how can I get my staff to sign up to work after-hours events?

A reader writes:

I’m a department manager for a small public entity that specializes in education and recreation. We have a small staff (less than 20, and most are part-time). My department coordinates our outreach efforts. This often involves having a presence at local community events that typically fall on weekends or evenings. Weekend/evening hours are not uncommon in my line of work, although some of these events may fall outside our normal operating hours. Any time worked at one of these events is paid time for hourly staff, and salaried staff get to take another day off in exchange. Hourly staff also have the option of keeping the extra hours or taking an equivalent amount of unpaid time off during the week if they prefer it. These events are scheduled well in advance, and I always post requests for coverage as soon as I know that we will need additional staff.

There are only a handful of people (myself included) who regularly sign up to work these events. Recently, we have run into a perfect storm of changes with our staffing levels and more limited availability from staff who usually help out. I am a manager, so finding coverage for these events usually falls to me, and I am always willing to step in to cover if no one offers to do so. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find coverage. Recently, we had a shortage on a day that I was scheduled to leave for a vacation that had been planned for months. I found myself saying, “I need someone to help out with this or I’m going to have to delay and shorten my vacation” and had colleagues tell me that they’d love to be able to help out, but they couldn’t cancel their lunch plans. This would have been the second time in the past year that I’d have had to change travel plans to accommodate a last-minute work situation. Luckily, my boss was very supportive and we were able to work something out at the last minute.

Let me first clarify: I am not a monster. I understand that people have commitments and personal lives outside of work, and I fully support their right to pursue those commitments. I understand that filling in for last-minute coverage is one of the less glamorous parts of management. I also do not want to get into the business of scrutinizing what people do in their time off, nor do I want to start putting values on whose time is more important. However, this arrangement results in a lot of Monday through Saturday weeks and 10-12 hours days for me (I am salaried exempt) and it’s starting to take a toll on my enthusiasm and energy for a job that I genuinely enjoy.

My problem is that I am not sure how to go about addressing this. I am hesitant to turn this into a formal requirement (x number of events per year, for example). We are representing the organization at these events—the last thing that I want is to have an employee who is resentful about being required to be there. I am reevaluating our commitments to some of these events to better reflect staff resources—the current calendar was set several months in advance and we had the bad luck of having some major unanticipated changes between our original commitment and the event itself. However, outreach was identified by our upper management as a priority and it’s been included in our strategic planning documents. There’s definitely an organizational push to do more–I am forever hearing iterations of “I heard that there’s going to be a Teapot Fest, are we planning on having a booth?” or “I was at Kettle Center and saw that they offer instruction in tea brewing. I spoke with the director there and they are interested in partnering with us in the fall.”

I would appreciate any insight you may have. Am I being too demanding? How do I balance the responsibilities of being a manager without completely forfeiting the right my own personal time and commitments?

It’s very kind of you to take all the events that no one else will volunteer for, but it’s not actually something you’re obligated to do just because you’re the manager.

The problem is that you’re treating this as purely voluntary for everyone else but mandatory for you, to the point of canceling your own travel at the last minute, which isn’t reasonable or fair.

To be clear, I don’t blame your staff at all. You’ve told them that it’s voluntary, and they believe you. But it doesn’t sound like it should be voluntary, and that’s where the issue lies.

If these events are a priority for your department, then they should be treated like any other work priority — meaning that it’s reasonable to assign people to work at them. You can certainly continue asking for volunteers first, but it sounds like you need a rotating schedule or, yes, a “sign up for X events per quarter” policy, or a willingness to assign coverage.

You should of course make it clear up-front when you hire people that occasional weekend and evening work is part of the deal so that people can opt out if they’re not up for a job that requires that. And you should do everything possible to avoid pulling people in at the last-minute, since that’s more of an inconvenience for people (although at times it may be unavoidable, like if the person who was supposed to work the event gets sick). But if your department’s work includes after-hours events, there’s no reason that the majority of that burden should fall to you.

Just be direct with people — “this is a priority for the department, relying solely on volunteers hasn’t been working, and I want to ensure it’s divided fairly rather than only falling on the people who get guilted into it, and so we’re going to handle it in X way” — and believe that it’s reasonable to do this, because it is.

It’s also probably worth taking a critical look at all these events and making sure that they’re really producing the pay-off you want from them. You might find that they’re not, or that 90% of the value comes from 20% of the events and you could just focus on those, or that you need to be more strategic about selecting a more limited number to participate in. Or who knows, maybe they’re all hugely valuable. But this is a good time to revisit that.

{ 313 comments… read them below }

  1. Roscoe

    I somewhat agree here. But I’ll be honest, I’d be very upset if all of a sudden I was required to work nights and weekend for a job when that wasn’t made clear when I took it. So maybe OP needs to push back a bit and say that as a department, you think you need to scale back some of these for now. If you are going to make this a new job requirement, I’d also be wary of making this a change effective immediately. Thats not really fair to your employees. Maybe tell them that starting in 2017 (or whatever is reasonable) they will be required to work a certain amount of off hours events.

    Also, if you are going to do this, you need to put the schedule out VERY far in advance, maybe even post all of them for a year or season out at the beginning. When I had a job that I had to do overnight shifts, at the beginning of the year, we got the schedule, and everyone got to pick what they wanted, and therefore schedule it far out. I know you say that you put it out as soon as you know, but maybe see if you can find out even earlier. Just because a festival doesn’t ask you for coverage until a certain time, doesn’t mean they don’t at least have a tentative date earlier.

    1. AFT123

      “But I’ll be honest, I’d be very upset if all of a sudden I was required to work nights and weekend for a job when that wasn’t made clear when I took it.”

      Me too. Depending on the frequency this is required, this may be enough to have me looking for other positions. While my reaction may be on the extreme end of the spectrum, OP, be prepared to have some tough conversations with people who may find this new requirement a deal breaker.

      1. Anna

        Right, but as a manager if I have given people the option of volunteering and nobody is volunteering, my job is to start assigning people to do the work. That’s how management works. If some employees feel like they need to move on, that’s cool. But I’ll also know that every new hire knows it’s not really optional to work a few of these events. (And that’s really the sticking point. The OP made it sound voluntary, but it’s really a requirement of the work they do.)

        1. Gaara

          Yeah. I mean, if the employees don’t like it, tough? For sure, give them some notice. But if this really is a key business activity, then it needs to be treated like one. Even if that means changing the terms of their employment, well, as it turns out, the business’s needs changed.

        2. BRR

          As to the option of volunteering some people might think of it as “suddenly having their jobs change” when it’s really “I never had to volunteer for evening/weekend hours because they were covered and now I do.” I can’t tell from the letter which it is. Switching a schedule is bad. Getting out of a job duty that you knew about sucks but you’ve been lucky.

          1. pomme de terre

            To me it sounds more like the latter, as the OP says it’s typical in their profession to work some off hours. I’m surprised so many people are predicting it will be a dealbreaker for many employees.

            1. Rusty Shackelford

              That’s what I was thinking – if it’s common in their industry, it can’t be a huge surprise. My job has changed since I started. Jobs do that. ;-) And it sounds like it’s not often enough that it’s going to be a hardship on most people.

            2. Kittymommy

              Yeah, it’s not as if they’re unaware of needing the coverage, they just chosen to not volunteer for our, so quite frankly, it’s not coming or of no where. Who do they thinks been doing it up till now??

              And maybe I’m a bitch, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a vitro of people who were fine with a co-worker altering vacation plans because of a lunch date.

              1. AFT123

                “And maybe I’m a bitch, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a vitro of people who were fine with a co-worker altering vacation plans because of a lunch date.”

                I don’t think you’re being a bitch :) I totally get that sentiment. Conversely, if it was happening all the time, the perception may be that the manager just really sucks at planning. I’d be less sympathetic if I thought the manager was just bad at managing her time and trying to get others to fix her issues. I don’t think that is the issue in this particular case, but it may be the perception? Who knows.

                1. C Average

                  I think it depends a lot on how the request was framed.

                  Was it “Hey, are you free this weekend? We have a booth at the Punxsutawney Teapot Jubilee, and Fergus was supposed to cover it. But he’s bailed on me, so now I’m looking for some coverage. Are you free?”

                  “No, I have a lunch date” would be a perfectly reasonable response.

                  Or was it, “I really hate to ask, but I’m running out of options here. We have a booth at the Punxsutawney Teapot Jubilee, and Fergus was supposed to cover it. But he’s bailed on me. Nine times out of ten, I’d cover it myself, but I’m booked on a six a.m. flight to Tahiti tomorrow. I know it’s the last minute, but you really are the last option I have. Please. If I don’t find coverage, I’m going to have to cancel my trip.”

                  “No, I have a lunch date” would suggest a seriously defective empathy chip.

                  (In the second scenario, a somewhat reasonable person might feel resentful about being guilted by their manager into giving up a perfectly good weekend on short notice. But they should at least have the presence of mind to make up a less flimsy alibi.)

              2. neverjaunty

                I don’t know about “bitch”, maybe just missing a few points:

                – this was the manager, not a co-worker
                – the activities were presented as volunteer, not mandatory or ‘voluntold’
                – it isn’t at all clear that the manager informed anybody that she’d have to cancel vacation time if nobody stepped up

                1. Sunshine

                  “I found myself saying, “I need someone to help out with this or I’m going to have to delay and shorten my vacation” and had colleagues tell me that they’d love to be able to help out, but they couldn’t cancel their lunch plans.”

                  Sounds like she was pretty upfront about it. ‘Volunteer’ activity or not, I’d be pissed that no one stepped up.

                2. neverjaunty

                  The OP was making a last-minute request on the day she had to leave on vacation. Yes, it would have been nice if somebody stepped up. But according to her letter, this is a situation created by a long-term staffing shortage (i.e., the company’s fault in not hiring enough people) and the ‘please volunteer’ is being dropped on people at the very last minute.

            3. irritable vowel

              Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if the people who never volunteer took the job because they needed it and figured they’d deal with the night/weekend events, then found out that they could pretty easily use any excuse to get out of doing it. At this point it may end up being a dealbreaker for these people, since they’ve gotten used to not having to do this thing that should have been part of their job all along, but I don’t feel too sorry for them…

              1. AFT123

                I love your username.

                I don’t think anyone is asking anyone else to feel sorry for miffed employees about this kind of policy change, just to alert the OP to prepare for a potential fallout is all. Nobody on either side needs to be felt sorry for or needs to blame the other. It’s just a business need has changed and everyone needs to react accordingly as their life allows and demands.

                1. irritable vowel

                  Thanks! And yes, I agree with you – the bit about not feeling sorry for them was more a figure of speech than something I seriously feel. In my current work environment there are a few people who always seem resentful about having to learn new skills or take on new responsibilities – I don’t feel sorry for them, either! :)

        3. themmases

          I agree. As an employee, I’d absolutely job search over a change like this. It’s also pretty clear that the OP needs to do it.

          I think everyone in this situation should be able to do what they need to do with no hard feelings.

          1. AFT123

            Yes, this was more my point. Of course the manager’s job is to manage to the business needs. I like what you wrote – “I think everyone in this situation should be able to do what they need to do with no hard feelings.” That says more eloquently what I think I was trying to say.

        4. Sketchee

          I’m with you, Anna. A lot of my coworkers do voluntary work and are resentful. They never bring it up with management. If they bring it up with me, sometimes I help of course. I concentrate on the priorities that the manager has been explicitly clear about. It’s kind of not fair since many people feel they must volunteer. Maybe because of their family culture, relationship to the boss, just different interests. It’s the manager’s job to create the fair situation. Voluntary work rarely does that unless certain people are very clearly at the same level of interest.

        5. The Bimmer Guy

          Honestly, if it was three or four Saturdays a year and I had adequate time to plan (at least a month), I really wouldn’t be bothered. In fact, I’m probably one of the people who would have been putting in an extra effort. But I know other people don’t necessarily feel that way. I wonder if the LW can get out of some of the obligations, like Alison said.

      2. INTP

        Yep. I think it’s reasonable given that it’s a genuine requirement now, but you should also expect some turnover, since nights and weekends are a dealbreaker for many people.

        1. AFT123

          I should have stressed as well – it REALLY makes a difference how much you’re asking of people. If you’re asking me for 1 weekend a month or more, especially in the summer, I’m outta there. Once a quarter? Fine.

          It would also depend on what other positions in the industry require. If I know that I can somewhat easily get a similar position outside of your organization where I won’t have as many weekend requirements but everything else is basically the same, that will make it hard to keep people. However, if there aren’t as many options for people to jump ship without getting into the same agreement elsewhere, well then I guess I wouldn’t be so quick to jump. Totally depends. That being said, just a few extra weekends of expectation could potentially make or break it for current or future employees, so be cognizant of that when determining what events are really important and how much you want to make a requirement. If you can’t meet whatever the local standard is, you’ll have to make sure you’re sweetening the pot somewhere else where you do have some leeway, and you’ll have to be really clear of the expectation up front.

          1. paul

            Yep, frequency is huge.

            Child care is an issue for me on nights and weekends; I *can’t* get someone to watch my kids multiple times a month during those times. Once every few months? sure.

      3. misplacedmidwesterner

        I’m in a similar industry and we have had turnover because of this. Even though we firmly and explicity stated the requirement in the job listing and talked about it during the interview.

        You need an explicit policy. You will do x events per quarter. And when you hire new people, explain that. Be flexible wherever else you can. Sometimes you can spin it as a benefit, if you do this event, you can take off Tuesday morning that week for your dentist appointment/chaperone your kids field trip/do yoga in the park without leave!

        Also and this might be a secondary issue. What is the nature of these events versus the rest of their work? Doing outreach at a booth at a big festival is extremely draining to introverts and even to extroverted ambiverts like me. Could that be part of why people aren’t volunteering? That doesn’t change the fact that you may need to make a requirement.

        If you’re doing some staff hiring, consider reworking one of your positions to be a tea kettle outreach specialist/educator or whatever title works for you. List and hire that as a position that will do evening/weekend outreach at big festivals. You’ll get different candidates and that will help some of your workload but probably not abdicate the rest of the department’s responsibility

        1. Izzy

          Introvert here and that’s exactly why I never volunteered for those types of events. I even declined a “voluntold” one early in my career because the manager wasn’t direct. Announced an event that Saturday, said he’d be there and then “Will you be there?” I mistook that as a question and said “No.” Anyway, while I’m a little more outgoing now, I would much rather help set up and take down so the ones manning the booth don’t have to arrive early and stay late, rather than sit there and try not to have RBF while I wait for people to stop by the table and/or think of something to say.

          YMMV but if it were me you wanted to man a table at an event, a couple ways to make it more likely I’d agree and do a good job would be to either pair me with an extrovert, or if I’m going to be on my own, go over what sorts of interactions you’d like me to have with people, maybe help me with some scripts and let me practice with you. This sort of thing seems to come naturally to some people but it sure doesn’t to others of us. It might be something to talk (and listen) to your staff about, especially if you know some of them are introverts.

      4. Artemesia

        I”m betting replacing people who feel this way will be really easy. I agree with Alison that the first step might be to look at these obligations to see which ones really pay off for the organization. But then also realize that if the organization prioritizes showing the flag at these things, that it needs to be part of the work rotation.

        It is worse to abuse people who are easily pushed around so some people can never step up, than to share it out equally.

    2. Anna

      I schedule volunteers, staff presence at events, and even more volunteers for other things. Scheduling out that far in advance is not really…workable I guess. If this were strictly voluntary, I could see that, but as Alison points out it really isn’t. This is actually part of the work they do and as such needs to be staffed that way.

