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my contact won’t stop pressuring me to volunteer while I’m on medical leave

A reader writes:

I am a part of an international volunteer organization that is not doing very well at the local level. I am also disabled with a number of conditions that have all chosen the last few months to give me trouble, leaving me unable to contribute. I really like participating in this organization and the people there really like me, so I want it to succeed but I cannot give it the effort I normally would. I was last able to participate at the end of February. Traveling to and from the organization is difficult because I rely on public transportation and if one of my conditions flares up, I don’t have an easy way home.

I have a colleague who is at the same level as me in terms of structure, but with different responsibilities. She has been contacting me regularly, over social media, messenger, email, and text about me not participating. I’ve told her very clearly that I am not well right now and I don’t like leaving the house alone for long periods of time.

Her contact has included the following:

– asking me to write, direct, and produce a “viral video” of a meme from two years ago
– signing me up for events without contacting me to confirm I can attend
– asking me to host meetings in my own home on my own private time
– asking me to organize events and meetings that I cannot attend.

She also accidentally included me in a messenger conversation with higher-ups in the organization asking them repeatedly to do something they told her was not part of the organization. She applied this sort of passive aggressive social pressure to me as well, telling me that I am “unsupportive” and not acting in the spirit of the organization.

The last straw was her sending me an official email from the organization asking me if I am even interested in participating anymore. When I said I was, and would be back as soon as I was cleared from my disability leave (I am on what amounts to temporary disability in my country). She replied to me heavily implying that the local branch of the organization would fail due to my inaction.

At this point, I don’t know what to do. I have tried very hard at establishing boundaries with her, and for the most part she respects them until she finds a reason to contact me and then lay on the guilt trip after I respond. Her boundary issues started long before this and I’d normally be able to handle her but I’m just exhausted after being extremely sick for months. I talked to my husband about quitting before I got sick because I didn’t want to deal with her, and I’m fine with letting the local branch fail because there’s nothing I can do right now.

She’s also applied this guilt tripping behavior to members, by posting public guilt trips to our Facebook page, which is turning people away. It’s normally my responsibility to update the Facebook page, which I can do from my phone on my couch as I rest, but she’s bypassing me to do this herself.

I’m sorry if this got long, I’m just at my wits end about what to do about her.

Tell her clearly one final time that you’re not available for the foreseeable future and that she needs to stop contacting you, and then ignore all future messages from her.

Use wording like this: “I’m currently on disability leave and not available to participate in any way. I’ve explained this previously, but you’ve continued to contact me. I’m requesting that you stop contacting me about XYZ Organization activities until I inform the organization that I am formally off disability leave.”

That’s it. Then ignore anything she sends after that. If you’ll have trouble doing that or if it stresses you out to see her messages, block them or set them to bypass your inbox and go straight to your trash. You have zero obligation to allow her to mess with your state of mind this way, particularly when you’ve clearly told her to stop.

Frankly, since it sounds like you’ve already told her to stop, you could even skip sending the message above and just go straight to ignoring her messages.

You might also consider emailing the organization’s leadership and let them know that she’s continuing to contact you after you’ve told her not to, and that her behavior is likely to drive away volunteers altogether. Cite those Facebook guilt trips in particular. You could say that you’re happy to continue maintaining the Facebook page (if you really are) but that you can’t do it if she’s going to be posting unauthorized, obnoxious messages there.

But you have no obligations to continue dealing with her. None. Zero. That’s an advantage to volunteering; you get to set up whatever boundaries you want and can walk away at any time if those boundaries are repeatedly disrespected.

A good organization is one that leaves people alone when they request it.

my contact won’t stop pressuring me to volunteer while I’m on medical leave was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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