss recommends [something directly related to my job], that I should treat it like an order. i.e. “I’d like to suggest that a picture of Steve Tyler be used as my directory photo.”

        However, no direct comment on things outside of my normal 9-5, which is why I’ve felt comfortable ignoring the mails.

        1. AdAgencyChick*

          I would just keep doing that, then. If you’re correct in your reading of the situation that it doesn’t really matter to your success at the organization, then who cares?

          And if you feel inclined, agitate amongst the troops to suggest that they do the same. It’s not your responsibility to protect coworkers who choose to martyr themselves, but if you want to put the idea out there, I bet it would be deliciously satisfying to watch the number of volunteers dwindle to zero.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I see the OP already clarified, but I want to respond to “that’s how jobs go these days.” I’d say that’s how some jobs go these days, but it’s not universal. Many people have jobs and employers where they’re able to push back in a reasonable way, and do it successfully. Some of that is about the role, some is about the employer, and some is about how much standing the employee has. But I’d caution against that kind of pessimism, because I don’t think it’s actually accurate!

        1. Mike C.*

          I’d also add that simply because something is “a new normal” or whatever doesn’t mean that you can’t push back anyway. There are lots of business practices that used to be normal that aren’t anymore.

        2. Jennifer*

          Good point. I ‘m just tired and fed up of my industry, and the stories I’m hearing from others in theirs, so I forget that some people might not have this going on.

      3. neverjaunty*

        I really don’t understand the ‘well, that’s how jobs are these days so whaddayagonnado’ line of thinking. Plenty of jobs don’t, in fact, go like this, and plenty of bosses are capable of being direct with their employees, instead of playing passive-aggressive games.

        OP is not being directly told by the boss that she must attend; it’s a snit directed at the employees as a group. Obviously, if Boss said “OP, you have to go to the Manatee Appreciation Awards” then she’d have to go, or quit, but OP asked for scripts on how to address this situation.

        If Boss and on down are just jerks, then we’re back to her manager is a jerk and isn’t going to change.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      What would the reaction be if you told your supervisor that you already have a standing obligation every weekend (like a little league coach or something) that you are not able to change and that you won’t be able to work outside of normal hours?

      1. OP*

        I suppose nothing would happen, so long as others take my place. Though… it would also be a total lie. My weekend obligations are watching Netflix with the dog in my lap.

          1. afiendishthingy*

            Substitute “cat” for “dog” and you have my plans for the next 17 Saturdays. I’m booked solid.

        1. Anna*

          I’m pretty sure your dog would notice if plans changed suddenly! If the PR person isn’t willing to step up, then I don’t see how you should have any obligation. Volunteer activities that are supposed to involve employees and are supposed to put a good public face out there should either be during the work day so you get paid anyway OR should involve a really great enticement to participate.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            It does make me wonder: how good does anyone there think the PR will be if every weekend event is staffed by surly, disgruntled employees who clearly would rather be somewhere else?

          2. Hlyssande*

            I know my cat noticed when I spent 7 weekends in a row working 14 hour days at the renaissance festival. It’s gonna be awhile before he calms down again. :( All my weekends for the foreseeable future are scheduled for cat snuggles and internets.

        2. louise*

          I have the same weekend obligations, though it’s two dogs. I would need a job to pay me at least double what I make to even consider breaking that standing commitment. Maybe triple.

        3. Lia*

          So? Doesn’t mean it’s any less important.

          Much sympathy. I had a job where we were voluntold to be at umpteen events a year, and although many were during working hours, we still had to get our regular stuff done on top of that, which meant working nights/weekends to get it done.

        4. Beezus*

          You have a standing commitment every weekend to care for a nonverbal family member who is unable to prepare his own meals and requires regular company and care. You make other arrangements during the work week, of course, but he’s your responsibility during the weekends.

          They don’t need to know it’s your dog. :)

        5. Mimi*

          I know we don’t typically encourage lying here, but…..why not lie in this case? Say you have a standing obligation to assist a family member/be a little league coach/whatever, so you’re not available? Something that’s difficult to push back on, but not a really grievous lie, like “my mother has cancer and I have to drive her to appointments” -type lie. It would get them off your back then…..right?

          1. Mike C.*

            I think lying is perfectly fine when it’s about things that are clearly none of the boss’s business.

            1. Ruffingit*

              Me too. There’s a difference between lying because you lack integrity and lying as self-preservation in the face of asshatery.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        I am always more than willing to say “I have plans” when I don’t feel like doing something, even if those plans are to sit and stare into space. And now you have a really good excuse -if you work a few weekends, your dog is going to watch movies like Air Bud and Turner and Hooch when you aren’t around and it’s gonna mess up your Netflix recommendations.

        1. K.*

          Yep. “Sorry, I can’t make it. I’ve got plans” is my default. Whether my plans are a weekend trip or cleaning off my TiVo is no one else’s business.

  5. Winter is Coming*

    This reminds of the United Way campaign at my first job out of college some twenty some years ago. Not only was I not making much, but we were not getting paid on a regular basis (I know better now, trust me). Our owner/boss was leaning quite heavily on us to make monthly United Way payroll contributions, and I just couldn’t do it. I remember being SO resentful towards her…you can’t pay us, but you want us to make donations so the company looks good? Um no. I told her that in lieu of donating money, I would donate my time instead, and became a reading tutor through one of UW’s charities. Because I wanted to, not because I felt forced. She didn’t really have any response to that one since the organization I volunteered for was affiliated with UW.

    Your situation burns me up, OP!! If I were in your shoes, I’d probably go with Alison’s last option, go to one of these events and make the best of it. Maybe you could get some of the co-workers you are closest with so it won’t be as bad.

    1. Mona Lisa*

      I work for a nonprofit currently, and though the company can’t afford to pay its employees anything close to a comparable salary for the area, they expect us to donate to the parent organization or to any fundraising event that comes up throughout the year. It makes me angry that the fund development department sends out e-mails asking for “100% staff buy-in” so that they can include that in marketing to donors, but the organization won’t/can’t pay us enough to live on.

      Additionally, we’re encouraged to “help with” programs by the superiors passing around sign-up lists via e-mail chains, which seem optional until we’re told by direct supervisors that we’re required to be at the event for at least part of the day.