      OP, in an effort to not impinge on your staff’s personal time you’ve given them the impression that late work at events is a choice. It really isn’t. I do some late night events and if I can’t be there, I can’t be there, but if I can I have to be there. It’s part of my job. I think you need to make that clear (and possibly eat some crow while you’re at it) with your staff. Part of their outreach is going to include events that happen after regular business hours.

      1. Anna

        I meant to include the reason it’s not always workable is because you’re not in charge of the scheduling or the organization of the vendors; you’re a vendor who receives the information when you receive it. That’s what often makes scheduling out difficult.

      2. Kira

        I worked in a 3-person fundraising/marketing department where one of our smaller responsibilities was outreach. I definitely understood that I was next in line to attend evening and weekend events if the main community outreach person couldn’t make it. It was part of my department, therefore part of my job.

        I’d feel differently if these aren’t people whose work is typically in community outreach. If I were the receptionist and you started asking me to do outreach I’d be very surprised.

    3. JeffSPHR

      One thing to keep in mind. Not sure of the composition of your work force, but if you have non-exempt employees (check the new standards), you might have to pay these employees for “volunteering” for these events.

      In addition, you can, as a matter of policy change the terms and conditions of employment. However, what you might find is turnover increasing as a result. Yes, give people advance notice – and where possible put a schedule together.

      I’d like to know how many of these events are there, how many people are needed to support them, and how large is your team.

        1. OhNo

          They’re even getting the choice of getting paid extra hours for the week (hourly) or switching the time worked for another day they want off (hourly and salaried). That’s a very fair deal, and I’m pretty impressed that the OP’s company/department handles it so well.

          Goodness knows places I’ve worked in the past didn’t do that, and it was always a little grating to not have the choice.

          1. m3ggus

            Not quite.
            “Any time worked at one of these events is paid time for hourly staff, and salaried staff get to take another day off in exchange. Hourly staff also have the option of keeping the extra hours or taking an equivalent amount of unpaid time off during the week if they prefer it.”

            Salaried folks get extra time off. Hourly staff can either be paid for the event or take UNPAID time off – so they can use the option to take time off, but they won’t be paid for their work. I’m not sure about that.

            1. Letter Writer

              Let me clarify that.

              Suppose Jane works a 5 hour shift Monday through Friday for a total of 25 hours per week. She signs up to work a 5 hour event on Saturday. She is paid for her work on Saturday. She has two options.

              1. She can keep the extra hours, meaning she works Monday through Saturday for a total of 30 hours.

              2. She can trade her shift on Saturday for one of her regular shifts. So she could take Monday off so that she works Tuesday through Saturday for a total of 25 hours. Her time off on Monday is unpaid, but it’s made up by the 5 hour shift she works on Saturday.

              Does that clarify it?

      1. Kira

        From the letter, it’s not voluntary in the sense that it’s unpaid. It’s voluntary in the sense that they can decide whether to take on the extra hours (like picking up another shift).

    4. Edith

      “But I’ll be honest, I’d be very upset if all of a sudden I was required to work nights and weekend for a job when that wasn’t made clear when I took it.”

      I would have a hard time being upset if I had spent however many years listening to my manager beg for volunteers to work events and had never volunteered myself, even to the point where the manager rearranged her own vacation plans because no one would man the darn booth. Yeah I might be annoyed when she finally said “alright guys, since not enough people are volunteering we’re going to require everyone to pitch in every once in a while,” but I don’t think I could work up to being upset about it.

      1. Artemesia

        And if you are very upset well then don’t let the door hit you in the butt on your way out.

      2. Roscoe

        Well again, it goes back to using the word “volunteering”. If my job has volunteer opportunities to do x,y, and z, then they shouldn’t be required of me. If they aren’t required, I really don’t care if the manager has to do it, since I’d probably say that they shouldn’t have agreed in the first place without coverage.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          I think people are getting hung up on the word “volunteer.” Nobody is asking these folks to work without pay, or to do anything that’s outside the bounds of their jobs (she mentions that this kind of work is common in her field, and various staff members have been covering these events for at least a few years, so none of this should shock anyone).

          Currently, she’s asking staff to — without her requiring it of anyone specifically — let her know if they are willing to work an unusual shift. That method isn’t getting her the coverage she needs, so she’s needs to create a new system. It’s like asking at a meeting if someone will go first in giving an update. If nobody “volunteers,” someone gets picked.

          1. Roscoe

            Sure. But you have to look at what you were told the job was. Its not clear if it was made clear that you will have to work x number of night/weekend shifts per year. So, yeah, I’m not saying she isn’t within her rights to make it mandatory. But I am saying its also fair for others to decide this isn’t what they signed up for and leave

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

              Sure, I agree — and I wasn’t really responding to you specifically. I’ve just been surprised by the confusion/frustration around the word itself.

          2. EB

            I don’t think they are hung up on the word at all, most commentators are using voluntary to mean optional. OP has to stop saying the word voluntary and make sure that if this is a crucial duty, someone has to be assigned the responsibility for it.

            I actually do the behavior OP is complaining about-don’t volunteer for non mandatory duties/events- because I work for a large non-profit as a salaried worker who is not eligible for overtime, and there’s always more to do. I have to protect my time and make sure my responsibility are completed. My feeling is that if it is crucial someone will be assigned that duty. And you know what if it is crucial someone is actually assigned that duty.

          3. neverjaunty

            It’s not getting hung up. “Anybody want to do this? No? Well you have to anyway” is not ‘volunteering’. And frankly the shift comes across as passive-aggressive. Making it clear that this is simply a job requirement in the first place? No problem. Asking people if they want to do a thing and then forcing them to do it anyway when they say no? That’s kind of a dick move.

              1. Not So NewReader

                I used to say, “Volunteer or be drafted. Everyone is going to take turns doing x, if you want to get your turn done and out of the way, you may volunteer to take a slot.” I never had a problem, but my setting was different from OP’s. I looked at it as, they have to do x, this gives them some say in the matter. Interestingly, I’d usually get someone who would say, “Put me where you don’t have coverage. And let me know when that slot is.”

                OP, you are in a bind because they don’t realize the events really are not optional. In this case, I would say, “Folks, we have a problem. We have been using the volunteer method to cover events and it has stopped working, we are no longer getting enough volunteers to cover. So we must change to a different system.” Then describe your new system.

              2. neverjaunty

                “Volunteer” and “assignment” are very different things. I’m not sure why distinguishing between them is somehow nitpicking?

                There’s a reason people half-joke about the term “voluntold” – because telling people something is a ‘volunteer’ job when it’s actually a work requirement is not straightforward, and it smacks of trying to disguise a job requirement set by the workplace as an optional activity the employee chooses.

                1. Edith

                  People consider it nitpicking because this is a workplace, and in a workplace setting it is unreasonable to take the term ‘volunteer’ as an all or nothing proposition. In fact it’s pretty standard for a manager to see if anyone wants to volunteer to do something before ultimately assigning the task to someone if nobody volunteers. The employee who ends up completing the task wasn’t ‘voluntold’ to do it just because they had previously declined the opportunity to volunteer for it.

          4. Kira

            “Currently, she’s asking staff to — without her requiring it of anyone specifically — let her know if they are willing to work an unusual shift. That method isn’t getting her the coverage she needs, so she’s needs to create a new system. It’s like asking at a meeting if someone will go first in giving an update. If nobody ‘volunteers,’ someone gets picked.”

            This is an excellent description of the heart of the issue.

      3. Marvel

        This was my thought–they know that these volunteer events are occurring, and that other coworkers are volunteering, thus allowing them to skip out. Which was fine, for a while, but now it’s not. This shouldn’t come as a surprise.

    5. Koko

      I think it depends on the volume of events. I work in LW’s industry (nonprofit membership/outreach) and it’s extremely common for employees in this work to do 2-4 short trips or evening events each year. I can’t tell from LW’s letter if the low staffing and high number of events means that people actually need to be doing like, 3 per quarter instead of 3 per year. But if it works out to four or less per person per year, I don’t even think that’s really a substantive change from any other salaried exempt position where you sometimes have to work outside of core business hours.

      1. NonProfit Nancy

        I agree that if you’re expecting staff to do any more than four a year out of the goodness of their hearts, that starts looking unworkable. If you’re in the 1-3 range per person per year you may be able to get away with it.

        1. KarenD

          Out of the goodness of their hearts? No … but following the requirements of their jobs? Yup.

          1. NonProfit Nancy

            Well, but right now it sounds like there’s no consequences for employees who choose not to volunteer at these events, and it’s not explicitly part of anyone’s job at present. So OP is literally hoping that people will volunteer out of the goodness of their hearts. If the OP expect this to happen with any frequency, I think they are being unrealistic and probably need to switch to either hiring someone with this explicit job, making it explicitly part of people’s job, or having a consequence for failing to do it.

    6. Letter Writer

      Thank you for your comment! I agree that it would not be reasonable to throw weekend/evening hours at staff when they have been hired under the assumption that they’d be working Monday through Friday. That is not the case in this particular situation. Occasional weekend/evening hours are part of the job. This is included in every posting we’ve made and it’s something that is explained to every hire.

      1. ExceptionToTheRule

        If that’s the case, then Not So New Reader’s comments are perfect: people are going to have to work X number of events. They can volunteer for the ones that best fit their schedules or they’ll be assigned.

      2. BananaPants

        Is “occasional” spelled out? There’s a pretty wide spectrum of interpretation there – is it quarterly or every other week?

        For comparison, most job postings I see in my field state what percentage of travel is required (usually 0-10%, some are more). I wouldn’t even apply in the first place for a job with 60-80% travel, but I would for 10% travel.

      3. Dust Bunny

        You need to make this non-voluntary, and it needs to be scheduled, then Calling it “voluntary” and then complaining that nobody volunteers is wishy-washy, and it’s not fair to employees who are trying to manage outside lives if you have to beg for help at the last minute. Schedule and assign, well in advance. If you don’t have enough staff to cover, that’s not the employees’ fault, and it needs to be addressed by higher-ups.

        I used to work at a place that was open 7 days a week and long hours each day. It was made absolutely clear to applicants that the job involved either very early mornings or late evenings, depending on the shift, and weekends. No exceptions. But no surprises, either, since schedules were made in advance and we tried to keep people on the same shifts.

        1. JessaB

          Or at least a combination “If I don’t get 4 people to cover the annual teapot exhibition next month by Wednesday, I’m going to assign the open slots.” That gives people the opportunity to sign up and then makes it clear that they will be assigned if not.

          A lot of companies do that for work on holidays, they put up a sign up sheet, but make it clear if all the slots aren’t filled, people are going to be scheduled for the shift by whatever scheduling metric they usually use (whether that means top performers get choice off, or seniority or whoever didn’t work the last one.)

          You can still ask for volunteers first. You can also keep a rota, and those that never volunteer could be first assigned to the next required opening (because hey those that always help should be cut a break nu?)

    7. LisaD

      And then there are people like me who would love to have the option of occasionally trading a weekend day for a weekday. There are many things I want to do that are really unrealistic to do on weekends either due to being closed or to big weekend crowds… getting to work an event on Saturday and take Monday off occasionally would be a benefit for me. So don’t panic, there may be some turnover but you can definitely find other people to hire who don’t mind it at all!

    8. BananaPants

      Me too. My husband works 2nd shift, including alternating weekends. I would not be pleased if my job suddenly required us to find (and pay for) a babysitter for our kids because I had to work a bunch of nights and weekends. Given our evening family logistics, I would not even consider taking a job where frequent night and weekend work was expected and would have to do a crash job hunt if my job suddenly changed to require such work. The frequency of the events would matter; I could swing once a quarter, but twice a week would be a major problem.

      I agree that OP needs to make a change in how these events are scheduled, but she needs to be prepared that some employees with family constraints, grad school classes, etc. might need to leave. A major aspect of this to me is what the current employees were told at the time of hire regarding off-hours work – was it made clear to them that they would have to work night and weekend events, and if so, what frequency? I have less sympathy for the OP’s workers if they accepted jobs knowing this was part of the deal and have just been skating by on the boss covering for everyone. But if they didn’t know this was part of the job, then I would try to phase it in or come up with a reasonable rotation schedule.

      1. Kira

        I get the impression that these employees initially took the jobs with the expectation that they would need to work odd hours, but then never ended up having to do it because of the voluntary sign up process.

  2. DC

    I sympathize as I run a nonprofit organization that also does a lot of events on the weekends. Of course, most of our folks are volunteers, so it’s not like we can require anyone to work. You can. Nevertheless, I think what we did is relevant to your situation. Just like Alison suggested, we seriously looked at events and decided to focus on doing the ones we felt had the biggest return on investment. If there were two large events regularly scheduled on an annual basis close to one another, we’d pick one (and maybe decide to swap them the next year so we spread our outreach efforts out more globally without exhausting our volunteers). It has worked. We don’t have a presence at all the events, and if anyone asks why, I simply say we do a lot of events through the year, and we don’t have enough volunteers to cover all of them. It was hard to do at first, because we really did come from a place of wanting to DO ALL THE THINGS! But, realistically, we can’t DO ALL THE THINGS. I breathe easier with that philosophy :)

    1. AndersonDarling

      I’ll echo the request to evaluate the effectiveness of the events. We used to set up tables all the time and required employees to sit at them. It turned out that only the big, big events brought results. We would get people stop by the table at small events and take freebies, but they never took action. Staff was very happy to eliminate all the mini events so they just had to volunteer for 2 big events a year.

      1. irritable vowel

        Yes, or get actual volunteers rather than paid staff to do these things. It could be a great opportunity for high school students who need something community-service oriented on their college applications.

        1. AFT123

          What a great suggestion! To take it one step further, this could be used as an opportunity to create a job path with the org as well, if budget would allow for someone to take on being a paid “Event Volunteer Manager” to organize and direct volunteers. There are a lot of people who want to get into Event Mgmt as well as non-profit, and this would be a nice part time position with some travel perks that would look good on a resume.

      2. Kira

        I’m curious, what kind of results did you look for from events? The best I ever got was # of people who signed up for email list. Did you have more impactful metrics?

    2. Letter Writer

      Thank you, this is very helpful. Increasing our participation at these events is still sort of a new-ish endeavor for us, so we are certainly still working out the kinks and I’m keeping an eye on what works and what doesn’t. We do sometimes run into a problem where these events are scheduled many months in advance and our staffing situation can sometimes change pretty dramatically, which is a headache.

      1. Hacky Poet

        Alison was on target to evaluate the events and if they produce what you want them to. When I worked in state government running a program trying to get new teapotters on board, I was sent to different kinds of events simply because “that’s how we have always done this”. One of the events was in a rural community and it was such a pain to drive the distance and then haul the heavy materials, etc. to set up. I completely pushed back after year two explaining that we did not engage or get one single new teapotter to join from all this time spent, mileage and work. Fortunately my boss reluctantly agreed and I was released from the hassle. Then we would drive all over the state giving presentations about joining out teapotter experience to high school seniors and then not get a single person to join. Those were harder to stop because that age demographic was one of the ones we wanted to have join us.
        Giving time off to work the nights and weekend events is a good thing. I agree with all the others about making sure people now know they are required to attend and do so with a good attitude. Furthermore, if board members are coming in with a list of events they want staff to attend, maybe the board should share some of the responsibility and show up too.

        1. Kira

          Recently, we looked into having board members commit to attend a certain number of events each year. The number would be worked out with each board member (and may be none).

    3. Kira

      I respect that. I came from a place where we would describe a trade-off between activities (e.g. we could attend the community fair or we can write the $30,000 grant) and she would ask why we can’t do both. But it wasn’t really a question, more of an order to DO ALL THE THINGS. She wasn’t very good at prioritization or strategic decision making.

