my boyfriend has my old job and there’s tons of drama

A reader writes:

My boyfriend has the same exact position I used to hold in a job I had five years ago at a small museum. This museum is so small that it only has one full-time seasonal employee, overseen by a board of 10+ people — all of whom also volunteer at our museum, and most of whom are retired, church-going people who don’t like conflict. Because it would be confusing for the employee to have 10 bosses, it was decided that the treasurer, Pat, would be the employee’s supervisor.

Before I had the job, I was an intern/volunteer at the site for three years. Pat and I were on excellent terms — we are both hard workers, and I could do no wrong in her eyes. When I got the job, however, everything changed. I was constantly put down, told that I was doing everything all wrong, and that I was doing more harm to the site through my actions than good. I quit after eight months, but I continued to volunteer there, blaming myself for “failing” at the job.

Over time, Pat and I became good friends again. When the job reopened in early 2014, I suggested that my boyfriend apply. He aced his interview with the board, I was asked by Pat to train him, and I began to help him out a great deal. He gets along very well with nearly all of the volunteers, loves the site as much as I do, and wants it to succeed.

But Pat has now come to absolutely loathe him, and we think that she sees him as a threat. Some issues that have sprung up include:

* He’s not as organized as I was and he doesn’t quite pay as much attention to detail as I did, but he’s so good at educating the public and getting them interested in the museum. But Pat insists that visitors shouldn’t get the amount of attention that he gives them because “that’s how we’ve always done it.”

* He’s come up with new programs that Pat has tried her hardest to not get off the ground at board meetings.

* She tried to get him “fired” last year by telling him he had to reapply for his seasonal job in 2015 — despite the fact that no one else has ever had to reapply for the job from season to season (the board ended up backing him being able to be rehired).

* Pat will take away tasks that other volunteers love to do away from them and dump them on my boyfriend because she claims that those tasks are in his job description, and he shouldn’t be giving them away to other volunteers. But if the volunteers have nothing to do, they end up volunteering less and less.

Now she’s taken to barely coming in at all or calling him, and instead sending him emails that are just straight-up aggressive and condescending. Today he emailed her to ask how many people signed up for one of our events (a hayride) and she responded: “Barely 150. – I figured you could figure that out…6 wagons X 25 each is pretty easy math – jeez, come on, REALLY??”

The funny thing is, she’s been taking the reservations because she seems to think he’s too stupid to do it himself. So of course he wouldn’t know what the numbers were.

He laughs it off, but I can tell it bothers him. He doesn’t forward the vitriol to the rest of the board; he just keeps it quietly locked away. Meanwhile it’s making me, as his girlfriend, a volunteer, and a longtime member of the museum—extremely pissed off.

She also treats volunteers like this, and we lose people all the time due to her stubbornness and vitriol. She does more for the site than anyone from an administrative point of view, but I fear that very soon we’ll have no volunteers left to keep it running. How can I express what I see to our board without making it seem like I’m just trying to defend my boyfriend?

Honestly, I’d remove yourself from the situation entirely.

You’re way overly involved at this point … which, frankly, was almost bound to happen when you encouraged your boyfriend to apply for your old job at a highly dysfunctional place that you’re still working with. At that point, you ideally would have recused yourself from volunteering — because this set-up is a recipe for over-involvement and frustration from you.

Pat does indeed sound like a bad manager, as well as a bit of a jerk.

But this is your boyfriend’s to handle. It’s not yours.

If you absolutely want to say something to board, I think you need to confine it to the piece that you’d see if you weren’t dating an employee — the piece that you’d see simply as a volunteer. But I really wouldn’t recommend even that, because there’s no way to do it without it being seen as coming from Employee’s Girlfriend. That harms your credibility, potentially impact’s your boyfriend’s standing and credibility, and generally just stirs up more drama.

The best thing you can do here, in my opinion, would be to remove yourself from the situation altogether, by either stopping volunteering or putting up a firewall between you and your boyfriend when it comes to work talk … and ideally both.

Frankly, I’d also advise him to consider finding a new job, for three reasons: (1) The job sounds incredibly dysfunctional (which is pretty much always the case at one-employee operations that report to a very involved board), (2) his boss dislikes him and doesn’t have faith in him, which will make it almost impossible for him to be happy there, let alone succeed professionally (for example: she’s going to be his reference, she’s not likely to give him a good one, and the more long-term this job is, the more weight that will carry), and (3) it’s bad for his relationship with you, because work drama is unavoidably getting mixed up with the two of you.

But he’s not the one writing to me. To you, I simply advise: Remove yourself from the situation, don’t feed into the drama, disengage, disengage, disengage.

It’s not yours to fix.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 68 comments… read them below }

    1. Charityb*

      That’s one of the most intense AAMs I’ve ever read. It’s a really good glimpse into the complicated interpersonal dynamics of organizations like that; the usual topdown hierarchy of boss and employees doesn’t really exist when your employee is (1) unpaid and (2) has independent relationships with your constituents and (3) has personal control over many of your valuable assets.