      All of that to say: OP, I get where you’re coming from, and it really sucks. I like Alison’s last suggestion, which is what I’ve done and seems to work decently well here.

      1. ArtsAdmin4Life*

        Ugh. That “100% staff buy-in” stuff is such bull. Any donor should be alarmed that employees are being strong-armed into buying in. I mean, come on. Donors know that you are committed to your organization (or at least committed to having a job) or else you wouldn’t work there. I’m sorry you have to deal with that nonsense.

        I agree, Alison’s last suggestion is great. If a “volunteer” event can help you career-wise, then try it out. Alternately, OP can say “I’d love to do this, but I have a commitment that I can’t break. Is it possible to get more advanced notice?” Maybe saying “I need advance notice” enough times will get the message through?

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Be over heard saying, “I have to donate or my job is in jeopardy? Oh, so basically, I have to pay money to keep my job? Gee. I believe that is illegal now.”

    2. Jane, the world's worst employee*

      I worked a company that strongly encouraged us to donate to United Way. It was my first job out of college as well. I was barely able to take care of my bills each month, let alone donate much to charity. I literally told them, “Look, if you really want to, I can go through my monthly budget with you and show that I don’t have any extra money to give.” That still wasn’t a sufficient response, so I finally gave them a $5 check to shut them up. I still resent that.

      (Side note: This technique works really well with the college/university alumni fundraising calls as well. I did this the last time I got a call from them – they literally called me and I had told them politely several times that I didn’t have the money. I went through my monthly budget with the caller, who got very quiet when I was finished, and finally responded by saying, “Wow. You really ARE broke. I am so sorry. We will never call you again.”)

      1. Ro*

        Oh my gosh, both of these threads take me back to college days! Part-time job #1 was a crummy retail job where we were also effectively forced to hand over part of our pay checks to the United Way, all so they could have 100 percent compliance. Believe me, I needed that $5! Also, many years later and I make a very nice salary but I refuse to donate to United Way. Maybe they do good things, but that experience was so insensitive- I can find plenty of other worthy charities to donate to. Job #2 was a crummy on-campus university development job where we had to make the exact same calls you mentioned. I was always pressured to hit people hard for money, but I couldn’t do it. I hated that job and I’m pretty sure I had the worst numbers in the office. Lots of people can’t afford to give $$ and some just don’t want to. They shouldn’t be forced to.

        1. Artemesia*

          I feel the same about United Way. My father would get pay paperwork with the amount that was his ‘fair share’ already filled in. And at my job we were strong armed to help be 100% in compliance because our non-profit received aid from United Way. My husband and I give substantially each year to carefully selected charities that we know really deliver to the target population e.g. our local food bank, one of our local homeless shelters, our local PP, Doctors without Borders and several cultural programs like our public library, opera and summer music festival where the donations help keep it free for most attendees. When I had to comply with the United Way thing or put up with hassling, I made a 10$ annual donation which was nothing to me — but I know that our lower paid staff shouldn’t be bullied to contribute even that.

        2. Hlyssande*

          My company pushes UW so hard that I pretty much refuse to donate to it. They have a fundraising drive every year and multiple events and you can pay $1 to UW to wear jeans for 6 Thursdays over the summer…

          Now, the ice cream social, I’ll pay $2 for. But anything else? Nope.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        Sometimes honesty really IS the best policy. I recently cancelled my DirecTV after nine years (arrgh). The account had been on suspension for a while because I was trying to save some money, but I decided recently I just couldn’t keep it. I have Netflix and Hulu Plus and an antenna, and if I miss anything really fabulous, I can buy it on Amazon for a couple of bucks.

        As soon as you say you want to cancel, they switch you to a retention specialist, who will usually argue your ear off to keep you. But when he asked me, “May I ask why you are thinking of canceling?” I said the magic words: pending student loan default. He said, “Ohhh.” And that was that. He did give me the we-have-these-fine-deals-to-make-you-stay spiel, but in a very rote way.

        It made me sad; I liked DirecTV, but what are you gonna do. When I was reading this letter and got to the part where the OP said the boss wanted them to donate, I thought how nice it was that my company encourages us to be charitable but doesn’t require it in any way.

        1. Ad Astra*

          We suspended our DirecTV account months ago because we couldn’t afford it and had moved in with my in-laws, who already had DirecTV. A year later, we’ve maxed out our allowable suspension term so our choices are to:
          a) Be automatically billed the $100 or so per month for service that we don’t have set up in our home
          b) Pay an additional $200 to have the service set up so that at least we could use what we’re paying for
          c) Pay something like $350 to get out of our contract with DirecTV.

          We’re sports nuts who actually feel we “need” cable (can’t stream in-market baseball anywhere!) and had always been happy with the service, but the experience has soured me on DirecTV. Maybe we need to try the “Pending student loan default” argument with them.

          1. Artemesia*

            One of those direct TV things gulled my elderly mother into the plan; it never worked on her old TVs but they kept billing her and wouldn’t cancel even though they couldn’t make it work and I finally paid several hundred to get her out of the plan because I was visiting briefly and didn’t have months to wrangle and it was making her crazy. They lied and lied and lied, claiming it worked fine and she had never complained. One of the TVs they were charging her for was so old that it could not work and the other they didn’t get it set up so it ever worked. They are truly pond scum.

      3. Meg Murry*

        Yup. My alma mater has a student job that is calling alumni to solicit donations. It is one of the best paying jobs on campus, possibly even the very best – almost double the pay for an average work study job.

        When they started calling me a year after I graduated, I tried the “no thanks” thing for a while, but I kept getting calls. Finally, I said “Are you a [Special Name] Caller?” and when the student said yes, as a matter of fact, he was, I said “Right now you are making more per hour as a caller than I am at my full time job I got after graduating from [Super Crazy Expensive U]. Please take me off your list unless you are calling to offer ME money.”

        I didn’t get another call from them for 5 years.

        1. Anx*

          I used something similar.

          I tried to turn something down, and then I just said, “look, if I’m ever in a position in life where I feel like my education from UX has given me the opportunity to give back, i’ll call you. In the (then) five years since graduation, I have yet to match my part-time salary from my (oncampus) job and I simply cannot afford to donate even if I was more moved to without skipping meals.