  3. The Cosmic Avenger

    Normally I’m not a fan of “the invisible hand”, because when people expect markets to “do” something, it’s usually because they are opposed to regulation. But in this case, it would seem that the compensation for working extra hours is not sufficient to make people want to work those extra hours voluntarily. And while one approach is to make it a requirement of the job, I don’t think the OP’s employees will be any happier about it than the OP has been recently when it’s become a de facto requirement of hers. I bet if this agency offer time and a half or double time to everyone for these events, regardless of how long they’ve worked during the rest of the week, they would have no problem staffing them.

    The main reason that this occurred to me is that the OP, as the department manager, is probably paid more than the rest of her department, which might lead to them figuring that she should cover if no one else actively wants to do so. As we often joke at my office, “That’s why I/we/you get paid the big bucks!” Of course, it is only fair to distribute the work somewhat, but the OP shouldn’t expect her subordinates to make it as much of a priority as she does, especially if it hasn’t been a clear job requirement.

    1. Editrix

      I had the same thought about the compensation not being sufficient – the weekend events are frequent, and it comes down to “normal weekend day off, or week day off.” Those aren’t really equivalent, especially when changing a day off for the week requires adjusting the family’s schedule, or a carpool arrangement, or childcare, or any number of other parts of life that depend on work schedule.

      1. Just Another Techie

        I would totally jump at the chance to work an occasional Friday night or Saturday in exchange for Monday off. I could get a ton of errands done that are hard to schedule around a regular workweek *and* get to see friends of mine who work weekends or are stay at home parents or whatever.

        1. Editrix

          The letter said it’s equivalent time, which isn’t as valuable to me, which is part of what I was saying – a few hours in an evening for a whole day off? Sure, that’s an incentive. A few hours in one evening for the same few hours another day that week doesn’t do much but throw your routine off.

          1. Koko

            It sounds like it’s equivalent time for the hourly employees, but a full PTO day for the salaried employees.

            As a salaried employee I often come in late or leave early and love having that freedom. I think a lot of hourly employees would jump at the chance to say, work Tuesday evening and get to leave at lunchtime on Friday without their paycheck being impacted.

            1. Nunya

              Hahaha nope. Maybe I’m an outlier, but if I want Friday afternoon off, I’ll take it with vacation time or whatever. You can’t pay me enough to screw up my extremely time-critical non-work schedule. I only have a certain window of time available for renting myself out for a paycheck, anything else is not for sale.

              1. KarenD

                Then the job the OP describes would be a bad fit for you. Even if this weren’t an ongoing requirement, an employer’s needs do change.

                My job duties could shift in the next few months to require me to work one Saturday morning every month or so (I’m non-exempt, so if this happens, it will require me to figure out a way to whittle those hours from my M-F schedule; my boss and I think it can be done, but nobody is pretending it’s going to be sunshine and unicorns.) It wasn’t a requirement before …. but now it may be.

                If I was told I needed to be at X place at Y time and I just decided “Hahaha nope, taking vacation time instead,” I would quickly find myself on permanent vacation.

              2. CMT

                That’s a pretty dismissive answer to a comment that doesn’t even begin to claim to apply to everybody.

          2. Cassie

            I think this is why some places have shift differentials for evening and graveyard shifts, right? Because theoretically they are less desirable and therefore the additional pay (however small) is the incentive?

      2. themmases

        I agree. There is a cost and inconvenience to not having a consistent schedule. The predictability is a huge perk of most office jobs that I think many people wouldn’t just give up willingly. More than the occasional Monday off is also not all that valuable… I think most of us would want time off when our friends and family are available. Monday morning is just worth less to many people than Friday night.

    2. AdAgencyChick

      Yeah, if the compensation for night and weekend work is the same hourly rate of pay as you get for the hours you signed up to work, I wouldn’t be raising my hand either.

      1. Koko

        Agreed, it needs something to sweeten the pot a little.

        At my office the pot-sweeteners for evening events (we almost never do weekends) are:
        – Free dinner provided before event
        – Free drinks provided after event for those who care to stay and debrief/decompress (we’re a social office in our 20s and 30s who frequently do happy hours together so this is a genuine perk for most)
        – Anyone who worked the evening before can take the morning off and work remotely the next day (i.e. a 2-3 hour evening event = a 4 hour late pass plus no commute, and commute for most of us is minimum 60 minutes r/t)

        1. Lissa

          I’d be taking all the evening events I could with those perks! You had me at free dinner…

    3. Mike C.

      This certainly works well for my company. Also, figure out the hourly rate of your salaried folks and offer them the same deal. Salary/2080 usually works for this. You won’t have any problems filling up and you’ll have avoided the turnover issue as well.

    4. Chicken Fishing

      I’ve found that when I can’t offer time and a half for events that offering good free food can be a great motivator too. Obviously your staff might be different and I think that if you can swing the extra pay that is a better option, but sometimes food perks can win people over or soften the blow of a less than ideal schedule :)

      Do you have any people who have weekend as part of their regular schedule? This can be a huge help if these sort of things come up a lot. There are people out there who prefer this sort of schedule so it may be worth looking into that if it makes sense for your company.

      Good luck and don’t do everything yourself! You burn out quickly on that sort of schedule.

    5. AFT123

      Compensation – Now like I said up-thread, I’m a stick in the mud about springing new requirements on me that make me work a lot of weekends, however – if you offered me the option of 1.5x of vacation (I believe it’s called Comp Time?) I’d volunteer a lot. Equivalent comp time doesn’t do much for me. But sweeten the pot with 1.5x comp time and you bet I’ll volunteer more, and I’ll be happy about it too.

      Your other point about the perception that this could be seen as poor planning and the associates aren’t volunteering for that reason is an interesting angle I hadn’t thought of. It reminds me of the phrase “Poor planning on your part does not constitute and emergency on my part.” Of course, I have no idea if that applies here, it just made me think of it.

    6. Brett

      “I bet if this agency offer time and a half or double time to everyone for these events, regardless of how long they’ve worked during the rest of the week, they would have no problem staffing them.”

      While that is possible with a public entity, it is often not possible to make that change without something occurring very high up (e.g. new ordinance or regulation). If it has to go to a vote of an elected body, changes like this generally do not pass.

    7. Letter Writer

      You are correct that being a department manager does put me in a different pay grade than non-managerial staff. The difference amounts to about $4K more per year. This past year, I put in about 200 hours of overtime (for a variety of reasons other than what I wrote in about…it was a beast of a year). The staff in general is very underpaid. A comparable position at another organization would have a starting salary approximately $15K higher than what I currently make (I’ve been in the position for a couple years).

    8. Letter Writer

      I would love to offer time and a half pay–we actually do this for all Sunday hours, so if the event is on Sunday, you’re in luck! However, I’m not sure if we have the staff budget to make it happen.

      1. Navy Vet

        If you can’t offer time and a half, maybe offer 1.5x comp time (Or what you can) instead.

        It goes a long way if you are compensated in someway for your time. Or if it’s a Sat event, see if anyone would do Sat in exchange for Monday off so they still get a full weekend. I find I actually need my weekend 2 days off in a row in order to recharge for the work week.

  4. Temperance

    I think this needs to be mandatory for all of your employees, and not optional. I think that makes it more fair to all, especially you, LW. That way, you aren’t covering every event yourself, and you don’t have the same few people pitching in. This will create staff resentment.

  5. Joseph

    Really, the big issue here is that the manager is saying it’s optional…but it really isn’t. If work needs it done, then it’s NOT an optional job duty. Period. I think the way to do it is to let the entire staff know that you will continue your policy of accepting volunteers first, but if you don’t have sufficient volunteers by X days before the event, then you will be assigning it to whoever has gone longest without covering an event. If that person absolutely cannot come, then they can refuse this time, but they are required to volunteer for the next one (otherwise, you’d end up with Always Has an Excuse Guy).

    1. Always Anon

      I like this system. It still gives people control, but provides consequences for those people who do not volunteer.

      Perhaps because I’ve primarily worked in non-profits, but to me working the occasional event (and it sounds like with a department of 20, for most people it would be something they’d do a couple times a month) is just part of the job. Heck in my current job I was told that I would travel once or twice a year, but right now I travel about 10-12 times a year. The needs of an organization change, and so do the roles that their employee’s play. I don’t know of any organization that will guarantee that that their staff never have to work the occasional evening or weekend.

      1. neverjaunty

        If there are “consequences” for people who don’t volunteer, then it’s not volunteering. And while I don’t at all resent having to work events as part of a job, I sure as hell would resent the pretense that it’s “volunteering”.

        It would be much better for the OP to state that these events need coverage, and they’ll first check to see if people who want to get overtime/PTO will sign up for them; if not, they will be assigned. In other words, acknowledge it’s mandatory and that you’re just letting people call dibs on the assignments.

        1. SirTechSpec

          But that’s what volunteering means, in a work context. If your manager says “I need someone to do X shift/project, any volunteers?” it’s pretty obvious that it’s an opportunity to call dibs on a particular assignment, not that nobody doing it is an option.

    2. Newby

      Yep. If it is something that they need done for their job, make it mandatory. Pretending that it is optional and then being upset when not everyone volunteers will make everyone resentful.

      1. Lemon Zinger

        100% this.

        When I was interviewing for my current job, I stupidly assumed it would be a regular 40-hour work week, and neglected to ask about after-hours events. There turned out to be a LOT of them, and it’s on me for not asking about it.

    3. Roscoe

      I don’t know. That is really a crappy way to handle the fact that she didn’t make this requirement known. If my manager all of a sudden decided I had to work on a saturday in 3 weeks because I hadn’t “volunteered” for something in a long time, I’d be pissed. You need to give people notice for these things, and just dumping a weekend on someone isn’t good

      1. Joseph

        See, but that’s the beauty of still allowing people to sign up for things. If you know “Hey, I don’t like working Saturdays in the fall because it interferes with college football”, then you think ahead and sign up for something now to get dropped back to the end of the list.

    4. Letter Writer

      This sums up my conflict with this issue. I’ve been hesitant to make a certain number of events mandatory because these are extra shifts and it inevitably means that someone’s personal time is being rearranged to accommodate that. I would prefer that staff have some choice over what extra shifts they take. My current system seems to have resulted in a lot of people saying “I choose not to take any extra shifts,” which is not really an option.

      1. Not So NewReader

        I think this is where the disconnect is.. it’s part of the job. You are not asking them to do extra, it’s part of the job. I am not clear on why you think you are asking them to “do extra”. This is what the company needs them to do, it’s not extra.

        If you ask them if they want to do an event, they will tell you they choose not to. This is how it goes with a lot of things. You have to tell them that their help at events is a necessity.

  6. TotesMaGoats

    We had this problem at OldJob when it came to supporting recruitment events at other locations. For several years we had a 3 event rule. In one year, you had to work 3 open house events (always a weekend) at another location. They were all within the state, so not insane driving. You know well in advance and you could pick the one that worked best for your schedule. Everyone hated it but since everyone (directors included) had to do it, it worked out okay. When staffing at other locations got up to appropriate levels they dropped that requirement. You then could get an extra day off if you worked at an “off site” event that needed staffing.

    You should not be carrying all this burden. Been there, done that. The tshirt sucks.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      Yeah, the 3-event rule sounds good. I used to work in admissions, and we wanted faculty to teacher sample lessons at open houses. Imagine if we’d said it was optional! No, at the beginning of the school year, “Department heads, here are our open houses for the year. Each faculty member has to sign up for two of them.”

  7. Michelle

    I agree with Alison. I would talk to current staff and make sure future hires know that occasional after-hours/weekend events are part of the job. Let them know that they will be required to work X number of events per quarter/year.

    We are a nonprofit and had this issue a few years ago. Now we have a rotating schedule for after-hour/weekend events. Management is flexible if an emergency or unexpected situation comes up (your kid broke their arm, your mom needs someone to take her to a unexpected medical appt.).

  8. Ann Furthermore

    I think a combined approach of evaluating the events and cherry-picking the ones that provide the most value is a really smart suggestion. After all, you want to get the biggest return for the least amount of effort.

    If you do that, and then impose a required number of hours or events must commit to, it may go over a little better with the people who feel that it’s unfair to all of a sudden have to volunteer their time. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make this a requirement — you say that exempt people get to take another day off in exchange, and that hourly people get paid and are even allowed to bank those hours and trade them in for hours taken off at a later time. That’s already pretty generous. When you get down to it, they’re not technically “volunteering” since they’re being paid for their time. Volunteering is doing something and not being compensated in return.

    I would tell your staff something like, “I’ve reviewed all the events we’ve put on and I’ve found that these 4 [or whatever] are the ones that provide the most value, so those event will continue. Everyone will need to plan to spend x amount of time at at least one of these events during the year.” If people grumble about it, too bad…it’s part of the job. You’ve tried the honors system and it has ended up working out for everyone but you.

  9. jhhj

    If all your staff were volunteering equally, how many events would they be doing a year? If it’s three, sure, that’s reasonable; if it’s twenty, you have either too many events or too few employees or both. Or you’ve hired the wrong people — people who depend on having a part-time, business hours job, and who don’t want more hours or evening/weekend hours.

    A combination of changing the rules, rethinking the number of events (if appropriate) and perhaps changing compensation might help.

    1. MT

      I think you hit the nail on the head. If someone chose the job because it was part time during business hours, springing hours that were outside those would be an issue. There was an ok article written in the last week or two that talked about how inflexible schedules drive some of the wage gap. I would imagine these part time workers, aren’t making much more than min wage, and no benefits. The costs to rearrange their schedule could be greater than what they would earn.

      1. AndersonDarling

        Yes! You can’t expect someone who earns $9/hr to get a babysitter at $10/hr so they can go to work. They would be earning a negative wage to “volunteer” at an event.

      2. Letter Writer

        Actually, some of our part-timers do get benefits (PTO, pension program) and pay starts at $11/hr. But I understand your point about cost of rearranging schedules.

        1. BananaPants

          OK, but a babysitter for two kids on a Saturday night runs $15-20/hour! That said, since it sounds like you’d be expecting 1-2 events per employee per year, I think it’s reasonable to expect someone to shell out for a sitter if necessary.

          1. Koko

            Holy hell, babysitting has gotten expensive! When I was babysitting in the DC suburbs in the late 90s the going rate for your neighborhood 13 year old was $5 an hour (minimum wage was just over $5 back then). Are these $15-20 rates for neighborhood teenagers or for a professional service?

            1. Government Worker

              We end up paying $20/hour to adults, but we don’t use a professional service – we’ve used the younger sister of a friend, an off-duty nanny, etc. But not everyone can find a neighborhood teenager (we’ve looked), and not everyone is comfortable leaving their kids with a 13-year-old. My kids are getting old enough that I would trust an older high schooler with sitting experience (they’re 2.5 now), but getting 18-month-old twins down for the night can by a trying experience even for adults. No way would I have left them with a middle schooler when they were under 2.

    2. INTP

      Agree about having hired the wrong people. For future hires, it would be worth looking for people who specifically want to cover weekends. For now, if it has become a major requirement then that’s how it is – but I would expect quite a bit of turnover over it. Business hours vs nights and weekends is a pretty major aspect of a job and a common dealbreaker. It’s reasonable for the employer to require it but also reasonable for the employees to switch to another job over it.

    3. Alton

      This is a really good point. Some of these employees might be in school or may have other jobs. That’s a hazard with part-time–sometimes it’s assumed that the employees have flexibility, but they really don’t.

    4. Letter Writer

      It varies. I would say at most, there are 2-3 events per quarter that I need extra help with. We usually have 2 people covering an event (there are exceptions) and there are 20 people on staff. So if every person worked 1 event per year, that would more than cover it.

