Olympic Nightmare: Not getting what you wanted out of volunteering

I have two posts about the Olympics primed. Was only one post until something happened to me last night during (and about) the Closing Ceremonies that put me into the position to rant. Then for the sake of retaining the few people who do actually read this blog, I’ll be done with the Olympics forever.

Just before the games I was privileged enough to be one of the last people to sneak their foot through the VANOC door and slide into a paying position. I worked for a department that was created a month earlier. We were the little step-brother to all the other departments; some people embraced us and others resented our presence.

My job was to manage Event Services Volunteers in the “Urban Domain”. We were the face of the games and would be the first people seen when spectators were enroute to venues or taking the trains. We would meet and greet and instruct the masses on how to find objects of interest. But our primary duty was the deal with queues:

Like that one. This one wasn’t much of a monster – I didn’t efficiently snake it through the plaza; later the plan had the queue following the outside wall, then weaving through the middle and out across a bridge. (Bridge not pictured, it’s on the extreme left and yes we did line people up on it.) Point is, we had to coax those people into lining up outside instead of jamming the platform inside the station, which is a huge security risk.

(capacity for the Canada Line platform at Waterfront station is somewhere around 2-3 hundred. They can jam about 5 hundred in the hallways leading to the platform before congestion turns into a bit of an issue. This is for the Canada Line section of the station only, the main terminal handles the load/off load of The West Coast Express, SeaBus, Sky Train and Canada Line – all separate companies by the way – and can flush about 3 thousand people in half an hour.)

When people see a line like that get a little angsty. Especially when that’s the lineup to get into a subway they use daily to get back and forth to work.

See the blue jackets? Those are the backs of volunteers. People who willingly took time off of work or used their school reading breaks for a once in a lifetime opportunity. Without them the games would have cost a lot more and wouldn’t have been nearly as fun.

Those volunteers were frequent verbal punching bags during the course of the Olympics. (I was too, but it’s different when you’re being paid to do it – rain rolls off the shoulder a little easier as it were.) We had incidents of spitting, hair pulling, verbal and physical abuse during the times when these lines needed to be set up and administered.

I don’t fault people for being rude. It is a bit of a shock to the system to see a line like that after a long day at work. Most were pretty jovial when they got to the front after only ten minutes.

The Volunteers took it in stride and for every horrible experience there were at least a thousand more people patting them on the back for doing an awesome job and looking out for the public’s wellbeing. They endured rain, wind, chilly temperatures and long hours on their feet.

Olympic success and the satisfaction of a job well done were what the volunteers wanted – several of them assured me that they weren’t concerned that the position didn’t pay despite the abuse, because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Plus the odd bit of swag. I made sure to hand out swag on a daily basis. It helped to keep the spirits up.

Or so I thought.

I don’t know the type of person who would volunteer for something with the expectation of an expensive gift at the end, but I ran into them last night. Both of them. At the same time. In front of the person I was trying to reward. They were awfully rude and it left a funny taste in my mouth.

During the course of the games I got to send people to events. Opening Ceremonies, hockey games, alpine skiing, curling, speed skating and the Closing Ceremonies. Whenever my bosses managed to snag tickets, they divided them amongst the supervisors and we found a way to give them to people on our teams. (Even declining tickets offered to supervisors specifically in favour of handing them over to Hosts.)

In and amongst the chaos that occurred following Canada’s gold medal victory over the Americans, I came across a bunch of tickets for the Closing Ceremonies; not enough for the entire team, but enough to reward those who stuck by me when it was pouring rain and I told them that they had to be outside. Still came in when they subsequently became sick from being out in the rain and wind. Listened to me when I went on about theorizing potentially abstract methods of team deployment. Had a sense of humour about being given a radio and the call sign “Watergate” or “Gordie Howe”. Told me when something was bugging them so I could fix the problem. Offered creative solutions to problems when I was stumped and in a few instances jumped in to lend a hand on their days off.