    3. Ad Astra*

      I’ve had a positive experience with my current company’s United Way campaign, but my last company? No no no no. One of the “incentives” was that if we pledged a certain amount of money for the year (through payroll deduction), we’d get an extra vacation day. Sounds pretty cool, right? It was, I guess, except that the amount we had to pledge was (for example) $150 and most of us were making about $112 a day. Some incentive.

      1. Retail HR Dude*

        That IS a good incentive, in my opinion. To many people, having an extra vacation day is far more valuable than whatever money they would have made working that day. Plus it isn’t like the $150 is just going down a drain somewhere; it is being donated to a charity of your choice. Plenty of people donate far beyond $150 a year with no self-interested incentives to do so at all, and yet don’t consider that to be a waste of money. I think it was nice of your former company to encourage a little extra generosity, especially since the company ends up eating the cost of your extra vacation day.

      2. Nobody*

        That’s actually very generous. I donated $260 ($10/paycheck) to my company’s UW drive and all I got was a retractable badge clip. I don’t think the extra vacation day was meant as an even trade for your $150 donation, just as the badge clip wasn’t meant as an even trade for my $260. The whole concept of donating to charity is giving money without getting the full value in return. The company didn’t get any benefit from your donation (other than good PR), so giving you a vacation day worth $112 is still a loss for them.

  6. Dani X*

    Is this a situation where should go to HR? I remember a previous letter about mandatory team building events that HR came down against because they couldn’t actually be mandatory.

    1. OP*

      Ah. But hasn’t his wording given him a plausible out.

      “No, no no. That’s all wrong. As you can see, I’m clearly asking for volunteers!”

      1. Dani X*

        It’s a thinly veiled threat and I think any competent person would see that. I would consider going just to ask for advice if you think it will get anywhere. If PR person IS HR then no point.

      2. INTP*

        I think the thinly veiled threats to your reviews, promotions, etc blur the line legally. You can’t call something “optional” to avoid paying your non-exempt staff for attendance and then retaliate against the employees who don’t go. Even if your whole team is exempt, HR would probably prefer people refrain from the practice of threatening people’s career advancement if they don’t “volunteer”. (And it could create legal issues in California if they are calling things optional when they aren’t even for exempt employees – there are laws about when you have to be compensated for mileage for work activities and such.)

        1. Mike C.*

          It doesn’t blur, it’s explicitly illegal, federally speaking. There’s a line or two where the law talks about “any situation where your absence would be to your professional detriment must be paid time” to deal with that loophole.

      3. neverjaunty*


        “Leadership will be considered in your evaluations. People who do X are showing leadership. People who are not doing X are not showing leadership” is pretty obviously a statement that if you do not do X, it will affect your work evaluations.

  7. Krystal*

    We have the same issue in my office with the Marketing team. They refuse to show up at events (both those that are “volunteer” and those that are during normal working hours), and then will goad the rest of us about making sure we have a good turnout because it makes our organization look good.

    My solution is to say no to any of their requests, and if I am doing something through the course of my role, I will refuse to take photos for them. I learned my lesson the hard way when they complained about the photo quality at one event (because I’m not a photographer or a secretary, and I was too busy to focus on that task).

      1. Krystal*

        They always have a convenient excuse. It’s always a conference call, or their kids, or something.

  8. Alaskan in Denver*

    As the PR/Communications person at my company, I go to EVERY public event. While I do beg for volunteers to help, I couldn’t imagine asking for volunteers and not showing up myself…

  9. Katie the Fed*

    “2. My boss and the PR person are, of course, exempt from volunteering. They haven’t show up to one such event, but demand… sorry… request with utmost severity that others give their time.”

    Oh helllllll no.

    No no no. If you send your employees in, you go yourself. I am here on weekends if my employees need to be here. I don’t grant myself special status to be exempt from sucky requirements.

    Of course it’s the same few people who always end up doing this. They’re the office doormats, and they’re not going to get ahead either. If it’s that good for your career to go to these things, then the bosses would be doing it.

    I’d ignore the emails.

    1. Charityb*

      That’s a really good point that I think a lot of people sometimes overlook. There are a lot of environments where being involved in these sort of extracurricular things is actually beneficial to a person’s career. These are the environments where the big boss is manning the grill at the charity barbecue, or the partner is sitting in the dunk tank, or the CFO is helping coordinate the bake sale, or whatever it is. If senior management disdains getting involved in these kinds of events, that’s a pretty big red flag that they don’t think it’s actually important/valuable and a good indicator that they don’t value the time and effort that people spend on them. The people who do spend the time on activities like that will be sidelined in favor of the people who spend time on things that management does value.

      (This actually goes for anything at work, really; if senior management thinks it’s stupid, chances are you shouldn’t be spending your time on it for your career’s sake).

      1. KTB*

        THIS^^. A million times that.

        My organization does “blitz” events for a local utility around sporting events 2-3x per year. Staff is volun-told to participate unless they have another obligation, but at least one of our partners AND a utility VP are both participating in the events as well. And while opting out forever likely isn’t a good idea, I’m pretty sure that absences aren’t used against you. For example, I participated in one, but was out of town for a family wedding for the next. No one batted an eye.

        And my PR colleagues would FREAK OUT if a PR person skipped an event. What the hell are they thinking??

  10. Allison*

    I can see how, to an employer, volunteering does show leadership, and it is “going above and beyond,” so it is a totally legit way to earn some “brownie points” with management, and increase your chances of getting a raise or promotion. That said, while volunteering can be praised, the choice not to volunteer shouldn’t be scorned, and people who choose not to volunteer shouldn’t find themselves being quietly managed out while the eager beavers are the only ones rising in the ranks. So if you don’t want to volunteer, don’t, and if that compromises your position at that company, start looking for a new job.

    Also, companies need to understand that while volunteering is a great reward in itself, if they’re finding it difficult to recruit volunteers, they need a better way to entice people than just “you know guys, we’d reeaaally appreciate it” or “it’ll be considered in your evaluation!” You need a more tangible, short-term reward, like extra PTO (if possible) or free food, maybe you raffle off prizes to people who volunteer, I dunno, but you need to offer something that’ll make people go “oh yeah, I definitely want that!” rather than make it seem like people will be punished for not volunteering.