      1. Not So NewReader

        This is not a big deal. One event per year per person? Just tell them that the system of volunteering is not working and they will be required to do one event per year.

        1. Isabel C.

          Agreed. I usually avoid “weekend and evening work required” job postings like the plague, but one event per year, with compensation or equivalent time off, if I got to choose the shift in question (or even just rule out weekends X, Y, and Z but be okay with others)? Sign me up!

  10. Student

    In addition to assignments for specific events, you could flag a rotation of specific employees as “on call” for last-minute events. If something comes up in May, then Jane is on the hook for it. If something comes up last-minute in June, then Fred is on the hook for it. This can be broad, as in Jane has to identify someone who can cover it OR cover it herself, or it can be a requirement that Jane specifically handles it. That way, Jane at least knows it’s possible she’ll have to deal with this and can make judgement calls about whether she wants to save up vacation plans for a different month.

    1. JB (not in Houston)

      That’s similar to how we handle it at my job. We sometimes have last-minute emergencies that have to be dealt with, and a few months before the end of the year, we all get a calendar for the next year with who will be assigned to handle emergencies for which weeks. You know way ahead of time when to schedule time off and that if you want to be out the whole day on one of those days, you have to find someone to cover for you. Nobody loves having to be on call, but we all take our turn and there’s no last-minute notice.

  11. jm

    Unless everyone in OP’s department is exempt, I wonder if OP is paying OT to those who work 40 hours and then attend the “voluntary” event? Or is OP letting the staff member who volunteers for the outreach event work 35 hours during typical office hours, and then 5 hours at the outreach event?

    I’m non-exempt in my current job, and lucky to have help with childcare and reliable transportation. I wouldn’t mind if I had to help out on an evening or weekend, but I would expect to be compensated for helping out.

    If OP has non-exempt employees and is expecting them to work 40 hours, and then work the outreach events, but not get paid OT, or have shortened hours during the regular work week, I would reject that, if I was one of OP’s employees.

    1. Aurion

      Any time worked at one of these events is paid time for hourly staff

      I think OP’s problem is more availability, and not monetary. Seems the company has the monetary and flex schedule part covered for volunteers. The problem is a lack of volunteers.

    2. jm

      ugh, I’m sorry, OP. I should have read more closely — you write:

      “Any time worked at one of these events is paid time for hourly staff, and salaried staff get to take another day off in exchange. Hourly staff also have the option of keeping the extra hours or taking an equivalent amount of unpaid time off during the week if they prefer it.”

      That sounds very fair. I would think if the events are assigned/scheduled well in advance, and especially if the employees can provide input about dates/times, they should be willing to help out. Good luck!

    3. ebk

      Any time worked at one of these events is paid time for hourly staff, and salaried staff get to take another day off in exchange. Hourly staff also have the option of keeping the extra hours or taking an equivalent amount of unpaid time off during the week if they prefer it.

      -from the letter

  12. RC

    I had a previous employer that handled this really well. Each employee was expected to sign-up to “volunteer” for at least one after-hours event each fiscal year. For your organization, it may make more sense for that amount to be 2 or 3 per year. If no one had signed up, the coordinator would follow up with individual employees with a reminder and nudge to sign-up. Usually, people wanted to get this requirement out of the way as soon as possible.

    These event requests were also usually framed in a way that emphasized the perks, ie “Volunteering at X event gets you free admission to this really cool festival, plus flex time to use later in the week.”

  13. the.kat

    At my job, there were holidays that we had to work, and it sucked. The managers made it a little easier by publishing the shifts they needed filled and letting people sign up first. So, after I got burned by not signing up and getting a shitty shift, when I knew that my family was celebrating a holiday with a party in the evening, I’d sign up as quickly as possible for a morning shift. It’s not perfect and it still makes people grumble, but getting the opportunity to choose made a difference.

    Also, my management made it clear that the people who were frequent volunteers could expect to receive other perks including leniency with vacations and call-offs. They also made sure that someone above my pay grade stopped in to check on the holiday and stayed for a few hours. If we weren’t off work, neither were they.

    How can you make your staff feel valued at the event? Can you pay for their lunches, make sure someone brings them coffee or provide them with something that identifies them as a team (logo-ed gear, etc.)?

  14. Dawn

    Chiming in here- if you do implement a blanket “X amount of events per staff member, per [Month/ Quarter/ Year]” then please make SURE you’re implementing it fairly. I once worked at a job where everyone who worked at the customer service desk HAD TO work at least one weekend day a month… except this one guy. When I pushed back on it, they said, “Well, it’s always been like that for him.” Cue SUPER resentment- why does this one guy not have to adhere to the policy that everyone else does?

    Also, if you go to these kinds of things being mandatory then expect at least one or two employees to have some serious scheduling issues around childcare/transportation and have a plan for those popping up beforehand. If there are some employees who absolutely cannot attend after hours/weekend events then have an extremely visible and transparent process for making sure that everyone else who has to do these events doesn’t feel like they got the short straw. Especially if the people who aren’t doing these events have children and those who are required to do them don’t- being single/childless/childfree can begin to feel like a punishment when people who have children aren’t held to the same standards “because” they have kids.

    1. the.kat

      Ugh, I hate this! I’m not married and don’t have kids. So what? If you’re not available because you’ve got kids, I’m not available because I have a dog.

      1. BananaPants

        The huge difference being that you can leave your dog alone at home on a Thursday night, but I can’t leave a 3 year old alone at home for half of a Saturday. It’s really pretty laughable to claim that a pet needs constant adult supervision/presence the way a small child does.

        I think that an employee’s parenting or caregiving status shouldn’t have anything to do with scheduling for these events; it’s part of the expectation for having this job. Our OP says that the frequency would be 1-2 events per employee per year – with sufficient notice, employees can get a dog sitter, a baby sitter, or make arrangements for someone to come sit with Grandma who has dementia. We’re not talking weekly absences in the evenings/on weekends.

    2. Joseph

      You’ll certainly have a couple employees who have serious scheduling issues, but the problem is, you can’t let them use that excuse endlessly. I get that you have kids and you can’t cover an event on a day’s notice as easily as a single person. But OP says these are community events, so some (many?) of them are planned weeks or even months in advance. If you can’t cover a short-notice event, then you should be stepping up to do the ones which have plenty of notice.
      It’s basically the same concept as shift switching: I’m covering your shift tonight and you make up for it by covering my shift in the future.

      1. Dawn

        True- I was thinking of the fringe cases where an employee is literally the only person who can care for their parent who has dementia type of situation. It’s good to have a solution to most/all potential pushback issues before implementing a new policy so you don’t have to make things up as you go.

        1. Alton

          I agree with you. There may very well be some cases where an employee genuinely can’t work the events without genuine hardship, or even where they’re willing to pitch in but their availability is more limited than others’. Maybe Wakeen wants to work the events closest to home because he doesn’t have a car, for example, or Fergus is Jewish and can’t work on Friday evenings or Saturdays, but is willing to help other times. Others might resent it if this means Wakeen and Fergus are avoiding the least-convenient events.

          1. Kira

            Our staff lived all over the place, so events that might be a long drive from the office could actually end up being close to home for Joan (or doubly far away for Tim).

      1. Ann O'Nemity

        I agree with this! The OP should consider increasing their incentive.

        I’m a parent and I’d have to pay for evening and weekend childcare. Trading my regular work hours for evening/weekend hours will be a financial loss for me.

        Now, this doesn’t mean that I think my coworkers should do more evening/weekend work than I should because I’m a parent. I’m just saying that the OP’s current incentives wouldn’t interest me.

        1. Letter Writer

          I would like to–staff budget is pretty tight, so I’m not sure if it would be feasible. I do bake a lot of cookies, though. :)

          1. BananaPants

            I’m with Ann O’Nemity on this one – it’s just that straight pay or 1X comp time isn’t an incentive at all – companies offer shift differentials for a reason, to get employees for less-desired evening and weekend shifts. Offer time and a half/ 1.5X comp time and you may well have employees jumping at the opportunity to work those events.

            1. Kira

              No, extra shifts or comp time are definitely incentives. In this case, they’re just insufficient to get full coverage of events from voluntary staff.

          2. paul

            We appreciate the gesture, but cookies don’t pay for my mortgage. If I’m out 60-80 bucks for an evening of babysitting, and I’m only making straight pay….ouch.

    3. Temperance

      C0-signed.

      I worked at a “family restaurant” for a while that had a 2 holiday policy – meaning that you had to be available for 2 out of 3 winter holidays (Thanksgiving/Day After, Christmas Eve/Christmas, and New Year’s Eve/Day). This sucked, but even moreso when the schedule went up and parents weren’t included on any of the holidays. We all revolted until they were added in to the schedule.

      The parents all grumbled about “missing holidays with their kids” … as if those of us who don’t have children want to be stuck working at a Denny’s on Christmas.

      1. Lissa

        I worked a place with a similar thing — everyone had to work one of Christmas Eve, Boxing Day (I’m in Canada) or New Year’s Eve — we were even closed on Christmas and New Year’s Day! I signed up for Christmas Eve and Boxing Day because, eh, I like money and don’t celebrate Christmas. But I do like a big NYE party so having that guaranteed day off was awesome.

        And sure enough, one coworker whined horribly about having to work even one, and then tried to call me to come in for NYE. Nooooope. (She didn’t even have kids, she was just super entitled).

      2. BananaPants

        My husband works in health care and they’re open 365 days a year. Each employee has to work one of the two “summer” holidays (Memorial Day and Labor Day) and one of the two “winter” holidays (Thanksgiving and Easter) – no exceptions, they’re told this when they get a job offer. If New Year’s or Easter or the 4th of July falls on their normally scheduled work day, they have to work it. For any of those holidays, they get holiday pay and only work day shift, so it’s REALLY not the end of the world. He worked Thanksgiving last year and the kids and I weren’t upset – it’s part of his job.

        I have little sympathy for those who groan or try to get out of working holidays because they have kids; my dad is a restaurant manager and my mom is a nurse, so I spent most childhood holidays opening gifts on Christmas Eve or eating Thanksgiving dinner on Black Friday because one of them was virtually always working on the holiday itself. My brother and I certainly weren’t harmed by that situation.

      3. Rusty Shackelford

        My sister-in-law was complaining about her coworkers with more seniority being able to take vacations at prime holiday times “even though they don’t have kids.” I don’t remember what I told her, but I remember it made her stop whining to me about it.

  15. AnotherAlison

    I am forever hearing iterations of “I heard that there’s going to be a Teapot Fest, are we planning on having a booth?” or “I was at Kettle Center and saw that they offer instruction in tea brewing. I spoke with the director there and they are interested in partnering with us in the fall.”

    In my world, an expectation that we would provide impromptu support for any event is a foreign concept. The outreach events (marketing at tradeshows in our case) are part of the business plan, which is set the 3Q of the year before. You can’t do outreach for free. You might consider setting out an annual plan for these, where events are committed to and budgeted for and staffed in advance. This also makes it easier to say no to organizations that ask you at the last minute. Tell them no this year, but give them an opportunity to meet and pitch there event 2Q of the year before, ahead of your planning.

    Last thing, you might try reframing responsibility for the events. We have a different person assigned as champion for each tradeshow. I think people are more enthusiastic if they’re in charge of something from the beginning than if they’re a last minute voluntold person.

    1. AnotherAlison

      Something about coming to this site to post automatically puts all my grammar and typing skills out of reach. ; )

    2. CM

      Agreed! I wonder if the OP has any leverage with upper management, which is encouraging more outreach. I think OP needs to require staff member to do outreach if that’s part of the department’s work, but this could be combined with some managing up — making sure upper management understands the costs of outreach and the resources available.

    3. Loremipsum

      I’m in agreement. Events and volunteering can blur a bit; events are becoming important to many industries and are part of their marketing plan. Volunteering has many positive benefits; people feel like they are contributing to helping a cause together, and companies increasingly tally these service days/hours/efforts and use them to burnish their social responsibility profile.

      I’ve seen efforts where a department has selected a cause they want to work on, and contacted the community / partnered with a nonprofit to do this on a mutually convenient day.

      It sounds like these are happening regularly and there are not enough hours in the day or people to staff them, and you may need to hire someone to do this.

      Are there skills they would gain by participating in these events? Event planning / management is a bigger business now. You could also let your employees know about experience they would gain by helping with these.

    4. Junipergreen

      In addition to re-setting expectations with your reports, think hard about what you can do to steer strategic planning that will actually map increased resources to increased efforts. “Helpful” recommendations from leadership or boards can often be more tactical than strategic, and involve a lot of “should”s but not a lot of concrete “why”s.

      The question to constantly ask: “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” Particularly if these sort of requests for representation or coverage are regarding new community partnerships. Will that event or partner really serve you in the long run? How exactly? How does that event dovetail with our own mission/function? Can we actually measure the results (not someone’s “hunch”)?

      1. zora.dee

        I am chiming in to agree with this thread. If the ‘higher ups’ are saying that events are a strategic objective, but you’re having trouble staffing them, you are going to need to dig more into the specifics of this objective and strategy. There are different angles you will want to bring up: 1) we need to increase our staffing budget to achieve this objective, 2)Evaluate the strategic ROI of each of these events, get them to make these objectives measurable, etc, etc. There are lots of different angles to this, but just saying “We have to do a billion events all the time!!!” is neither Strategic nor an Objective. If they don’t want to increase the staffing budget, then they need to revisit how many events to participate in, and focus on maximizing the benefits of those events.

        It sounds like as the manager you are getting stuck in the middle of this situation, you might need to push up as well as down for a long term solution.

        1. Not So NewReader

          Yeah, I would crunch some numbers to find out how much it is actually costing to do these events. It’s not just paying employees, there’s a lot more costs than that.

      2. Kira

        I’m surprised to hear that one of the intended outcomes is to meet with community partners. If there are other organizations your team wants to collaborate with then there should be opportunities to network with them during the day, rather than run into each other at a community event. Maybe look into joining local coalitions or networks with daytime meetings?

        1. Letter Writer

          Oh, no, that’s not an intended outcome of those events–we meet with community partners through the other channels that you mentioned. Are you referring to this example from the letter?: “I was at Kettle Center and saw that they offer instruction in tea brewing. I spoke with the director there and they are interested in partnering with us in the fall.” That sort of example comes from someone in upper management walking into a business for an unrelated purpose (shopping, perhaps) and walking out with “we could do an event here! The owner said they’d like to work with us!” It’s not a bad thing, necessarily–it has helped us make connections and it can lead to new ventures–and no one is overstepping and committing us to things that we cannot do. But it is an example of the larger organizational push to do more.

    5. Rocky

      I think this thread is really the key to this problem. I would take a step back before approaching the staffing problem. In my case, if our leadership said “outreach is a strategic priority,” I would not interpret that to mean that we need to say yes to every event and re-schedule staff to make it work, even if that’s what the annoying “are we going to have a booth at the teapot fair?” questions make it sound like. I would interpret it to mean that we need to be more strategic about outreach. The result might mean that we work fewer events to focus on the ones that have the most impact, and/or that we make staffing events a part of someone’s job (or maybe their whole job).

      Like AnotherAlison, I get a ton of requests/suggestions about outreach events, and we have to graciously decline a lot of them. We do about 6-8 evening or weekend events each year, splitting the staffing between 3 FT staff and occasional PT help. Our busy season is fall, and usually we’ve already drawn the “no more fall events, we’re over-committed” line sometime the previous spring. The ones we commit to are very closely aligned with our mission, bring us in direct contact with a specific audience we’re targeting for our services, and are manageable from a logistical and staffing perspective.

