Working in the voluntary sector
Working in the voluntary sector

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Working in the voluntary sector

2.2 Organisation and role

How staff and volunteers carry out their roles is also influenced by the demands and expectations that others have of them – particularly the organisation. Many of these expectations never appear in job descriptions, but their impact can be powerful. The two most common expectations that organisations have of roles can be described as ‘role ambiguity’ and ‘role conflict’.

Role ambiguity

The roles that organisations expect their staff to play may be unclear or inconsistent. The term ‘role ambiguity’ is often used to refer to such situations of uncertainty about what is expected of a person in a particular role. This can occur where individuals have insufficient or deficient information about what is expected of them.

For example, an office manager of a small voluntary organisation is recruited to answer the phone, deal with the post, and to order supplies and equipment. She then finds she is expected by other staff to organise a volunteer recruitment day at the office. This is not in her job description but others think it is her role because it is an event in the office. She knows how to do the task but feels stressed about the expectations of others about an important event.

A further aspect of role ambiguity relates to a lack of information about whether people are making a contribution or doing their jobs well. Feedback through appraisals is therefore important for staff and volunteers, although paid staff are more likely than volunteers to have annual appraisals. Organisations with large numbers of volunteers often give positive feedback through group emails or in meetings.

Role conflict

Role conflict can arise when different people have different expectations of the role a worker or a volunteer should play. For example, if you are a volunteer coordinator, your team of volunteers may expect you to represent their views to the managers, but you are also expected to be loyal to the organisation in presenting its policies and decisions to your team. This can also happen if you represent your organisation in a partnership – there is an expectation that you will represent your organisation’s interests but you also need to work with the partnership’s own goals and expectations.

Both role ambiguity and role conflict can impact on how someone feels about their job or volunteering. Job satisfaction is important to people’s motivation — even more so in volunteering, where a person can choose to leave because they are not there for the money.

You will come back to these ideas on role conflict and ambiguity in Activity 3.


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