    1. Krystal*

      I really doubt that volunteering in this scenario actually helps out career-wise, especially when you consider the fact that the boss himself doesn’t see it as a priority, or he would be there, too.

      In my experience, the people who volunteer are just expected to keep volunteering for everything. It doesn’t help them, because it gives credence to the idea that they aren’t serious about their careers. “Boss, I can’t go feed the homeless all day on Saturday, I’m working on this report for you!”

      1. OP*

        Re: “In my experience, the people who volunteer are just expected to keep volunteering for everything.”

        This is exactly what it has become. The same few are giving up an enormous amount of time. Sadly, it tends to be the newer members who truly believe that it will have an impact on advancement. I, and others, have been exactly where they are, only to learn the lesson they can’t admit is true: Additional effort is not rewarded in terms of opportunity, nor pay.

        Once they’ve completely burned out, there will be a new eager beaver there to replace them.

      2. Brett*

        I would agree. For the last two years I have been volunteering with a national organization in roles directly related to my organization (even officially representing my organization) and my specific job title. My work landed us $400k in grants (with possibly another $10M grant on the way), gave us a national profile, and got me recognized a few times in national publications. Over the two years, I put in somewhere around 500 hours of my time.
        I was the only non-management person in my industry invited to a national leadership academy because of my role in this volunteer org. That really has been my only career benefit.

        Otherwise, while my org “supports” my work, they reneged on matching on one of the grants, buried policy recommendations that came out of mo work, none of this is even allowed to show up in my evaluations, and while I am now expected to do extra volunteer work with other orgs too, it will not show up in job titles or compensation. I have even been warned not to put any of my volunteer work into my job description.

        Fortunately, I really like the volunteer work I am doing and strongly support it, but translating it into career benefits, even with volunteer work directly related to my line of work and industry, just really does not happen.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I’m amazed. What will happen if you put your volunteer work on your resume? Will the resume blow up or something?

  11. INTP*

    If the last-minute-ness is a major impediment to participating, you could try going to the boss and saying “Hey, could you give me a heads up ASAP when you hear about another one of these opportunities? I really, really want to volunteer every so often but I haven’t been able to take advantage of these opportunities because my weekends/evenings tend to book up a few weeks in advance during the busy season. If I could get three weeks notice, I could almost certainly arrange my schedule to participate.”

    In any case, you get credit for being a person who wants to help out, which if he is really looking for a warm and fuzzy happy-volunteering-team feeling out of this, will help your case. Best case scenario, he never plans far enough in advance to give you that three weeks notice. Worst case, you have to go every so often, but at least it’s with notice.

    1. Dawn*

      Ooo I like it, I like it! Especially if you can’t continue to duck all this volunteer stuff without it having repercussions for your job.

    2. Gandalf the Nude*

      I really like this. It reminds me of Alison’s suggested wording to the LW that was being penalized for not participating in athletic events. (“Jane, I would really like to participate in team-building activities (this is you being a good team player), but I have health restrictions that mean I can’t take part in things like running and rock climbing (this is you presenting Highly Sound Reasoning). I’d like to be able to fully participate (look, it’s you emphasizing you’re a team player again), so would it be possible to plan activities that aren’t based on sports?”)

      It should be our formula for situations like this. “Boss, I really want to (X), but (Reasons) make it difficult for me to participate. But (X) sounds great, so could we (Solution)?”

    3. Mike C.*

      I’d be worried that you’d be handed the calender for the rest of the year, and then you’d have to show up for everything.

    4. AW*

      I was going to make a similar comment but more angry because it’s an extra layer of disrespect on top of everything else that they can’t even be bothered to give these people enough time to change their plans.

  12. Mockingjay*

    I’d go with Option #1.

    If pressed, can you excuse yourself with another charitable concern? “Boss, I’d love to help, but I am volunteering with my neighborhood association that same weekend.” (Even if volunteering means that you are doing the beer run for the neighborhood barbecue.)

  13. sam*

    My company just finished up our annual “giving campaign” month (and we have a “day of service” in the spring), but EVERYONE is encouraged to participate, the company matches donations, and “participation” from a fundraising perspective can include donating $1. We also have events throughout the month that have small “entry fees” that count as donations ($5), but in return you get lots of free food and drinks, so it’s a way of getting donation participation/involvement in a really easy way without forcing people to make a significant/budget-busting investment (the amount and kind of food at these events can generally replace dinner). Plus, you can donate to any charity you want (as long as its a registered 501(c)(3)), so if you gave money to your kid’s school, or some other place that is personally important to you, it counts. (I think you only get company matching funds for donations of $25 or more, but that’s because of the administrative hassle of trying to track smaller donations).

    Then, on our day of service, the goal is to get MAX participation, and the entire C-suite is out front volunteering. We have other events throughout the year, but other than some emails notifying people of opportunities, there’s no pressure.

    it’s so much nicer than the other place I worked where everyone HAD to give to the United Way for it to count, and there was always a push to get 100% participation. I like the UW, but I have other orgs that I like to support more. Again, participation could be $1, so it wasn’t horrible, but I really like what we do now.

    They really go out of their way to have some events during work hours for people who can’t stay late, try to make them actually fun and festive, and the only “pressure” is some peer pressure to come be social and have a good time.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      We do that but not with a day of service–though they do post activities people can do after hours. I’ve donated to several things in return for biscuits and gravy, ice cream, ice cream plus adorable dog snuggles from the dog fostering program, and pancakes/sausage. We have donation bins for toys, travel-sized toiletries (for shelters), shoes, etc. all the time. Those are on company time, and nothing is mandatory. I’ve also donated to relief efforts after disasters through my company. Some people love to do the outside activities, but for people like me who don’t, I think this is the best way to do it. :)

      Re the dogs–one of the employees fell in love with a lovely little tiny dog at the ice cream/pup event and he ended up getting a new forever home! :D

      1. sam*

        This past year’s day of service I signed up immediately, because I totally wanted in on the animal shelter volunteering. We basically made cat and dog toys for two hours and then played with puppies and kittens for the rest of the time. Best volunteering ever.

  14. ParteeTyme Brand Yohimbine-Rohypnol Injection*

    For me, the real “argh!” aspect of this is that the boss and PR person are somehow ‘exempt’ from volunteering themselves. Is this an ‘official’ exemption? If so: what on earth is it?

