updates: employer scolded me for talking to my predecessor, and manager wants me to buy our whole team expensive coffee

Here are two updates from people who had their letters answered here recently.

1. My new employer scolded me for talking to my predecessor

(I will just note that my answer to this originally was: Run.)

I should have run. Fast. I inherited a mess! I can’t go into too many details other than financial irregularities and files that went missing the day my predecessor left. The disgruntled employee remains disgruntled, hostile, and rude, and I’ve had to formally address their attitude and tone (which naturally has gone down like a lead balloon). The other employee was BFFs with my predecessor and enjoyed all that went with that, including being MIA without explanation during work hours, dubious expense claims, and not really doing a whole lot in general, and tackling that has meant that they’ve found allies in each other. Their dislike for me has united them!

It’s a very small environment and I hate going there every day. The board is somewhat sympathetic but seems to think I’ll be able to fix all the problems (they acknowledge I inherited many, many problems) with no real understanding of the environment I’ll have to operate in until one or both are managed out. I don’t live in the U.S. anymore and here labor laws are weighted heavily in favour of the employee. They almost have to kill someone to get fired!

2. My manager wants me to buy our whole team expensive coffee

Thanks so much for your advice! I was direct with my supervisor and was not able to be guilted.

Since then, my supervisor has actually been let go. There were too many issues to mention in the original post. While I feel bad that she was let go, I ultimately know that this was not a good position for her at all. Her being let go was actually probably great for her in the long run.

The upside is that I don’t hate coming into work anymore and the overall atmosphere is positive and more creative now that we don’t have this negative attitude hanging around. There is an overall feeling of excitement about work, even from her work BFF.

{ 15 comments… read them below }

    1. Morla*

      Absolutely! I’m conscious my resume will have an appearance of job-hopping so I’m taking a balanced view of whether to stay or go – though if the right opportunity comes along and/or things get too much I’ll be out of there like a shot.

      My Board are nice folks but don’t get the business of managing people (and problem employees) and from my own experience I see this a lot in non-profits, this kind of ‘can’t we just hug it out’ approach to any hurdles in employee relations. Worryingly they’ve mentioned more than once that the employee issues have been long-running but they’ve been ‘frightened’ to initiate disciplinary processes. I have the Board’s backing for now, but I know they’ll most likely buckle when stuff gets real if you know what I mean.

  1. The Other Dawn*

    In regards to the first update, I think Boards tend to have way too much confidence that a manager can basically fix anything. I don’t mean that as a slam on the OP at all. I just think that Board members tend to operate at such a big picture level that they just don’t get that there are some things that can’t be fixed without a total culture change or a change in policies, or whatever it might be.

    I feel really bad for the OP since it sounds like she’s probably stuck with these people due to labor laws. OP, just get out as fast as you can and do the best you can do while you’re there. Document everything you’re doing to manage those employees out. They might not be terminated while you’re there, but at least an incoming manager will have the ground work to finish it.

    1. A Bug!*

      Agreed. It’s easy to conclude that anyone can be managed with a sufficiently-competent manager, when you’re not the one who has to actually manage them. Unsupportive boards are so awful to work with.

      Now, I’m not sure where the OP is (maybe I missed it in the two letters) so I don’t know the extent of the employee-friendly nature of the applicable laws. But here in BC, the laws are pretty employee-friendly, and even then, the cost of letting an employee go without cause is primarily a matter of paying out the appropriate amount of severance in exchange for a signed waiver. Not something that the board would want to do, but if they actually seriously considered the effective cost of keeping bad employees, it would most likely still be the better option.

      Yeah, it sucks that the previous manager created this situation that the OP has had to inherit, but but it needs to be addressed, and it doesn’t do anyone any good for the board to stick its collective head in the sand about the issue.

    2. MK*

      Labor laws, no matter how employee-friendly, are rarely so strict that they prevent the employer from ever firing anyone. Usually they are just used as an excuse for the management being unwilling to bother. Rereading the original post, I think this is probably the case here too; the board wants everything to magically be better without have to do anything unpleasant.

