Volunteer quitters in Rio

23 August 2016

Volunteers and mega sporting events go together like Laura Trott and Jason Kenny!

Riovols

The London 2012  Games, and Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games were both phenomenal volunteer successes. Its a real concern from media reports that not all is well with the Rio volunteer programme. We don’t know the full details, but it looks to me like a failure in the Duty of care to volunteers.

Volunteers are often seen as  “unpaid workers” who offer their labour without pay. Often leading to folk wondering why they would do such a thing. Volunteer motivations, however, are entirely different. Volunteers talk about making a positive difference, being part of the team, building new relationships and friends, giving something back to a country or place. About having new experiences and challenges- a once in a life time one in Rio. There are Scots over as part of the international group of volunteers who are having a ball. Whilst volunteers at Olympics are prepared to put up with a lot- undertaking shifts, being patient, handling difficult people etc.- they are not prepared to put up with anything!

There is a  very clear psychological contract rather and not a contract of work.  This unwritten contract has a voice that says;

“If you take care of me, help me understand what I have to do, give me the tools to do it,  communicate and keep me safe then I will do my utmost best to help with the team of volunteers and paid workers to make the Games a great success.” 

Rio 2016

If on the other hand the duty of care for volunteers is lacking; poor communications, lack of food, late hours, and confusion then not surprisingly a volunteer will see the psychological contract as broken and vote with their feet. That as many as 1/3 may have done this at Rio according to the report in The Independent is for me a sign of failing to meet the organisers duty of care.

There’s a context as well. The Games have had a lot of issues, and the forthcoming difficulties for the Paralympics is evidence of that. The media also tends to look for the negatives. Volunteers will be affected by these difficulties just like everyone else.

Experience has taught us that volunteers have a very high tolerance level at major events and I’m sorry to hear that this appears to have been breached in Rio. The other side of this is that the Games have been a brilliant success in other ways and there’s no question that the volunteers will be telling their stories for a life time! I look forward to hearing some myself.

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