    Leadership is something that is taken into account during evaluations. I think volunteering for the annual shoelace knitting competition shows leadership.

    Your boss – who is not going to volunteer – really wrote something like that? That’s just disgusting.

    1. ElCee*

      Right? I know the wording was just an example, but it would make me want to respond, “Dear Boss, You’re right, volunteering does show leadership! Since you’re such a natural leader, I know you will win the shoelace knitting competition hands-down.”

  15. Jerzy*

    I worked in a legislative office where I was basically volun-told to attend political events. I attended one or two, but put my foot down on campaigning. I was not of the same party affiliation (I’m actually of no party affiliation, but my political beliefs differed greatly from the party of the people I worked for) which they knew when they hired me. Because of the government vs. political nature of the job, I knew I was protected from being made to attend these events.

    I did, however, as the office communications director/event planner, attend ALL nonpolitical, community-based events that I planned, as did at least one of my bosses, and sometimes all three of the legislators I worked for. We always appreciated when other staff made the time to be there, but we never made it mandatory.

    OP, your boss and this PR person sound like schmucks.

    1. OP*

      Re: “…schmucks”

      I am in a position that allows me to be a bit of a schmuck in return, but those who don’t enjoy such leeway (or are much more politically intelligent about things) really suffer the most.

      I think what had me the most upset is a toss-up between being so passive-aggressive and the hypocrisy of not attending themselves.

      1. Jerzy*

        I’d feel the same way if, in my former position mentioned in my above comment, my bosses wouldn’t show but made it mandatory for staff. If they can’t make it to everything, that’s reasonable, but if the basic attitude here is that they’re too important, that’s demoralizing to the employees.

        This is especially poor for for the PR person, whose job it is to make sure the company is well-represented. Why bother having employees go to these events if there isn’t someone taking and tweeting pictures of employees wearing matching company t-shirts as they hand out bottled water to homeless teapots, or something?

    2. Mike C.*

      I was about to get really angry here, but why are you working in a legislative office and you don’t follow the elected folks? Do you work in a non-partisan position within the office?

      This sort of workplace is like one of the few exceptions I could think of where it’s otherwise never reasonable to have employees deal with the political issues that management/owners care about.

  16. Apollo Warbucks*

    This has got me curious, I understand that employment in America is at will, but I assumed that there would be an agreement in place that at a minimum covered salary and hours of work.

    Are employers really able to tell someone that their job requiers working weekends, or mandate overtime?

    But I’d ignore the emails and treat the request as a genuine request for volunteers.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. If the person is non-exempt, they must be paid for the time, but an employer can indeed tell an employee that they need to work new/additional days/hours.

      1. jhhj*

        To any level? Can you tell someone they now need to work 60 hours a week every week for the same salary if they’re exempt and that’s just fine and legal?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes. The person could push back, of course, and try to renegotiate. But if the employer won’t budge, then the terms of the job have changed and you need to decide if you still want the job under these terms.

            1. Mike C.*

              The food safety lab loved pulling this crap on our H1-B visa workers. They had the choice of working 6-7 days/week with insane hours each day, or being deported. Many times it was some country you find on NGO watch lists.

          1. Charlotte Collins*

            Out of curiosity, does this also apply if the amount per hours works out to below minimum wage?

              1. Amy*

                Nope, FLSA covers exempt employees, too. It’s just that the rules are different. For example, FLSA is what mandates the weekly minimum and annual salary for an exempt employee. The “exempt” designation refers to being exempt from overtime rules, not exempt from the federal statute entirely.

                Also, the exemption from the hourly minimum wage may not be true in every state, since most states have minimum wage laws independent of FLSA. Consult your own state’s laws if you’re not sure.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Ah, you’re right — my language was too glib there. I should have simply said that exempt employees aren’t covered by the minimum wage; they’re covered by the salary basis test used for exemption.

            1. sam*

              part of being “exempt” is that your salary is theoretically high enough that you wouldn’t fall below minimum wage, regardless of how many hours you worked. there’s a salary test that is basically a certain number times minimum wage (which the DOL is proposing to double in the near future).

              There are certain professions that are actually entirely exempt – lawyers are actually completely exempt from both minimum wage AND salary rules. This has allowed some of the worse legal temporary staffing firms to take significant advantage of lawyers desperate for jobs (for a fun lawsuit over whether these “document monkeys” (not my term!) are doing actual legal work: ). I always assume the exemption was put in place for reasons relating lawyers who had alternative fee arrangements with clients, who could technically be considered employers depending on how the relationship was structured (contingent fee arrangements, ability to do work pro bono, etc.), and now a whole bunch of lawyers who are actually employees are getting screwed by the exception.

              1. nonegiven*

                My son is a software dev for a large hosting company. My niece is assurance staff at one of the big 4 accounting firms. They are both exempt.

        2. Adam V*

          Legal? Yes. Unless the additional hours would drop your pay below the minimum wage for your area, then yes, they can tell you “this is now the job”. You’re free to say “sorry, I’m unable to do that”, and if they fire you as a result, it’s (generally) considered “constructive dismissal” and is (generally) a valid reason to apply for unemployment.

          Smart? Probably not. They’d probably have to disclose it to any candidate who applied to replace you – unless they just want to spring it on everybody on day 1 (“hey, I know in the interviews, we said we’re champions of work-life balance, but your schedule will include 20 hours every weekend”).

          1. MashaKasha*

            I’ve had people ask me during interviews, “are you okay with an occasional 45-hour work week?” No I’m not okay, because, if it was really an occasional 45, it’d be so not out of the ordinary that you wouldn’t bother mentioning it to me. The fact that you brought it up, tells me that it’s more like a regular 60 in reality. So I’d nod, smile, and make a mental note to myself to keep looking. Not gonna lie, I’m paranoid.

            1. Ad Astra*

              I’ve learned the same thing about “occasional evenings and weekends”: if it was truly occasional, it wouldn’t come up.

        3. MashaKasha*

          I’ve seen it done at several places (“effective today, mandatory work week is 60 hours”), don’t know how legal it is.