      1. Charityb*

        Pretty much. Even in places where it’s very easy to fire someone for almost any reason, you’ll run into this same kind of hand-wringing. The boogeyman of lawsuits is probably a bigger drain on these kinds of organizations than actual lawsuits are…

      2. Betsy*

        Not sure where the OP is, but some countries do have incredibly restrictive labour laws. One of the possible hurdles is the mandatory severance you need to pay for more senior employees. Some public sector jobs in Europe have incredibly generous policies for employees, and firing people just isn’t considered worth the trouble barring extreme circumstances.

        1. Morla*

          Labor laws here do allow for dismissals but if you’re dismissed for anything other than gross misconduct (which would be my ‘killing someone’ example) the employee can pursue the ex-employer for inappropriate dismissal and statistically they’re usually rather successful.

          Slow-burn dismissals, where the inappropriate conduct is a series of small events (as opposed to killing someone) or where the issues appear rather minor but don’t correct/improve over time are the most difficult to justify and employers/lawyers here advise against them.

          Now if I could just encourage my employees to steal the petty cash or start sexting their partners on their work cell phones I’d be set!

    3. Stranger than fiction*

      Agreed. They tend to take what all the C-levels and VP’s say at face value rather then consulting with the “little people” that do the day to day once in a while. They also tend to protect bad managers to save face from admitting bad hiring choices. Seen it all too often.

      1. BRR*

        I think boards do that but I think it’s a separate issue than what dawn was saying. I interpreted dawns post as board members think a manager can “throw a coat of paint on it” when it’s really a gut job (been watching a lot hgtv lately)

        But I definitely agree with you that boards will just listen to the fluff c-level employees tell them but those are the same people making the most money and might be sucking at their jobs.

  2. LizNYC*

    OP #2 sounds like demanding Starbucks tributes and passive-aggressive coffee-buying were the least of her problems. Glad you stood your ground. And, you never know, that might have been the “straw” that forced the higher-ups to take action. (And don’t feel bad! Your supervisor was ridiculous.)

    1. INTP*

      I agree. Also it’s nice to read an update where the LW got to stay in her position and the toxic manager is ousted instead of the other way around. (I’m happy for the LWs who get new jobs too, of course, it just seems unfair that in most cases they stick around while the LWs have to get a new job to escape the problem.)

  3. really anon for this one*

    OP 1,
    If this job is actually one you could love and the pain of moving on right now is too much…I walked into a very similar situation 3 years ago. If there is one phrase to keep in mind…”this too shall pass”
    That said it was a year and half of documenting, PIPs and investigations and more documenting. I had 3 grievances filed against me. (union shop) And still more documenting after uncovering financial and other egregious and troublesome issues.
    So…the best thing I did was identify the worst of the bunch. I micromanaged her. Went over her job description in weekly meetings. Demanded a weekly report. Gave firm deadlines. Stated the consequences of not meeting those deadlines. Documented for accuracy and timeliness. Gave instructions in writing chunked into bullet points. Stated deadlines in writing. Sent emails confirming that the work was not completed in an accurate and timely manner with examples. Stated consequences.

    I found better jobs for the other 4 reports. Sympathized with them that they were better than their positions, that there were no more funds, there may be layoffs (all true) Helped them rewrite their cover letters and resumes. Sympathized with them that they were better than their positions, that there were no more funds, couldn’t guarantee future hours, here may be layoffs (all true) (I did go to the Board President for approval to “clean house”) Seriously, nothing else got done. Kept the board in the loop. Hired an assistant director when we were down to the last, never-going-to-leave lifer. Started disciplinary actions. Six months later she resigned on the day she was to be terminated. Six months of cleaning up, hiring, and training competent people who want to do this work.

    I would say that in the last six months, I am finally doing the work that I was hired to do. I love my job. I look forward to going to work and managing my team.

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