So with about 6 thousand dollars worth of tickets in my hand I went around to my three separate “Pods” of volunteers, gathered them all together and gave a little speech about the Closing Ceremonies. How I wish I could have sent everyone, but with a limited number of tickets I wanted to send those who had been with me the longest. This was by no means a negative reflection of anyone’s performance, yadda yadda. I’m sure there was a little bit of resentment, but everything was well received. People cheered their fellow volunteers, gave pats on the back, hugs and handshakes and were congratulated for a job well done.

Except for “Pod 3” – Hastings/Granville.

I had three people stationed there and one clear cut choice for my final ticket. The lady I chose had two particularly rough days during the busy time, always showed up early and did whatever assignment I gave her. Cheerfully relocated when other people complained about their positions and hadn’t missed a day. Took a bit of verbal abuse from my Supervisor’s Supervisor after being in the wrong spot at the wrong time on a rough day. She was also passed over for two sets of tickets I got to give out for hockey and curling. In a way that if I had to make a list of four she was usually five.

The other two had only been with me for a day – Subject S, I later found out was very notorious for an attitude problem with a few other supervisors, which lead her to being stationed with me. (apparently I had a really really high retention and feedback rate at my station.) The other one – Subject V – I had seen only twice before and while she was enthusiastic about the job, I’m pretty confident she was embellishing about what she’d done and her role on other teams. (later finding out my suspicions were true.)

So I went to Hastings/Granville, began the speech I had used successfully twice before and awarded the ticket.

Subject V and Subject S exploded. Right in front of the girl I was trying to reward. Starting on about how she didn’t deserve the ticket and that they were better suited for the reward. Which A: Made no sense, since the math behind three people and one ticket means the situation could not be avoided (unless I gave the tickets out in another manner, which they would have eventually found out about anyway) and B: out of 20 days, the two had worked with me twice, they were in no position to evaluate their coworker’s performance in the way they did.

After the person who was awarded the ticket bailed to make it to the ceremonies and dodge verbal fire; Subject S was particularly insistent that she deserved the ticket and that by not granting her the right to go to the Closing Ceremonies I had committed a huge disservice and ruined her Olympics. So much in fact that after she was done yelling at me in public for twenty minutes (through which I just smiled and nodded) she proceeded to phone who she thought was my supervisor and yell at them for twenty more. I later received a phone call from my Head Office from a poor lady asking “what on Earth?!” – while in the background Subject S was ranting to my replacement supervisor for the evening shift who later commented, “I don’t think she’s listening to herself.”

Subject S even dropped the gem “you get paid for this, you shouldn’t care who gets the tickets.” which doesn’t make a lick of sense, but established the self entitled rant as a self entitled rant.

The lesson I can take away from this is; if I have to reward people at “random”, from now on I’m claiming to have done it from the draw of a hat. I don’t think it would have avoided the situation, but at least they can direct their comments to the hat.

Or I’m going to have to start being more Autocratic when I’m in a position of power. I’m starting to pick up on the personality types that tend to lead to this kind of behaviour and in the future I’ll have to squash ’em before something like this happens again.

The realization I’ve come to is the continual reinforcement that, “Yes, people can be this self centered and greedy”. Throughout the entire situation I kept thinking to myself “why did you have to make this about you? Why did you have to make this about you? Do you possess the ability to be happy for someone else? No? Thought so. I wonder what I’m going to have for dinner.”

Last night I came across the first instance of someone who had volunteered for something fully expecting to receive a huge cardboard cheque at the end. Subject V was just as vocal, but broken English prevented her from really pushing home her point and she was a bit apologetic for her outburst after it was said and done.

Facepalms all around on this one. I’m pretty sure that of the three people involved in the situation, Subject V, Subject S and I, I’m by far the youngest. I don’t know what it says about the generations those two belong to, but I stopped acting like that in Elementary School the moment I was picked last for floor hockey – because really, I was just glad to be playing the game.

~Joshua P

Advice Content: If you volunteer make sure it’s for something you enjoy. Don’t expect rewards in the same way you would if you were being paid. The experience is the reward and anything else is just gravy.

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