          Or, more often, you’ll just get assigned 60 hrs/week worth of work and told: “this needs to be done by this date” and, if it takes you longer than 40 hours, well that’s on you. Officially, no one has told you to work extra. Just like no one told OP he *has* to volunteer. If he wants to, well that’s on him. *wink, wink*

          Aaand, I’ve done 24×7 oncall support while officially working 40-hour weeks. In this case, it’s pretty much understood that your week can be anything from 40 hours to infinity, depending on the call volume. Our management sometimes gave us comp time after an unusually heavy week; but that’s not required, and they did it strictly out of the goodness of their heart. (and to reduce turnover.)

    2. OP*

      I honestly don’t know what the upper, legal, limit is. I’d imagine that consistent 80 hour work weeks wouldn’t be allowed, but I don’t know. (I probably should fix that ignorance.)

      That said, I have never felt abused by my status, even with these recent requests. Though, I know that my non-volunteering means others must fill in, and that feels like an indirect punishment, in that my coworkers suffer due to my own stubbornness.

      A part of me can’t help but feel childish in wanting direct and clear communication of requirements?

      1. Apollo Warbucks*

        Most of the EU caps their working week at 48 hours (averaged over 12 weeks)

        At will empoyment seems to work well, and I’m sure most employers will treat their staff well. Like providing PTO when there’s no legal requiment to.

        I get what you mean about clear requirements, but on the other hand it gives you an out, ask for clarity and you might well end up with an answer you don’t like.

        1. Mike C.*

          It depends on the industry. There’s a lot of crazy stuff that happens in the retail/fast food world, as well as farm work.

        2. Autumn Mists*

          Don’t forget the Working Time Directive Opt Out though which many employers are keen for their staff to sign.

    3. fposte*

      There’s no federal law that requires such an agreement or any limitations on work hours. There are some jobs where there are limitations (like truckers, where there are safety implications), and there are some state laws with things like one day in seven requirements for downtime. But for many to most employees, the job could legally expect you to work 24/7.

        1. Charlotte Collins*

          Oh, also, there are different rules if the worker is under 18, but they are generally determined by the state. (For example, employers clearly cannot require middle and high school students to show up while they are supposed to be in school, as that would be encouraging truancy. And I worked in a state where there were different rules for when school was in session as opposed to during the summer.)

          As a young-looking 19YO, I occasionally had people threaten to call my boss because I was working after 10:00 pm on a school night!

        2. Evie*

          Although my understanding is that there is a caveat to that that the 24/7 thing is right so long as it doesn’t mean that the hourly rate would go under the minimum wage rate, then there would be issues, at least in terms of pay. But not being from the US I’m not clear on all the specifics.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, a friend worked 36 hours straight. Entering hour 24 he lost his confidence in his driving skills and had his partner drive him around. Another friend, same company worked 23 hour straight, when home to sleep for an hour and got reprimanded for it.

        I guess I don’t have any “gumption” because I see this as hugely wrong.

    4. Brett*

      Part of my job is disaster response. Federal law even throws out any relevant state laws if disaster response is involved.
      My two worst stretches were six 20-hr days in one week and fifteen straight 12 hour days (some were only 10 or 11, and a few were 14 or 15, but scheduled 12). Totally legal.

    1. Ad Astra*

      WHAT?! Holy moly that is brazen. Also, kind of amusing that they have a facility in a town called GAP.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I didn’t see anything that stated this was unpaid. I really, really hope this is meant to be looking for volunteers in the sense that you can decide to do it or not. (Like jobs I’ve had with voluntary OT. We sure as heck got paid for it!)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I would assume it’s unpaid. If they’re exempt, it would be unusual to pay them extra for this (although comp time wouldn’t be unusual).

          1. Mike C.*

            This sounds like it would be a huge no-no if current changes to exempt/non-exempt status come into play.

            The issue here is that you have employees who are classified as “managers” or otherwise exempt, but spend a significant time performing non-exempt work. Say, imagine a manager at a fast food place that is given minimal supervisory duties (maybe they make the schedule for a few hours/week) but for the rest clean up, make/serve food and so on. Only, because they’re exempt, they can be worked 60-70 hours/week with no overtime, because they’re “the manager”.

            This sounds very similar, and is really gross. I would be shocked if they receive comp time.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yes, but a couple of weekend days per year at events isn’t going to lose someone their exemption if they otherwise qualify. I suspect every legitimately exempt person does a handful of activities that would make them non-exempt if they were a more significant portion of the job.

    2. esra*

      I hate this kind of thing. Same with unpaid internships at large corporations. You are a giant corporation, not a charity. Heck, I worked for a charity and I still didn’t volunteer. My time = money, employer.

  17. O hushed October morning mild*

    We have an annual event that happens on a weekend and that needs a number of staff for it to work. For years, it was staffed by people who chose to volunteer and we got paid a small stipend for it. This year, they changed the format of the event so instead of needing 10% of the staff, they needed more like 50% of us. The stipends are also gone.

    I’m okay with most of this. What gets to me, though, is the way it was rolled out to us. We were told it wasn’t mandatory, but that at least one person from each department had to attend (so, also not un-mandatory). And instead of being straightforward about the stipends and saying, “It would increase our budget too much to give stipends now that the event needs more staff” (maybe following up with, “but we’ll provide lunch at the end of the event” or something), they sent out an email telling us that they weren’t giving stipends because they thought we’d find the event very rewarding as it would help us see how valuable we are to the organization.

    Come on. You don’t have to give me money, but don’t pretend that you’re doing me some kind of favor by not giving me money.

    1. Monodon monoceros*

      At the last non-profit I worked at, they planned a big fundraiser in the evening in the nearest city, 2.5 hrs away. They pretty much required everyone to volunteer, but offered no transportation, hotel, food, or anything. And they wanted everyone to wear a specific colour shirt and pants, which was not a normal colour most people owned. So “volunteering” basically cost everyone over a hundred dollars and the whole weekend because you had to stay overnight (the event didn’t end until 1am). I did not volunteer, but that was definitely held against me. I was not a “team player” or “supporting the organisation” because I didn’t want to be screwed over.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      50% of the employee, at least one from each department. That is some mighty strange math. The company must have a lot of departments that are just two people. I wonder if companies know how weird they sound.