    6. Kira

      I want to work with you. You actually have your plan for next year by the end of Q3? Where I worked, there was no planning process at all. It was like pulling teeth to get budget estimates, service level projections, or any other forward-looking statements from anyone.

  16. INTP

    In defense of the employees who didn’t change their lunch plans for the OP’s vacations, the way this would come across to me as an employee is, “It was Boss’ job to arrange coverage for this event. She didn’t bother taking care of it until the day of the event, even though she knew all along that she had a vacation. Now she wants us to cancel our plans to accommodate her own procrastination?” I might not be inclined to change my plans at the last minute either.

    I agree that it has to become a formal requirement, but in case some of the employees do like the extra hours or flexibility, maybe you could issue a call for volunteers with a deadline well before the event, and assign people on a rotating basis to fill in when there aren’t enough volunteers. Do NOT wait until shortly before the event to start assigning people, in hopes that volunteers will appear. That’s just unfair to your staff because it requires them to change and cancel plans when they could have planned ahead if you planned ahead. And emphasize that you are aware that it’s a major burden to require night and weekend work, but it has been made a priority for the department from upper management, and so unfortunately it’s necessary.

    1. LCL

      ‘She didn’t bother taking care of it…accommodate her procrastination…’
      I’m trying to phrase this honestly and without sarcasm. You would honestly go to this pattern of thought first? Not ‘she must have been really busy’ or ‘she must be swamped and maybe we should all take turns helping’?

      That seems a really harsh and cold hearted way to look at things. But thanks, you have helped me have an insight into some behavioral quirks I have seen here.

      1. INTP

        I guess it depends on whether this is a pattern of behavior or an unusual thing, and how she framed it. If she was normally super proactive and on top of scheduling, and said “I’m so sorry for the last minute request but I totally spaced on this…” then I’d feel differently. But the impression I get is that the OP just sort of hopes there will be enough volunteers signed up by the day of the events, and shows up herself if there aren’t, and that doesn’t imply a lot of proactivity to me. I think the OP does mean well and doesn’t want to be unfair to her employees but this hesitance can also create problems itself, when she’s making last minute pleas and relying on guilt and emotional obligation to recruit volunteers instead of just writing a schedule and telling people to show up. It can come across like she doesn’t really want to manage and just wants everyone to make it all work out themselves so she doesn’t have to. (This is also a highly personal preferred management style thing as well – I like working with assertive people and it’s a pet peeve when managers won’t manage and people won’t make things clear so everyone will think they’re nice. So it would bug me more than most but I bet many of the employees feel the same, unless I’m reading this totally wrong.)

        1. Not So NewReader

          This is the same read I got on it, too.
          OP, aim for being a fair boss, it’s easier. A fair boss thinks about what is right for the company as well as what is right for the employees.

          A nice boss aims for being nice to everyone. This ends up with problems like you see here.

          A fair boss realizes that the company needs x done and it’s not something “extra”. It is needed work and, therefore, part of the job.

          1. Letter Writer

            I’m not sure if I did a great job explaining my process, as I don’t think that’s an entirely accurate reflection of how things normally go down. So here’s a better example (I hope):

            I’ll start working on our winter calendar in September and have it finalized by October. I don’t add an event to the calendar without considering staffing. A lot of the time, this aligns with responsibilities–Jane works with puppy services, so it would make sense for her to represent us at Puppy Fest in February. I’ll confirm this with Jane before adding it to our calendar.

            Here is where I’m running into problems: Jane was planning on being at Puppy Fest when we scheduled it in October, but she’s going to be moving that weekend, which she didn’t know in October. She tells me this in January. I’m going to be working Kitten Fest the previous week, so if I fill in, I have to work two six day weeks back to back, which is doable, but not ideal and rather exhausting. I send out a request to staff as soon as I know that Jane can’t make it. The request is several weeks in advance of the event. All staff members have working knowledge of puppy services and there are a number of people who have the training to fill in. No one wants to work this event, so I work two 6 day weeks back to back and feel progressively burned out.

            I hope that provides some clarification, but let me know if you have any questions!

            1. BananaPants

              You need to hold hard and fast when it comes to changing schedules at the last minute. If Jane knows she’s working Puppy Fest months in advance, then she needs to find a coworker willing to swap events with her or she’s not moving that weekend after all!

              1. Letter Writer

                Employees are typically responsible for arranging coverage for their shifts. If they are unsuccessful, then they are supposed to escalate the issue and ask their manager for help finding coverage. So if Jane isn’t getting a response from anyone, she may ask for my help.

    2. Letter Writer

      In the example I cited, the event was covered when I made plans for my vacation. About 3 weeks before the event, we had an unexpected change in staffing. I put out a call for help as soon as I knew (3 weeks in advance of the event). I got no response and followed up multiple times, via email and in person. Ideally, yes, I would have liked to have provided more notice, but that was unfortunately beyond my control. I usually like to have staffing figured out when we plan our quarter–so for example, I started working on our summer schedule in mid-April and had it finalized in early May–so there’s a fair amount of advanced planning that goes into this. I avoid last minute requests as much as possible because it’s unfair to staff and incredibly stressful for me, but sometimes that’s how it goes.

      1. Not So NewReader

        You definitely need a floater or a person on stand-by. This sounds horribly stressful and it shouldn’t be this horrible.

      2. jhhj

        If everyone were set up for one event a year, then in case of real emergencies you could take their events because you would not already be doing all of them.

      3. Kira

        LW, I think our consensus is that you did most things right, but didn’t seal the deal in this situation. What might have worked better is:

        3 weeks out: find out Jane is moving and can’t staff event; put out call for another person to staff event
        2 days later: repeat call for another person, mention that if no one voluntarily offers you will assign someone as you see fit.
        1 day later: assign a person, verify that they don’t have a conflict. If they do, try again with a different person. If no one can attend, call the event and say you have to cancel your booth.

        1. Letter Writer

          Cancellation is not always an option, depending on the event (having a booth at an event vs. running a featured activity at an event). The vacation example was one of those events. My organization is also pretty strict about cancellations–it’s supposed to be a very rare exception and last resort. I think this certainly contributes to the pressure.

  17. Xarcady

    The OP says that most of the staff are part-time, and I’m wondering if that is not part of the problem.

    Some people who take part-time jobs simply can’t work many more hours in a week, due to other commitments. Or they can’t work more hours due to health reasons. Or they can only fit work hours in around child-care arrangements.

    Many people choose part-time jobs because they don’t want to or can’t work any more hours than what they signed up for. They may also see the evening and weekend events as mostly the full-timers responsibility, not theirs.

    What I’d do is set a minimum number of events that each employee must attend during the year. Then post the dates as soon as possible, with a deadline for volunteering. After the deadline has past, you assign someone to work the event.

    And although I suspect that you are mentioning the evening/weekend work in your job interviews, I’d stress it more, so that there is no confusion. “This job, while it is only 20 hours a week, does require additional evening and weekend work at our various events in the community. This generally runs about 50-60 extra hours a year, and covers X weekend and Y evening events. You will get a minimum of one month’s notice for each event you work, so that you can make plans.”

    1. INTP

      Agreed. Plus, people who work part-time jobs often aren’t relying on it for their livelihood, and have something else that they consider their main “job” and priority, like school or parenting. You might be less inclined to miss out on your kid’s ballet recital or cancel your weekend of studying if you can live without your job, and consider those things more important to your life than your job.

      I think emphasizing nights and weekends for future hires is key. There are people out there who would consider that a plus.

      1. Em

        Alternately, they may have several different part-time jobs and are relying on a fixed schedule to be able to meet all their commitments and earn their livelihood. If I had part-time job A during the days and Job B on evenings and weekends, then I wouldn’t be able to attend evening and weekend shifts for job A.

  18. ginger ale for all

    My boss had problems getting volunteers for an event and so she sent an email out to the office that said she noticed certain people always seem to step up for events and she noticed and it would be reflected on our yearly evaluations. Things changed for the better with getting volunteers..

    1. Roscoe

      Thats crappy. If its a “Volunteer” thing, no one should be dinged because they don’t want to give up their free time. Its like blackmail

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

          I’m a little surprised that people are getting hung up on the word “volunteer.”

          There’s volunteering, where you do work without pay by choice. I volunteer with an animal rescue group. You volunteer with a rape crisis center. etc.

          Then there’s volunteering to take an action, where you agree to do something without being told that it’s required. I volunteer to pick up doughnuts for the next staff meeting. I volunteer to host my family to watch the presidential debate. Nobody told me I had to.

          The meaning is obviously related, but I wasn’t confused by the LW’s use of the word. Were others?

          Anyway. I don’t disagree with the point in this thread — that if someone is an expectation or requirement that that should be clear. I just don’t think there’s anything wrong with a policy of asking for volunteers (i.e. people who voluntarily agree to cover one of these shifts; not someone who isn’t going to be paid).

          1. Roscoe

            The problem is when the “volunteering” is really a requirement. I assume you picked up doughnuts because you were nice. But picking up donuts isn’t a requirement. If you guys had an informal rotation of picking up donuts, thats great. If the company decided to make it mandatory, that would be a problem.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            Ha, I almost came back to make that point. I do think there are plenty of perfectly legitimate uses of “volunteer” in the workplace even when stuff isn’t totally optional but could become required if no one steps up. I mean, you might say “we need someone to volunteer to handle the phones tomorrow afternoon while Jane is away — anyone up for it?” and it’s understood that if no one offers, it’s going to have to be assigned. The “volunteering” part is about creating an opportunity for someone to say “oh, my afternoon is really slow, I can easily handle it” or whatever.

            But I think in the OP’s case, it’s being presented as truly optional — even if no one does step up — when in fact it really shouldn’t be.

            1. Anna

              Completely this. And it’s reinforced when the OP covers the shift herself instead of assigning it to someone.

      1. Lissa

        I think it would depend on whether the evaluation thing meant that people would be penalized, because I read it more as “those who always step up will be getting better evals because of it” like extra credit. I don’t really have a problem with it if so, like if Alice always volunteers and Darlene doesn’t, Darlene shouldn’t be given a lower evaluation because of it but if Alice gets a higher “grade” than she would have ordinarily that seems ok to me.

        1. Dot Warner

          Yeah, that’s how I read it too. If Alice shows up to work every event and Darlene never works an event, it makes sense that Alice’s review would be “excellent” but Darlene’s would only be “good.” Darlene isn’t being penalized, but Alice’s extra effort gets noticed.

  19. The Mighty Thor

    If some people like doing these events and some aren’t, could OP offer a pay raise to people willing to make these a mandatory part of their job?

    This allows those who are interested to self-select, and offers a nice incentive. OP said that more involvement is a goal supported by upper management, so I think a modest raise for those okay with doing this shouldn’t be difficult to get approved.

    1. Brett

      Realistically, the hours are the pay raise. Merit based raises in public entities tend to follow rigidly strict rules that allow for no deviations from those rules without a vote of a public board (typically an independent merit board, an elected body, or both).

      An alternative, though, would be to create a separate title with a separate pay scale and move people who work those events into that title.
      (And have a requirement of that title be attending outreach events.)

  20. C Average

    There’s been a lot of good input here. I’d add one more thing: If this becomes mandatory, quit using the word “volunteer.” Few things stick in my craw more than being told I have to volunteer for something. That’s . . . not what that word means.

    Tell them they’re required to work three events per year (or whatever) and that you will take their preferences into account when creating the event work schedules. Provide them with an avenue for expressing their preferences–a form or something similar. Try your best to accommodate their preferences, and make it clear that those who don’t express a preference will still be assigned to work events. It’s work: They have to do it, and they’re getting paid to do it. That’s not volunteering.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    2. Not So NewReader

      Yes, always look at the context.
      There is a difference between:
      “I need a volunteer to help move this desk across the room.”
      And,
      “I need a volunteer to work 8 hours on Saturday.”

      Context is everything. People will be more apt to step up to the plate for a few minutes of moving a desk during their ordinary workday, than they would be to give up their Saturday.
      Anticipate heal dragging and other forms of resistance and frame your request carefully.

    3. Letter Writer

      I actually don’t use the word “volunteer” when I’m requesting coverage for events.

      1. Kira

        I was coordinating logistics for an event for work. Although I wanted to get real (unpaid) volunteers to help out, the ED decided that we should just have all the staff members work the event. She kept calling it volunteering (it was definitely mandatory) and I hated it. Months later, people started getting mad at me for not dropping my work and helping them out with their problems more, because they had “helped me out with the event”. No, your boss told you to work the event. You weren’t doing me a favor.

    4. Amy G. Golly

      Folks in this thread seem to be projecting a lot of their own details onto this situation, which doesn’t seem fair to the LW. Nowhere in her letter does she even mention the word “volunteer”: it’s Alison who first uses that word to describe the situation. Nor does she give the impression that she’s posing these events as optional, “extra-curricular” opportunities, and then getting upset later when the staff takes her at her word and declines to participate.

        1. Amy G. Golly

          Very big of you to step up. ;) But no, I get the sense a lot of the folks responding are thinking back to the times they’ve been asked to “volunteer” at work and reliving frustrations from the past!

          1. Letter Writer

            Thank you–I appreciate this. There are quite a few threads where the “volunteer” discussion has kind of eclipsed the question that I asked. I think a few people are under the impression that I’m some sort of manager who doesn’t communicate expectations, gets upset when they aren’t met, and then uses emotional blackmail to compensate for poor planning/procrastination. Which, I’m not gonna lie, is kind of a bummer to read, even if I know it’s not true.

  21. B

    Personally I think you are asking a lot of your current part-time employees. If this wasn’t made a requirement when they took the job you cannot fault them for not volunteering, especially when it does not seem to be a volunteer thing. These part-time employees may have taken the position because it works with everything else they have to schedule. Someone above also mentioned they may not be wanting to be outgoing and be a part of talking to others and if people do attend I would suggest buying them breakfast/coffee/lunch.

    In addition, I would not fault the employee for not wanting to cancel lunch plans. Sure they could have been with a friend at the last minute or it could have been a family/friends lunch that took awhile to coordinate, a shower, or a chance for them to catch up with someone who needs to talk. I think your resentment over your vacation plans is clouding a bit of your judgement for people you may not know that well.

    1. Letter Writer

      Occasional weekend and evening hours are (and have always been) a part of the job. This is not a new requirement.

      Like I said: I don’t want to get in the business of judging what people do on their time off or placing values on my time vs. anyone else’s time. It’s not productive. However, I do think I have a right to be frustrated when a problem at work costs me several hundred dollars in flight change fees.

      1. B

        Then I think you need to start making people sign up and take ownership of it if this is a requirement.

        Yes, you can be frustrated but at the same point it shouldn’t have come to that. Sounds to me as if there needs to be an organization structure change in how these events are being organized, what is needed, when they are, and who needs to go.

  22. WellRed

    She could have planned it better, but honestly, NO ONE would reschedule LUNCH PLANS so she could leave for vacation?

    1. JOTeepe

      I came here to say that I probably would offer to do this for a colleague unless I had something that I really couldn’t change (i.e., my own vacation plans, non-refundable tickets to something, etc.), but I probably would be one of the staff members who would volunteer a lot for these types of events in exchange for the flex scheduling, so … there is that.

    2. Joseph

      Honestly, if I was out to lunch with a friend and he told me that he was forcing someone else to miss vacation for our lunch plans, I would actually be kinda stunned and even a little irritated.
      Look, bro I love you and I’m glad to see you…but seriously, what the heck? Reschedule our lunch into dinner or drinks or whatever and go let your co-worker catch her flight.