      1. O hushed October morning mild*

        “Department” and “team” are kind of interchangeable terms at this organization, and teams are between 2 and 5 people. This actually makes sense for the kind of organization it is, but I don’t want to go into more detail because I don’t want to be recognized. Also, some teams had multiple people come – two of the members of my three-person team were there.

  18. Jill*

    OP your boss is a jerk. My gosh, if you really want genuine volunteerism, you’ve got to give people some kind of incentive.

    Volunteerism is high in my workplace because the higher-ups 1) are there pitching in themselves and 2) give a show of appreciation, even if it’s a token thing. It’s amazing how many people will give of their time in exchange for a free T-shirt or notepad. And it’s amazing how much money employees will donate if you let them wear jeans on a Friday for it. And I’m in the public sector where we have to be fiscally responsible about how much spend on employee incentives. Imagine what the private sector could do to entice volunteers?

    It’s not hard, managers!

  19. Rin*

    How about next time saying, “Hey, can I catch a ride with you, Boss? It’s the only way I can get there.”

    1. OP*

      Almost worth the time to have him drive to the complete opposite side of the county, if he agreed.

  20. Not So Sunny*

    The whole point of volunteering is to do it of your own free will because you care. Not to be forced into it to make someone else look good.

  21. Spice for this*

    Just sharing – Years ago when I worked for a non-profit, I volunteered (it was optional) for their annual Food Gala and got to attend and didn’t have to pay the $100 fee. My husband was not an employee and he volunteered also and was able to attend for free. I don’t recall my manager attending this event!

  22. Workfromhome*

    In an ideal world I wouldn’t go but then go to boss (who never shows up) after the event and say “I wanted to thank you for the opportunity to volunteer at the XYZ event it was so fulfilling..I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it until the last minute. I looked for you at the event but couldn’t find you so I figured I’d thank you now”.

    What are they going to say…I know you were not there? How do you know ..YOU weren’t there ;-)

    Realistically though I’d just go with option 1. Treat a request for volunteers as exactly what it says a request not an order. If they want to give themselves an out for not making it an order you can call them on it if it becomes an issue. After all you have an email that asks for volunteers and that means optional.

    As for the implication that volunteering impacts raises and promotions I don’t buy it. If its not important enough for the boss to ever show up and he is a “leader” in the company what does that tell you?

    A few of us were once chastised for not filling in enough detail on events in the xyz customer data system. When asked why we didn’t fill this in to give management visibility and data on our activities so we could get promoted couple of people pulled out the management reports on two people recently promoted. Both those people had entered little to NO data in the 6 months before they were promoted (supposedly because they were so busy with all the extra workload they were shouldering to deserve a promotion. Mind you we all knew none of us had a hope in hell of a promotion because our company never promotes remote employees (if you don’t work in HQ it won’t happen). The response was “well we looked at what Bob and Joe who got promoted were doing..the people who enter no data got promoted and the people who enter data don’t. It only makes sense to follow the lead of the people who get promoted.

    Same thing here if Boss doesn’t volunteer but gets the preferred parking spot and big $ ..Joe and Jane that volunteer waste the weekends, make minimum wage and park a mile from work who should you emulate?

    Point is that if they truly bases raises and promotions on who shows up at a volunteer events (which I truly doubt) then do you really want to work for that company? If competent people are passed over for less competent that hap[pen to volunteer you are in for a cycle of less competent managers as long as you stay.

  23. Heather*

    I feel your pain OP! I went through the same thing last year when I worked at a non-profit. The staff was underpaid and overworked, and yet we were constantly pushed to give more. That meant 10-20 extra hours a week in unpaid overtime, required weekend and evening events, and requests to give a portion of our pay back to the organization. Like AMA suggested, I treated volunteering like an option, but I got reprimanded. My boss even told me that it was unacceptable that I refused to come in on weekends (even though she didn’t either). Then there was the all-staff meeting where people started crying about how much the organization meant to them, and why it was crucial we reached a 100% employee contribution rate. It was so odd and emotional. It felt like church without the worship of a deity part.

    1. OP*


      A few years back, when things were tough, we were asked to “donate” to our own company in the form of an effective monthly pay cut. You know… to show “support.”

      Other problems with that aside, I’ve continued to give my 40+ hour work week to the company, rather than move on. If that doesn’t convince you I “support” the company, then I don’t know that $50 a month is going to change your view.

      1. Winter is Coming*

        We are on a pay cut now…it stinks. I have to point out though, that when times are good, we get great raises and bonuses. I think our business just really fluctuates a lot. Wish we could figure out a way to keep it more steady though, for personal budgeting purposes!

      2. Not So NewReader*

        “I work like I am three people. That is my donation. It’s up to the company to figure out how to maximize that donation.”

      1. Heather*

        I made sure I met my required volunteer quota and started saying “no.” That didn’t go over too well. During my performance review my boss said that while it’s great that I have boundaries, I needed to stretch them by working 60-70 hour weeks (uncompensated, of course). I then asked her if I was being judged by the quality of my work, or how many of my weekends I give up? She didn’t have much to say after that. Two months later, I was “reorganized” out.

  24. Not Today Satan*

    I’ve been dealing with this at my job. My boss frequently asks for “volunteers” for events that are far away and at inconvenient times, offering nothing in return. I recently volunteered for one, against my better judgment, and in return she asked if I could give a ride to someone half an hour out of my way (which I declined).

  25. voyager1*

    What really bothers me is the implied quid pro quo here, VOLUNTEER! And we will look at that on your evaluation! In other words volunteer or no raise.

    I had a former VP tell a coworker volunteering shows you are promotable while all the years before making clear the woman was not promotable when it came up in staff meetings.

    So something like what the OP has in her letter would rub me very much in the wrong way.

    Only exception is if events were part of the job and were disclosed when hired.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Then it’s not precisely volunteering, though.

      Honestly, “Volunteering will look good if you are seeking a promotion into positions X, Y, or Z, because coordinating / being at these events is part of the job description for those roles” I could see flying. Otherwise? Not really.

      1. Charlotte Collins*

        I agree. I volunteer my time in other ways in my free time, but that does not necessarily translate to showing work skills in my industry that make me promotable.

        The irony is that if the company is trying to make themselves look all caring with their employees volunteering but the way they treat said employees is the opposite.

  26. Charlotte Collins*

    OP – I do have a question, and I apologize if it’s answered in your letter, which I read pretty fast. Are these voluntary events like charity/community work, or are they PR events like booths at trade shows? Or are they both? I’d say that the second definitely needs to be a PR/Marketing job. The first I can see asking for other employees to participate, but they really have to let you know in advance and do something to make it appealing.

    Either way, the PR person should be involved, as they do both seem to have to do with, you know, relating to the public…

    1. OP*

      Both, but mostly PR events with the charity stuff a recent thing (of course that’s also PR, in the way they can say “Look how charitable is.”)

  27. Kat A.*

    Warning: Volunteering even once could make them press you again even harder. I find it’s like when you donate money. You get put on the sucker list, and it never ends.

  28. Dylan*

    Agree with all of AAM’s points here. Also, I nominate “voluntold” as the word of the week. Made me laugh out loud.

  29. Not So NewReader*

    I would try ignoring the emails, OP. From what I have seen these pushes do not last long. It is too hard to nag everyone all the time. And the wall of resistance just requires too much effort. It’s a gamble, but maybe you can ignore the emails and it will go away. One thing you can do is quietly survey the group, do you think most people are not volunteering? If yes, that raises your chances of successfully using the ignore option. I will warn you, the people who ignore and are loud about ignoring the emails will not make out too well.

    I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the idea that this company is likable.

  30. Minister of Snark*

    Ugh, I’m sorry, because this sucks. I’ve been there. With my first job, the “community outreach” coordinator was a dotty, matronly woman who picked me out as an easy target because I was a young woman and didn’t want to disappoint her. She came to me for EVERY fund-raiser, volunteer gig, etc., and I rarely said no. and then I realized she wasn’t even bothering to ask anyone else in my department, she just came to me. I started saying no and she was outraged – – I was her “go-to” person! How could I not do this when she needed me to represent the company?!

    I stopped trying to be nice about it. I did volunteer occasionally, but if I had plans, I stayed committed to them. If it was a cause I wasn’t interested in, I said no. If it was something I was only asked to do because no one else would do it, I would say no.

    The thing about passive aggressive people is that they don’t want to tell you to your face that YES you are being required to do something. I would continue to ignore.

  31. That Lib Tech*

    voluntolding … such a slippery slope. at my last job i was doing three events each year: two were around 10 hours for a day, and one was a three-day weekend event where (had i not had an in to renegotiate my hours) i would’ve had to have worked 12-14 hour days each day.

    so, im pretty glad to be gone (amongst other reasons). its nice to work somewhere where your benefits arent being held over your head (basically being told this is your way to give back for getting benefits … nevermind that we do our jobs, or pay into these benefits …)

  32. Miss M*

    My old company was like that. They were the media sponsor for a fundraiser for a local performing arts center located in the town where the publisher lived. It was highly recommended that you volunteered. I did it once, and it was alright. But as wage freezes, budget cuts and double roles took effect, I deleted every volunteer email request and purposely made sure I was out of the office during that period.

  33. Jess*

    To that I say nope! I had an event planner job for a while at a high-level place (you’ve beard of it, I promise) and then I got a new boss who said she wasn’t going to pay me for my hours working events because “They’re fun! They’re for fun! You have to go and you have to work but you won’t be paid because you’ll be having so much fun! All the guests are there for fun! Why are you any different?”

    Because I was mingling with either a martini glass full of water or a whisky glass full of iced tea putting out fires and introducing crucial people to other crucial people and making sure everything happened flawlessly, and I was paid by the hour, union, that’s why. It was not a volunteered job, it was my paid job. And when I told her I’d be happy to just go home because I didn’t work for free, she was honestly confused. She didn’t understand that I didn’t consider our donors my personal friends, and it made no sense to her that I had an actual boyfriend and real friends I’d want to see in the evenings. “But they donate to our organization! You MUST like them, right? So of course you’d just go to a party with them for free.”


    1. Jess*

      (And then supervise the florists and the caterers and make sure the VIP’s plate has no mushrooms and we won’t pay you because it’s a party! So fun! Why are you such a selfish downer?)

  34. Erin*

    I vote for option one – ignore the emails. If minimal effort is rewarded the same as giving up your weekends, and it’s not mandatory, there’s literally no incentive to participate. I’d just sit back and watch your boss and PR person continue to embarrass themselves.

    1. AW*

      It really is weird that they want to threaten them by saying it effects how they view their job performance when they don’t actually care about job performance.

      1. OP*

        I think the primary targets are those newly hired.

        Proven dead weight, and celebrated star performers (if in comparable positions) earn the exact same amount. In one case, a dead weight makes quite a bit MORE than a similarly leveled employee that has received nationally recognized awards (sometimes I wonder if that dead-weight-person has blackmail, because their supervisor has attempted, and failed, to fire them more than once.)

        But now I’m just gossiping. =/

  35. Marya*

    At one past job at a nonprofit, we were strongly encouraged to come help with the annual big fundraiser; that it was expected that we would all chip in our time in one way or another, that we attend, that there was a major manpower shortage, etc. So I offered to help, with my manager’s blessing. I worked very hard that day to clear my desk and be ready to start setting up at 3. Turns out I had to either use vacation time or work overtime the next day to make up those last 2 hours of the day; no compensation for those or any of the 5 hours following (although those on salary took the next day off to recuperate!). I’ve questioned the legality of that ever since–or at least the ethics of it.

  36. DeeDee*

    I could have written this letter. In our instance we are hourly and to circumvent the situation my supervisor adjusted our work day. Giving up a Friday evening in summer is one thing if your getting paid but it’s a whole different scenario when you have to go into the office first thing in the morning to work and then be mandated off in the afternoon and then report to the volunteer function in the evening. Not a big deal, but really? I’m a generous person in my personal life but this to me seems a little sideways.

  37. Senior*

    I know this is an older post, but recently had very similar experience. I am an hourly day time office employee, older, with many years. And for the record I did jump in with gusto and donate a late Weekend evening first time around. My normal daytime hours were involuntarily adjusted. It was a lot of work. None of the bosses came. Fast forward 6 months later and repeat request. This time I stood my ground and very politely bowed out. I’m not quite sure yet how my refusal is perceived, but I did get ‘excused’ and while tense for a moment, not losing sleep over it.

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