      1. Kira

        It’s more of communal blame though. In this situation, no individual employee is forcing the manager to change their plans. After all, there are 20 other employees and the manager could tell the event no one was coming instead of paying hundreds of dollars to change her travel plans.

    3. TCO

      It depends–sometimes I make lunch-type plans that sound casual, but might be with a friend I haven’t seen in six months and really struggle to mesh schedules with, or someone coming from out of town, or a friend in crisis who really needs my time that week. Maybe I myself need support in a crisis, or I just need a break from work and don’t have it in me to show up to an unexpected work event on Saturday. We just don’t have enough information to judge the OP’s staff.

      1. JB (not in Houston)

        I don’t know, I’m sure that was true for at least one of the staff members, but what are the odds that it’s true for all of them?

      2. AW

        This is true but I have to say, I wouldn’t refer to “seeing a friend I haven’t seen in six months”, “helping someone with a crisis”, or “I absolutely don’t have the energy for this” as “lunch plans”.

        I wouldn’t necessarily spill all my personal business either but “lunch plans” just sounds trivial. Something like “personal plans I can’t change” sounds better.

        But you are right that “lunch plans” might have been a screen for something they didn’t want to have to hash out with their boss.

    4. Roscoe

      I get you, but also, as someone said, thats why they get paid the big bucks. You don’t know what these lunch plans were. Its easy to say how easy it is to cancel. But what if it had been planned a while. What if it was someone’s birthday? There are a lot of reasons I can see to not want to cover your manager for her lack of planning

      1. animaniactoo

        And assuming that somebody else will have lunch plans they can cancel. Or doesn’t have any lunch plans and didn’t sign up to but is free to do this so it’s not going to be a problem.

    5. Not So NewReader

      And this is why the events have to be made mandatory.

      A story, but I have to be vague. There was a board and there was a director who worked for an org. The board asked the director to come to board meetings, as the director needed to fill the board in on current things and the board had current concerns to discuss with the director. The director, when asked to attend board meetings, said “No, thanks. I am good here.” The board made the meetings mandatory.
      Sometimes asking nicely does not convey the importance of the task.

    6. Letter Writer

      To clarify: there were initially no coverage issues with this event. Three weeks prior to the event, we had a change in staffing and I learned that someone who was supposed to cover could not. I sent out a request for help as soon as I knew (three weeks in advance). Got no response, followed up via email and in person. Repeat. I would have preferred to have given more notice, but that was unfortunately outside of my control.

    7. Kira

      If everyone on staff has plans for that day which they don’t want to give up, then it’s your job as the manager to either tell one of them to do it, or to cancel the booth.

  23. Isben Takes Tea

    I just wanted to chime in that even though there is an issue that needs to be solved (and Alison’s advice is good), I think the OP is doing a great job with the background stuff that normally makes employees hate after-hour work (being paid/time off swap, management participating, reevaluating commitments based on staffing, etc.). OP, you sound like a good manager working to be greater!

  24. animaniactoo

    “we had the bad luck of having some major unanticipated changes between our original commitment and the event itself”

    OP, I suspect that this is not bad luck so much as burnout that some people could see coming and jumped ship before it got to them. For some of them, it already may have come to them.

    It sounds like there’s a certain level of disorganization to all of this and volunteers can easily get burnt out – even the normal regularly reliable ones – if they feel like they’re giving too much too often. Or being asked for too much too often. Particularly when they look around and see that the company keeps doing more and more and yet there’s this core group of people who continue to be more or less responsible for being part of it, while most of the rest of the group does little to nothing no matter what benefits may be available. That’s a morale killer.

    Consistently needing last minute staffing coverage sounds like a morale killer. It’s just a kind of pressure and stress I wouldn’t want to work in.

    It also sounds like you don’t trust your employees not to show their resentment at having to staff an event and that’s…. really unprofessional. They might not be happily onboard “rah rah!” but you should expect them to be competent, professional, and friendly and that’s really all you need to staff an event.

    You absolutely need to have a volunteer date cutoff limit, and then a mandatory schedule far enough out in advance that people can make plans around that. If it’s known that mandatory scheduling will be done based on who has the fewest staffing hours in, you’ll setup a situation where people will want to volunteer earlier in order to have more control over their own schedules.

    I would also suggest scheduling a backup or 2 who may be tapped if somebody is unexpectedly sick, etc. That kind of proactive planning should alleviate some stress in that people can hold themselves free at the time, and others can reliably plan without dreading a last minute tap.

    Another scheduling thought: Take the number of people you have in the office. Divide by the average number of people need to staff an event. Plan your calendar around the idea that nobody *based on number of available bodies* should have to work more than one evening/weekend event once a month. That’s the number of events you can sign up for, and even if another opportunity looks great – you just don’t have the bodies to handle it, and you’re going to need to prioritize the ones that best meet your outreach goals.

    1. Letter Writer

      I don’t want to get too specific about the staffing situation, but the unanticipated changes that I was referring to were not related to turnover.

      I think I could have phrased the part about resentment a little better. Different types of outreach events can require different skill sets–for example, an extremely introverted person may not do very well at a booth where they’re expected to just chat with people, but they might excel at an event with more structure and a slightly more manageable crowd. Kids are another issue–I have some staff members who enjoy working with kids and others who think kids are okay, but don’t especially enjoy them. If I’m planning an outreach event, I would rather have people choose to work events that align with their strengths as much as possible. I don’t want to create a system where someone who doesn’t really like kids is leading an event at a preschool. Does that make sense?

      I clarified this elsewhere but at most, every person on staff would need to work 1 event per year with our current schedule. At most. I do schedule several months in advance, but I’ve been running into issues with staffing about 2-3 weeks prior to the event.

      1. Anonophone

        Based on this comment, I wonder if the issue is as simple as people thinking that this is an optional event they can drop if something more important comes along?

        If so, this would be most easily solved by a roster and the use of the word ‘mandatory’. People can select which event they would prefer to be at, but it is mandatory to attend at least X events per month/year.

  25. Jane

    I also wonder, as someone else mentioned, whether the part-time people are having issues with this and maybe some positions need to be converted to full-time for this to work (or if that’s not feasible then as others mentioned perhaps the solution is to cut back on events). Definitely stop using the word “volunteer” because its confusing on both sides. If something is truly voluntary then you would accept that sometimes no one shows up and you have to deal with that. Since this is not like that, fine to say its mandatory and assign people well in advance so they can plan around it. Job requirements change to meet business needs. It’s not always ideal, and some people may seek out other jobs, but it happens and you just have to adapt sometimes. Going forward, you can tell people that events on weekends and evenings are part of the job requirements. Lots of people would be fine with that if the pay is appropriate compared to what other jobs they’re qualified for and getting offers for.

    1. KTB

      I would add that making people full time for certain time periods may also work. If your events tend to fall between May – September each year, staff up for that time period in order to cover the events. For example, my organization ramps up events significantly during the summer, so we hire a slew of outreach staffers specifically to cover those events. We train them on the organization and specific projects, and then ask them to sign up for shifts throughout the summer. They get paid for the shifts they select, and management isn’t stuck staffing a bunch of events because the volunteers backed out. We also hire (paid) interns, and make sure to tell them that they will be expected to work some evenings and weekends for events. The interns work alongside both regular and outreach staff, and learn a ton about our projects and why we participate in events.

    2. Letter Writer

      I actually don’t use the word volunteer when I’m requesting help (didn’t use it in my letter, either), so I’m surprised to see it keep coming up.

      I would love to have more full-time people–we actually have created some new full-time positions this year. Our ability to do that is generally pretty limited because of our funding.

  26. BadPlanning

    Is the process for volunteering at outreach events pretty streamlined? Are they reasonably comfortable events? I realize “comfort” covers a lot of ground. People have different tolerence for prepared-ness. If not well prepped — some of the non-volunteers may have felt “burned” before.

    Some “making it nice” things that I’m thinking of:
    Is there a quality tent or do volunteers stand in the sun?
    Speaking of standing, do they have chairs or anti fatigue mats?
    Are beverages/snacks provided by the company if it’s going to be more than 2 hours?
    Do the events normally end on time or tend to drag on?
    Are there enough people so bathroom breaks/lunch can be had?
    Are the materials prepped and ready to go or are employees often scrambling? Nothing like having a sign up sheet and having to dig a pen out of your purse for people to use it.
    Is parking easy at these events? Is there a way to make it easier?

    1. C Average

      This is a GREAT post.

      If you work these events yourself frequently, they probably feel pretty frictionless to you. You know how to set up the tent and the tables, you know in which closet the convention swag is kept, you know how early to arrive and what entrance to use, etc. All these details can feel like real obstacles to people who rarely work events.

      Maybe when you do your expectations reset, you can couple it with some dedicated events training to get everyone comfortable with working events and to help surface any event-related challenges that might have prevented people from wanting to work events in the past (aside from their own schedules). As you implement these new policies, it might also help to schedule experienced volunteers with noobs so that the experienced people can mentor the noobs.

  27. Formica Dinette

    I could be totally misreading the situation, but I wonder if the employees who won’t do the events don’t like you and/or their jobs. This sentence especially makes me wonder about that:

    “I found myself saying, ‘I need someone to help out with this or I’m going to have to delay and shorten my vacation’ and had colleagues tell me that they’d love to be able to help out, but they couldn’t cancel their lunch plans.”

    1. Not So NewReader

      They think that it was optional, they did not have to help provide coverage at all if they so chose.

      1. Formica Dinette

        My thinking was that someone who wouldn’t cancel their lunch plans so another person could go on vacation DGAF.

        1. Dot Warner

          I agree. Having been the person who was always asking people to help out with after-hours events, I can attest that it doesn’t take very long for people to get resentful of the constant begging for help – and by extension, the beggar.

    2. Letter Writer

      It’s actually a very collegial, closely knit workplace and generally very supportive. This particular problem is kind of an outlier, which is why I’ve been not sure what to do about it.

  28. Kay

    We have this same problem in my organization.

    Realistically: can your exempt staff truly take the time off elsewhere? I know that’s something we’re struggling with. Until very recently you were SOL with regards to those extra hours. They vanished into the ether, despite lip service to comp time. And it was worse, somehow; when we’d been told we could take comp time and then there was never the right time, coverage, space on the schedule: it stung more.

    The commenter who suggested you need to look at your resources/commitment ratio is also spot-on. What are you actually asking people to commit to, and how often? There are limits, and it may mean you need to scale back or hire more staff.

    1. Kelly White

      this.
      I had a job where I got comp time- after a few months I scheduled (with approval from my boss) a day off in two weeks. I had a graduation in the afternoon, so I scheduled a doc appointment in the morning.

      The day before my scheduled “comp” day, my boss told me it wasn’t really a good day and I couldn’t have it off.

      Then after a few weeks pulled me in her office to ask why I wasn’t staying late anymore. I seriously had to explain that I wasn’t interested in accumulating comp time if I wasn’t actually going to be able to use it.

      1. Letter Writer

        Yeah, we don’t do that to people. If your time off is approved, then you are good to go. No take-backs.

        Comp time should theoretically be used in the pay period that it is earned. That being said, it’s not uncommon for me to carry over hours into the next pay period because I’ve got too much going on to take the time off. I try not to do that often because it’s exhausting, but it’s unavoidable at times. I’m fortunate that my boss is pretty flexible with that rule.

    2. NonProfit Nancy

      Oh man, the mysterious comp time that never materializes. I’ve had this so many times. It is a morale killer.

  29. AndersonDarling

    Something else to consider…Do your employees have the resources to do these events? When we started volun-tolding our staff to do events, many didn’t know how to interact with the public, they didn’t know where the table/booth equipment was or how to set it up, they didn’t know how to handle challenges (“Why should I donate to your cause, I heard you CEO makes a million dollars!”), and they just didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing at events. Do you expect the staff to chase people down and convince them to support your cause? Can they answer questions about your cause?
    Clarifying the roles at these events and giving training may bring out more volunteers.

    1. AndersonDarling

      Oh, and you could just ask your staff why they don’t volunteer. Then you could work with them to make volunteering easier.

    2. Batshua

      Oh and for the love of cheese, never make 1 person run a table/booth alone. There has to be someone else so you can at least go pee if you need to, or to distract that 1 belligerent stranger who shows up on your first day.

      1. AnonyMeow

        Or worse, make 1 person man 2 tables representing 2 separate organizations! I might be pushed into doing something like this for 3 days straight, and I’m dreading it. :(

    3. Pearl

      This is a problem with the organization I work with. They want me to pitch membership because I’m in the front office and the VP of membership doesn’t answer his email. But I have asked everyone I can for talking points, and no one will give me anything to say. In addition to making this really difficult for me to be effective, it makes me feel like nobody actually cares about this task being accomplished. I try but I’m sure there’s better responses to “What’s the point of joining? What do *I* get?”

    4. Letter Writer

      I provide training if necessary. For the most part, it’s an abbreviated version of what we do at our front desk–“Hi! We’re the Teapot Organization! Ask me questions about our services!” But I will definitely review and see if there might be ways that I can be clearer about what exactly the event entails.

  30. Shannon

    If these activities are in your strategic plan and advocated for by upper management, then they’re job requirements. Which means the position descriptions/expectations need to change. You may have some turnover, but you’ll have much clearer communication about the expectation. Using the word “volunteer” doesn’t convey necessity to your staff. Convey the necesstiy. It must now become a requirement.

  31. Observer

    I just want to reinforce something – you need to assign these events, but you need to do them in advance. Don’t ask for volunteers and then assign someone the day before. Give people a day or two and then assign.

  32. KK

    OP, I think the big problem here is that you’re giving off the impression that this is *your* job and *your* problem to staff these events, and others are welcome to just pitch in when they feel like it. The employees are clearly seeing this as your issue, because you’re just working the events yourself when no one else can help. Case in point: when you said you would delay/shorten your vacation to work an event. There is no way in heck I would’ve ever offered that if it were me! You’re trying to be helpful but really just shooting herself in the foot by doing this. Everything you’re doing is communicating that this is not mandatory and you’ll just pick up any slack.

    If you do decide to go the route of making “volunteering” mandatory (as opposed to just cutting back on the events that you guys go to), please for the love of God do not make it effective immediately. I 100% agree with some other posters that I would be quite annoyed if I walked into work one day to be told I needed to work nights and weekends from that point on (and I was part-time, no less!). In fact, I’d start searching for a new job ASAP. You need to phase this in, i.e. “starting in 2017, everyone will have to work three events per year, etc. etc.” Even then, be prepared for some turnover.

    1. Anna

      Even if the OP cut back the number of events she did, she would still need staff to cover the events they decide to do. It should just be part of the job and the OP can be Person #1 at a few a year with other times both people staffing the booth are part-time employees.

    2. Not So NewReader

      Apparently, each person would be required to do one day per year. I think if people jump ship because of this they were going to jump anyway. While I understand that it might be a surprise to some folks, I don’t think this is a major change or that huge a deal. OP can make a calendar and ask people to select their first and second choices for the date they will work. She can stress to them that not everyone will be able to have their first choice.

  33. NonProfit Nancy

    If this is a priority for your org, I also highly recommend budgeting to hire someone (typically called an outreach coordinator – can be part time) whose job is entirely this. To this person, the nights and weekends schedule will be an advantage a – students are often great for this. It takes the weight off of the rest of the staff who has to do 9-5 AND nights and weekends. I had several of these extra-hours-also jobs, and it quickly leads to burnout even when the event is theoretically “fun” like leading a paddling trip or tabling at a fair. If you have to be there at a certain time and you can’t leave, it’s not that fun.

    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

      This needn’t add significant budget, actually! She would already be paying the existing employees to cover these events. In this scenario she would just be paying someone else.

      So, that’s another option for the current employees: They can either agree to do more of these events, or they can have their hours cut to accommodate the new staff person who is hired to cover these events.

  34. sara

    A couple of thoughts.
    1. If everything were evenly divided among the people in your department, how many events would be people working? A few times a year seems reasonable to me, but every other week seems like a major job change that is not as reasonable to ask of people. So think about what you’re realistically asking of people. People have all sorts of evening/weekend commitments that are hard to move — childcare, scheduled hobbies, school, caring for ill family members, religious services, etc. I would be pretty pissed if my job suddenly got switched to this schedule, so if it’s going to be a lot of hours I would consider it a last resort.
    2. If the volume of events is high, is there any way to consider making a new hire where the job would explicitly include coverage for weekend/evening events? Something where their job is explicitly 50% in the office, 50% coordinating and staffing events during weekend/evening times? I feel like this would probably attract different people than your current staff — people who like having evening/weekend hours and a flexible schedule, and people who enjoy (or at least can tolerate) a lot of front-facing interaction with strangers.
    3. If it’s not possible to make a new hire, perhaps it’s possible to change one of your current positions to this type of 50/50 setup and get rid of a less-than-awesome performer or promote a fantastic performer in the meantime (or, do it when someone moves on if you have a high enough rate of turnover).

    Good luck!

    1. Jennifer

      I have a lot of stuff going on after work and I would not be happy to suddenly have to work a lot of night events and have to cancel say, the classes I paid money to go to.

  35. Trout 'Waver

    Would it make sense to hire some part-timers specifically to attend these events? Some marketing or outreach folks that actually enjoy doing this kind of work?

    1. Trout 'Waver

      Ok, how can nobody bring up hiring someone for this role in the entire thread to this point, and then 3 people bring it up at exactly 4:00 pm EST?

    2. NonProfit Nancy

      I love that you, me, and Sara (above) all made the same point within five minutes of each other. There’s strength in numbers, OP! Adding this to the plates of your existing staff may just not be workable.

    3. AW

      I was going to make this exact comment but I see you three have it covered.

      But yes, if it’s that common then hiring someone (or multiple people) specifically for after hours work seems to be the thing to do.

  36. bopper

    It is almost like asking your kids to take out the garbage…if you ask “Will someone take out the garbage?” Nobody will volunteer because it seems optional and no way they want to do something if their sibling doesn’t have to. I have much more luck with “You will be doing Garbage and You will be doing Dishwasher unloading” then they think it is fair.
    How can you make it fair?

  37. Jules

    Many years ago, I as a team lead for the volunteers for a charity event. I couldn’t get enough volunteers to cover all the jobs and ended up doing all of them myself. I asked some of our people, who were sitting in chairs watching the event, if they could help, even for a few minutes — everyone declined. I will never ever volunteer to be the team lead again. Simply too exhausting, years later I’m still burned out. (it was the CPE nationals)

  38. Batshua

    Depending on how onerous this is perceived by some folks, would adding a cheap perk like included dinner or donuts or SOMETHING small but an acknowledgement that “while you get paid to do this, it kinda sucks and we appreciate that you’re doing it” help here?

    I am required every few weeks to do a week with 2 10 hour days. For a lot of folks, a 10 hour day is no big deal, but for me, it throws off my entire schedule for a week afterwards while my body readjusts, plus I find the days super tiring. When we have donuts, it sucks less. I have more energy and am less cranky and don’t feel like I am a cog in a machine doing a thankless job, which is how I normally feel when I have to work 7-5:30.

    I don’t know if that would work for you, but maybe you could survey your team and ask them what they want/need in order to get coverage consistently? Perhaps they have ideas that are ridiculously simple to implement, or perhaps they are all just like “Nope, we’d rather you do it”, in which case you know that you have to MAKE people cover events.

    1. Stellaaaaa

      I wouldn’t suggest this in lieu of nothing. I would rather have my extra $2 in-hand than have my boss give me a “bonus” but then spend it for me on something I didn’t ask for. Two or three $1 slices of pizza is pretty poor compensation in comparison to legit overtime pay.

  39. LisaLee

    You know, if it’s a problem to require your regular staff to attend these events, “hand out literature at the org booth” sounds like a great job for a college intern. Maybe consider looking for one or two students who would take that over for a bit of cash?

    Otherwise, I think it’s totally reasonable to tell your staff that everyone needs to commit to X number of events per quarter.

    1. Anna

      You’re assuming they have an intern and on top of that, if this is an organization that works with the community it’s an integral part of the job. My role is specifically to do this kind of outreach (as well as a lot of different kinds of outreach) and I can’t tell you how many community-based orgs or programs that target a specific population that have employees who rotate doing this kind of work. It’s better to have people who are familiar with the program, who can answer weird questions, or who can give out appropriate contact info. Interns are good at big picture, but not really appropriate for specifics.

      1. LisaLee

        That’s true. I’m not saying an intern could handle 100% of these tasks, but the impression I got from the letter was that many of them were of the “community org fair” variety, which usually doesn’t entail a *ton* of specialized knowledge beyond an understanding of the programs offered and the ability to give out contact info for more specific questions. Training an interested college student to be an “outreach assistant” or something like that might be a worthwhile use of resources and would be a good resume builder for the student. Especially if they’re aimed at a particular underserved population–they could reach out specifically to students from that population to give them a boost.

      2. Kira

        On the flip side, I’ve seen how professional staff get into the weeds and completely skip over the question they’re asked.

        Q: “What do you do?”
        Big picture answer: “Our organization helps children work through and overcome the trauma of child abuse. We have a couple of programs, listed in the brochure.”
        Actual staff answer: “Well, I’m a certified [acronym], working towards my advanced credentials in XJSLFJ in order to provide close-managed post-traumatic recover services to pre-adolescent subjects by engaging in a reliency-based modality process…”

  40. AMT

    Not sure if it’s possible at this particular company, but would it make sense to hire one or two people whose primary or major duty is outreach/events? If hiring isn’t possible, could existing staff members who are interested in this type of work be voluntarily assigned these tasks (possibly with some enticing perks, like flexible hours)? It sounds like it would be easier to get people to do this stuff and be enthusiastic about it if it were actually someone’s “real” job rather than something extra they have to do.

  41. Anonomeee

    We’ve had this problem at my workplace in the past. Boss wanted employees to attend networking events to help promote the company. Nobody wanted to volunteer to go because they did not want to give up their free time. Making them mandatory only made people mad that now they HAD to do it.

    I think you are on the right track because you are (a) paying them for the time or (b) offering time off in exchange. So they should not be able to gripe about that, IMO.

    As others have said, making the events voluntary just sets it up so you will have no volunteers. Make out a schedule, start assigning events to people and be sure you have worked the event into their schedule for that week so that you don’t have someone complaining that they didn’t get a day off, or whatever.

    The other thing I wonder about, though, is if this is possibly more of a case where you have a bunch of part-time employees who just really are not interested in doing more. You know, the type that just wants to come in, work their hours, and go back to their personal lives. I hope I am not talking out of turn for saying it, but I see more and more of that in my experience managing.

  42. Caro

    I think it’s worth considering whether your part-time employees have the time to “volunteer” for out-of-office events.
    When I was just out of college, I had a part-time job at an organization I loved and was super interested in working for long-term, but the fact of the matter was that they didn’t have a ton of money and so couldn’t hire many full-time staff members/pay their existing staff very well. I was drowning in student loans, so I also picked up a job waitressing at a local restaurant/bar all weekday evenings but Monday and all day on the weekends, only very rarely taking time off. When we were asked to “volunteer” to take outside shifts at the nonprofit I worked at, I never volunteered because I was working the rest of the time, and frankly, switching a Friday night shift to a Monday night one would have had a huge impact on the amount of money I took home. Are your part-time staff working other jobs? Are they actually free on weekends and in the evenings?

    1. Anna

      I don’t think that’s up to the OP to have to think about. If the OP needs people to be able to do these events under “other duties as assigned,” it’s on the part-time employees to determine if they can deal with that or if they need to move on. The manager is responsible for managing her program and the people who for her, not the schedules of those people when they aren’t working.

      1. Stellaaaaa

        That’s definitely true. However, OP has to realistically deal with the staff she currently has, and if the part-timers aren’t being paid enough to avoid working at other businesses with conflicting schedules, I’d say that’s a larger long-term problem to be solved by an org that wants its employees to have 100% open availability. OP is finding herself in the position of essentially hiring for a job no one wants to do, but without the ability to make that job worth it to anyone.

  43. Simms

    There could be a public transit element to this as well. If the events are held way out in the suburbs there could be not a good way to get there and still look professional or a bus someone needs to get home stops before the event ends despite the subway still running. Weekends are particularly bad as well for public transit with buses either ending early or not running. Depending on how much the hourly pay is it could easily be canceled out by having to take a cab to or from the event.

    1. Anna

      I think you’re bending over backwards to come up with reasons why people aren’t stepping up when in reality it’s probably just they thought it was honestly voluntary when really it’s just part of the job and they need to expect to attend some of these events.

      OP- Stop asking for volunteers. Start assigning staff to attend.

    2. Brett

      I had a role at a public entity that required outreach in off hours, and there was almost always a government vehicle made available to me for transportation. It was actually mandatory to use a government vehicle unless there was none available (that generally only happened for last minute daytime events).

      All employees in our entire department were required to have a valid drivers license (a very common requirement with government jobs) and subject to suspension if they lost their driving privileges.

  44. Elizabeth West

    Haven’t read all the comments yet, but ROTATING SCHEDULE FTW. If it’s part of their job to cover these things, then they need to do it.

    We have a schedule for the front desk coverage. Each person has a designated day–it doesn’t rotate but people can swap if someone is in a meeting or can’t be here that day. You need to make a schedule that has each person doing it so many times in a given period–say, once a month–and then they can rotate out.

    Event 1–Buffy
    Event 2–Willow
    Event 3–Xander
    Event 4–Anya

    Next round (monthly or whatever)

    Event 1–Willow
    Event 2–Xander
    Event 3–Anya
    Event 4–Buffy

    And so on. That’s the only way to be fair and ensure they all get their time in. When I worked in food service, this was how we did it, and the manager only picked up shifts when someone could not work their designated shift and no one else could cover. Which is what you’re doing now, but you’re making it WAY too easy for them to beg off.

  45. Mela

    I want to push back on everyone’s assertions that OP needs to be aware of how it is a “big deal” to all of a sudden make her employees take on a new task. It’s specifically stated, “Weekend/evening hours are not uncommon in my line of work,” so this should not be a surprise to employees. Their department has been doing this work all along, they just haven’t been tasked to do it. I’d be very surprised if there wasn’t a line in their job descriptions that says, “Evening and weekend hours as required,” especially if this is a big chunk of the department’s work.

    I work in a similar field and it was super upfront that evening/weekend events are a normal part of work. If we had a personal conflict every now and then, no big deal. We had a system where our manager would get an invitation to a community event and assign it to you unless that evening/weekend was blocked out on our calendar. When hired, we were told to block off any and all times we didn’t want to be working, because oftentimes there would be no notice/confirmation. It was never stated, but implied that this included the caveat, “within reason.” That’s where the problem started with this one employee. She was a parent and said to our manager, “Oh but I don’t want to work nights or weekends so I can spend time with my kids, so I blocked them all off on my calendar. That’s what you said to do, right?” This was one of many head/desk moments with this person, but explaining to her that her job description stated evening/weekend hours were required, during the interview stage evening/weekend hours were emphasized, and during on-boarding, evening/weekend hours were discussed as part of her 2 person team’s priorities…after all that, this woman still thought she could “opt out” of evening/weekend hours…indefinitely.

    OP, trust your gut on whether or not this was a known part of the job or just denial/delusion in hopes of wiggling out of a new job requirement. Sometimes job requirements change, and if people leave over it, fine. Plenty of folks don’t mind that schedule. You want a team that pitches in and works together, not let others’ do a disproportionate amount of work.

    1. IT_Guy

      +1!

      OP, If the employees are told, “We need 3 workers for this event, if nobody volunteers, I’ll select 3.”, they might change their tune. And be sure the next time this happens, you pick a different 3, so is shared among the department. And if they are hourly, their objections should have even less weight, especially if they are just forced to give up their lunches.

      I’m told quite often at the last minute that I have after hours work to do and it’s understood to part of the job. If something is really a problem, we trade tasks around. We are a team and we make sure that nobody gets overloaded.

      Treat them as a team!

      1. Not So NewReader

        This is the approach I used and it worked just fine. Friends would either team up or bail each other. “Sue and I will take it next Saturday” OR “I know Nancy has a family picnic so I will go, that way Nancy can go to her family picnic.”

    2. Lissa

      I totally agree. OP even said above that it was stated in the information about the job/at the interview. It sounds like staff might have expected it going in, but found out quickly they didn’t *have* to have to, and now have got used to not having to do it. Which, I totally get — if there was an unpleasant job duty I didn’t want to do and for the first six months/two years/whatever, I could easily avoid it, yeah I might start to get comfortable not having to do it.

      And since the OP also said above this would be like a once a year requirement for each staff member…yeah I don’t think they really have much to legitimately complain about.

  46. Stellaaaaa

    Are the part-timers being paid a decent wage? Are they students who are biding their time until graduation and therefore don’t really care about longevity at a place that won’t hire them full-time? Are they parents who deliberately chose part-time schedules? Retired people who are working for the satisfaction of furthering your cause? If not, I think it’s possible there’s some other level of dissatisfaction regarding these events. In past jobs, I often volunteered for batches of overtime. I appreciated the extra cash, and one overtime day every 2-3 weeks wasn’t enough to feel oppressive. So I gotta wonder why no one’s volunteering for your overtime. Possibly it’s that your overtime isn’t actually overtime for part-timers, so they’re not getting 1.5 x pay.

    Maybe this is a “you get what you pay for” situation? To be honest, I wouldn’t go above and beyond for a job if it didn’t pay well (I can’t tell if the org is non-profit but I’m sort of rolling with that assumption here; please correct me if I’m wrong) and kept me at part-time status. That’s not something you can expect of qualified adults who are bringing their talent and A-game to the table. This is the perfect opportunity to create an internship or volunteer role for students who won’t be expecting to be paid.

    OP, if you have the time and mental energy, I’d think long and hard about what your goals are for this org. The part-timers will eventually leave if they’re not promoted. That’s the nature of working with part-timers. They may believe in the org’s goals, but they can’t realistically be committed to it enough to adjust their lives around it. This is a long way of suggesting that if you can’t afford to pay people enough to work these events, you can’t afford to attend them.

  47. I'm Not Phyllis

    I think you’ll find that’s an issue in any organization – normally when there are events like this it’s always the same group of people who volunteer. For this reason I think Alison’s right – you’ll have to start assigning people, or have a number of events that they “have to” sign up for each year/season. They may not like it, but the core group who always volunteer will probably be happier!

  48. Brett

    My last job was with a public entity where outreach was a huge part of what we did. We had to coordinate planning with over 300 other public entities as well as several hundred community groups. Our office of 9 averaged over 20 off hours community events a month as well as having an office requirement of 2300+ hrs of coordination meetings a year. (We were funded mostly be a federal grant that had specific hours requirements for community events and coordination meetings.)

    We handled this by assigning specific duties by entity type and by task. One person had all hospitals, another had all police departments, 2 were assigned to fire departments (because they had a large number of off hour events we had to attend), etc.
    Community education fairs were assigned to two people, public meetings to two others, one person had all events tied to our largest safety project, another had all events tied to our mobile apps, and yet another had all social media related events. Everyone also had at least one backup for each of their entity or event types. Exempt employees were given the largest pool of events to handle.
    We routinely changed the types people were assigned (just as a matter of cross-training), but having specific types meant people knew their event types better and had better connections with the outside people they were dealing with.

    Since each person would have multiple assignment types, we could use the reassignments to balance off hours workload. Those people who had more off hours events were always given more flexibility in their normal work schedules. In particular, they were frequently given permission to not come into the office at all those days so that they only had to travel to and from the event site. (They could also take home an agency vehicle the night before.)

    As has been mentioned above, the most critical element to keeping all of this running was training. Every employee had a mandatory 40 hrs per year of contact training plus an additional 200 hrs in their first three years. This made sure everyone was confident and prepared for their outreach work.

  49. Library Director

    There have been several excellent suggestions, including AAM’s one about evaluating the events. But, I’d like to bring up that just because people like to only work set hours doesn’t mean that’s what they agreed to when hired. They seem to be in an expectation groove. OP wrote:
    Weekend/evening hours are not uncommon in my line of work, although some of these events may fall outside our normal operating hours.

    It’s not uncommon for people to take a job and get in an expectation groove. People will take a job with the understanding that X am to X pm is the schedule and they will rotate working on Saturdays. Frequently they come in months later and say, “I really want to work Y am to Y pm. I also don’t want to work Saturdays.” Sorry, but this was the understanding when you took the position. I’ve worked with people and been able shift hours with the explicit understanding that if the staffing needs change they will have to go back to x to x. It never goes well when they have to shift back. “But I’ll miss the good TV shows!” (A real statement.)

    The expectation groove is so deep some people get very upset when they have to shift their regular lunch hour. Not for medical reasons, just that they like to have lunch at the same time every day. Most of the time it’s okay, but there are times when we all have to be Gumby.

  50. STX

    Frankly this sounds like shift work to me, shift work that isn’t being effectively managed. If you know what events need coverage a few weeks in advance, you can put out a schedule that assigns people to those shifts (based on their availability) far enough in advance that people can plan for them. They can take into account planned vacation and emergency absences.

  51. Letter Writer

    Hi everyone,

    So I just checked the comments at work and holy smokes! Thank you all for your feedback and thank you to Alison for her excellent advice. I’m very overwhelmed. I intend to follow up more with some of the individual comments when I get home, but I did want to briefly clarify a few things:

    1. Occasional weekend/evening hours are common in my industry. All employees are told when they are hired that occasional weekend and evening hours are expected. Some staff members have less flexibility in their schedules, which is something that is considered when we’re making scheduling decisions.

    2. We do outreach activities fairly frequently. We do have a staff member whose primary responsibility is outreach and we are able to cover a lot of events that way. There are typically a handful of events (2-3 at the most) per quarter where additional help is needed. There are 20 people on staff, including me. We typically have 2 people working events in order to coordinate breaks (there are some events that only need 1 person).

    3. All staff are paid for any time spent working an event–it’s basically treated like an extra shift. We reimburse for expenses and staff may get paid for travel time if it’s especially far away (we have very few events that are). We are flexible about scheduling time off in exchange for any extra hours worked. Ideally, this is supposed to be scheduled within the same pay period that it’s earned. I am typically the exception to that rule–my schedule is very full and it’s sometimes hard to schedule a comp day in the same pay period that I earn it.

    Again, thank you all–I’m looking forward to responding in more detail to some of your comments when I get home tonight.

    – Letter Writer

    1. Rocky

      My industry is also “occasional weekends/evenings expected” and honestly, splitting up 2-3 events per quarter among 20 staff is, uh, not onerous to say the least. That doesn’t even add up to one event per person per year. I would either make it an explicit part of 2-3 more people’s jobs if possible, and stop asking for volunteers to take shifts, or if that really won’t work, have people sign up or rotate.

      1. Rocky

        I might have misinterpreted – so maybe you have a max of 24 shifts to fill each year, not 12. That’s still one shift per person per year with a few left over for someone to step up for. Very, very reasonable to ask everyone to sign up for at least one.

    2. jhhj

      So you need, for argument’s sake, 24 evening/weekend shifts a year, over 20 people — that’s entirely reasonable, so you can use Alison’s advice. Do be careful about “less flexibility” people ending up getting zero evenings/weekends, because (as you can see from the comments here), that is a recipe for resentment.

      It looks like you could require everyone to do one shift a year and have the other few covered by the people who currently volunteer and you’d be okay. It may or may not work out to allow people to trade their one shift away, but that risks problems with popularity (see the post by the person who wouldn’t let their employee go to their graduation).

    3. MC

      A couple of thoughts that I have not seen expressed here yet:

      1. Compensation is a great driver but it’s not the only driver. Visibility by upper management as having participated will motivate some. Getting leadership to participate in some of the larger events and giving people “face time” with executives can also be a great motivator.
      2. Change the policy. It is done all the time. Have a set number of events a person must attend. For each event have a primary set and a backup set in case the primaries aren’t available. If the primaries need to pull the trigger, the backup is on deck.
      3. With the policy changed and a backup plan in place – make attendance part of the promotion / performance cycle. You attend – great. You don’t attend – that’s a ding. Hold people accountable. Obviously emergencies happen – but a move? Planned so plan better! Attending the events you committed to attend should be a factor in whether or not you are performing your job to expectation. Performing well at these events should also be a factor of course, but meeting commitments is important too.

      It sounds like your willingness to be flexible has come at a personal cost and no one is looking at the impact of how it reflects on you or your organization. You can change that.

  52. Rose

    In the food world, we hire demo staff for events. Maybe this could work? The pay/hr for a few hours might be way better than the current situation. You usually end up with 2-3 reliable demo people who just like working occasionally.

  53. ECB~

    I feel asking for “volunteers” is the problem. My suggestion is to create a sign-up sheet for all the scheduled events, well in advance, post it and announce that all slots are to be filled, signing up gets first choice, all unfilled slots will be assigned.

    If it required for the job, it is not “volunteering”. If I am asked to volunteer, then it is optional, and to be honest, I wouldn’t do it if I was asked to volunteer, especially at an hourly part-time job.

  54. Cool Wheels

    My job has weekend (Saturdays and Sundays) work that used to fall to a very small number of employees, but that wasn’t really working for a variety of reasons so last year we implemented a rota across our whole department (everyone from admin staff to senior management – the nature of the weekend work allows this). It meant some people who did not sign up for weekend work when they started their jobs ended up having to do very occasional (approximately one day four times per year) weekend work. We get a day off of our choosing in lieu of the weekend day. No one seems to have minded, even those with lots of weekend commitments, and I think the fact it’s across the whole staff (no matter your pay grade) helped with that.

    The rota comes out months in advance so we can plan and sometimes it’s nice to have a weekday off (particularly if tacked onto a different weekend to make a bonus three day weekend).

  55. Jayn

    Is anyone else thinking we’ll see a “my boss is making me work events that used to be optional” letter in the next few months?

  56. stevenz

    How about hiring someone, maybe your next opening, on contract with the stipulation that these events are part of the job. That would save a lot of trouble because it would establish a clear understanding of responsibilities right from the start.

  57. newlyhr

    if it’s work stuff, then it should either be evenly split among the employees, or perhaps it becomes part of one or two employees’ job descriptions and they get flexible hours in exchange. We incorporated this kind of networking outreach into a couple of our job descriptions and funny enough, the other employees resented the fact that these people didn’t have to keep the same work hours that they did. They saw going to these network events as a perk and thought it was unfair that they didn’t get the same opportunity. Go figure.

  58. SirTechSpec

    Looking at the comments above, the moral of the story for me is that people have very different understandings of the word “volunteer”. At my job we ask for volunteers for projects, covering each other’s shifts, etc… but there’s a clear understanding that it’s a chance for people to step forward for things they can tolerate before getting assigned something they hate. In other words, the question is not *whether or not* you’ll do something, just which ones. It works very well. But, if you had people who were thinking of “volunteer” as meaning it’s strictly optional, that would obviously be a problem (though in LW’s case the fact that hourly employees get paid should be a clue that it’s a business need.)

    As to the question itself: LW, you said upthread that this works out to something like 1 event per year per person. That’s nothing. Go with Joseph’s suggestion: “If no one signs up by X days before the event, I’m assigning whoever’s gone the longest without working one.” I would let people sign up for events starting at the beginning of the year – even if you don’t know exactly when they’ll be, if there’s a strong presumption that the event will happen and that it will happen within a particular date range, people can still volunteer somewhat tentatively.

    1. Katie F

      It also seems like perhaps the way the OP means “volunteer” has changed over time. Like that these events originally WERE actually volunteer events, and have become “voluntold” events, but no one is making that clear to the employees.

      It also depends heavily on A. the jobs the employees are doing, B. their pay rates, C. the compensation for the nights they are “expected to volunteer” (which, um, is just ‘scheduled to work’, let’s just admit that right now), and D. the amount of time this has been going on.

      I agree – if this is a “have to do” thing, then you need to stop calling it “volunteering” and start scheduling it like any other variation on the workday. You may lose an employee or two who simply cannot make it work. I couldn’t, without actual OT pay, in any job prior to the one I hold now – the sheer cost of childcare for that five hours would mean I LOST money to be there. But time and a half? I’d be able to afford childcare and come out a few bucks ahead.

      I agree with the “assign whoever’s gone longest witout working one”, and then work that into a regular rotating schedule so everyone knows with plenty of notice when their next event is coming up. I’d also work in a budget for dinner, free lattes, or whatever as an extra reward. If you start requiring your employees to go work outside of the scope of the job when they were hired, it’s nice to make things a little less miserable for everyone in the process.

        1. Katie F

          You know, you’re right – and I just read the Letter Writer’s response below, which goes into further detail and makes it clear that there isn’t a problem with communication as to what’s expected of the employees, so that’s helpful to know, too.

          This is one of those where I think ‘volunteer’ became such a central topic of discussion that we all kind of lost track of how the LW framed the whole thing in the first place.

      1. j________

        I’m wondering if a sizable of the part-time employees specifically work there because the hours allow them to avoid the costs of childcare, and are perhaps remaining in this lower paying part-time job vs seeking better paying jobs for this very reason. Making weekend hours compulsory might very well be impossible or too expensive for employees who paid a small hourly wage, specifically because childcare would make them come up negative. The possibility of mandatory weekend hours should be brought up to new hires, but I’ll bet my money that there will be a high turnover if most of the current low-paying part-time employees are forced to work weekends on a regular basis.
        I’ve known a few women in the past who worked part time day jobs simply to earn “a little extra cash” after being stay-at-home-moms once their children were old enough for school. They’d spend their weekends with their husbands and children, going to sports games, etc, and these types would likely not be willing to work weekends or nights.

  59. Letter Writer

    Thanks everyone. This has given me a lot to think about. Some quick followup thoughts:

    1. “Volunteer” — This has been an interesting discussion to read, but I think my intent may have been a bit obscured. I do not use the word “volunteer” when asking people to work events, partly because it has the potential to be misinterpreted as unpaid work. It’s work and it’s paid time, so I frame it as what it is — a request for work. Some people also brought up the point that if something is required, it’s not voluntary/optional. I agree. In this case, weekend/evening hours are a part of the job. However, attending one of these events frequently falls outside of regular employee hours, which I recognize can pose some inconvenience for a variety of reasons. I do not want to be the kind of manager who says, “Sorry, Bob, I don’t care that your daughter is graduating from high school, I need you to work our booth at Teapot Fest.” In trying to avoid that, I have erred on the side of forcing that expectation on myself: “Sorry, Letter Writer, I don’t care if you’re going on vacation, I need someone to work the booth at Teapot Fest.” In doing so, I have confirmed that, yes, this is an absolutely horrible situation to create for an employee. I need to be fair to staff, but I also need to be fair to myself.

    2. I clearly need to find a good balance that allows employees some agency in choosing which shifts they sign up for, but not to the point that “none of the above” is a viable option. I am not entirely sure what this system will look like for us yet–I need to think it over a little more–but incorporating more contingency planning and prioritizing events will definitely be considerations.

    3. There are some people who expressed concerns that I’d forgotten or procrastinated on coverage for the event that happened during my vacation and that I was relying on emotional blackmail to get people to cover. That would be a horrible thing to do. In this particular case, the event was covered when I scheduled my vacation. 3 weeks prior to the event, that changed. I sent out a request for coverage immediately and made multiple followups in person and via email.

    Thank you all for your feedback. This has been very helpful for me and I appreciate your willingness to offer thoughts and advice. I am still a new manager, so a resource like this is invaluable for me.

  60. Narise

    I would let management know that few are volunteering and if they want to continue the outreach it will need to be mandatory participation. Let them know that this could cause resentment and even some resignations but if its what they want then you will hire without this requirement.

  61. uh

    Letter Writer – I’m late to the party here but PLEASE define “occasional” to new hires. I used to work in a place where “occasional” was “several times per month”. That is a job I would pass by . . . and turnover was horrendous.

    1. Letter Writer

      Not to worry, we always go over scheduling needs for the position at every interview and are specific about the weekend/evening hours question.

  62. friedpasta

    OP, you have me wondering if you work in a public library. We are having the same issue as the library’s role has shifted recently into outreach off-site rather than in the building(s). This change has caused a lot of turnover because of scheduling (often with little lead time), inability to increase pay, pay overtime, or make comped hours worthwhile during to coverage needs. As a result, we sometimes end up with open positions for months and can’t find quality employees to fill them. Staff who are expected to begin filling these off-hours times are resentful and morale is low. It sounds like you are trying to figure out and be thoughtful as to how to make it work for everyone without complete disruption and I commend that. That approach jason’ t happened here and the results are showing, not in a good way.

      1. friedpasta

        :)

        I think libraries are entering a tougher time as far as staffing and scheduling. The pay is still quite low and I’ve noticed that attitudes have changed in recent years in that many workers/potential hires have made the conscious decision that enjoying life, family, and living more simply is more important to them than being available to work at odd hours. Not saying if this is right, wrong, whatever, but just an observation that I’ve started to note.

        We have had many good candidates turn down job offers because of the new directives for libraries to try to stay relevant and appear at places within the community at all events rather than have people come into the building. More and more, the hours are in the evenings and on weekends, and will increase. It’s starting to feel frantic and somewhat out of control with programming and logistics. We are losing good people because of it and struggling to find new ones. I don’t see it improving unless the economy goes down the drain again and people are completely desperate for jobs.

        I don’t think you have much choice for now other than to just schedule staff as fairly as possible and to be sure you are treating everyone equally by spreading it out to all. I do think, though, that libraries are going to have to make changes and look into trying to hire people whose main job is to attend these events, knowing from the start that that is the job and their only job and that libraries can’t offer overtime, comp time, etc., because budgets are set. I would also make sure that managers are included in off-site event rotations; staff notices if managers won’t do what they are expected to do if it’s a matter of representing in the community.

        Regardless, it’s going to be hard to keep good and educated staff with these changes in library expectations, I’m afraid.

        1. Library Director

          Hear! Hear! What friedpasta said! There are many off site demands for library representatives. We no longer honor last minute requests due to staffing shortages or the need to pay overtime. We are dealing with the issue that you cannot keep doing the same (or more) with less money. Because to be level funded is a budget cut. It’s always nice to say, “Hire another person” or “Pay them more for working the event.” That’s not always a reality.

          1. Letter Writer

            It’s a very up and down time for us. On the one hand, I do enjoy working these events. We have been getting some really great feedback and results and I love rethinking how we offer different services to the community. On the other hand, it can be very draining. Everyone wants more stuff, but no one wants to raise taxes to fund the stuff.

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