      Hopefully this situation won’t be as untenable as that. Ideally, if all of the other volunteers are being treated like this, they should be willing to speak up.

      In addition, I don’t know how much feedback the museum gets from patrons, but if people are noticing and appreciating the boyfriend’s approach that might really help him a lot with this.

  1. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You sound like a fixer, OP, and that’s a bad, pointless endeavor to throw yourself into.  You can only fix your own actions and responses; you can’t do that for anyone else nor should you.  

    I can tell you’re a fixer because, although you left a completely dysfunctional job, you recommended your bf apply for it.  Is it because you thought your relationship with Pat was back to “normal” that this would be okay?  Or you thought you could “fix” Pat by sending in someone else to try again?

    You also stayed on as a volunteer and internalizing Pat’s feedback rather than seeing her as the bully she is and leaving permanently.  I won’t lay too much blame for that because women, particularly young women, fall into that internalizing trap rather than taking each piece of criticism and evaluating it on its own merits and considering the source.

    I’m not going to lay much blame at your feet at all because I think a lot of women are guilty of doing stuff like this because we’re socialized to be responsible for other people’s feelings.  (I also realize that you could not be a woman, and if so, apologies.  I’ve only heard laments like this come from young women.)

    If nothing else, now that you know Pat is treating you and you boyfriend the same way, then you can reasonably conclude that she is the one with the problem and you didn’t “fail” that job. Pat failed you.

    1. JMegan*

      If nothing else, now that you know Pat is treating you and you boyfriend the same way, then you can reasonably conclude that she is the one with the problem and you didn’t “fail” that job.


      I’m a “fixer” too, so I totally get what OP is feeling here. And I also totally agree with Alison’s advice that it’s not OP’s problem to solve. And that the boyfriend should get the heck out of Dodge immediately or sooner! But that is contrary to the first part of the advice, which is for OP to find some way to disengage herself from the drama. Good luck to both of you.

    2. Almond Milk Latte*

      As someone who’s also a “fixer” I do want to say that it’s not necessarily bad or pointless – Sometimes it’s noble, and when it works, it’s hella rewarding (for both you and your museum’s community) but often it’s an exercise in futility. It sounds like Pat’s taking this ship down and you and your boyfriend are just rearranging the deck chairs. You simply don’t have the power to fix this one – you aren’t the board – so despite how heavily invested you guys are in this museum, it might be time to cut your losses. Knowing when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em is a SUPER important part of being a fixer.

    3. J-nonymous*

      The OP writes that she blamed herself for failing at the job (rather than recognizing the dysfunctional boss as the prime culprit for the issues). Maybe she wasn’t trying to fix Pat in any of this; maybe she truly thought she was lousy at the job and that her boyfriend would be better.

      1. OP*

        OP here. That is exactly what happened. I doubted that I could hold a professional job in a field I loved (museums) specifically due to the way this “dream job” of mine, in a place where I used to be praised for the work I did, went downhill. It was my first job out of college, I was only 22 at the time, and I tend to assume that I’ve done something wrong rather than someone else doing something wrong.

        It was only when I saw how my boyfriend was being treated, and stories that gradually came to me about how the competent, intelligent young man who replaced me had been treated came out did it finally start to click that I may have not been the problem. And even that took time–the young woman my boyfriend replaced had been such a bad employee (I know, I worked with her a handful of times before deciding that I couldn’t stand to see such incompetence in place) that the rest of the board was ready to fire her by the end of the season. I initially attributed Pat’s gruff, almost confrontational behavior towards my boyfriend was due to PTSD from that previous bad employee.

        1. J-nonymous*

          Well, if nothing else good comes out of this whole situation, you can take some satisfaction in knowing that the outcome of your stint in the job was not entirely on your shoulders.

          That said, I agree with Alison that you will be best served detaching yourself from this situation. By all means, encourage your boyfriend to read this blog, particularly for tips on communicating with a difficult boss; outside that, trying to resolve this situation on your boyfriend’s behalf (even with the catalyst of your volunteer duties being curtailed) won’t do any good and will likely reflect poorly on you both.

  2. Florida*

    Agree with Alison that you should stay out of it. Talking to his boss seems almost like a helicopter girlfriend (is that a phrase?) However, if you do decide to intervene, be absolutely certain that you have your boyfriend’s blessing first. It is completely unfair to him for you talk to the board without his knowledge – even if it is something that you would know were you not dating him. Let me reiterate that I prefer Alison’s idea of letting him deal with it and you disengaging.

  3. LBK*

    I agree with Alison that this is completely not your problem. I know it feels like your problem because you have the emotional element of wanting to help your boyfriend and the professional element of that problem happening at your workplace, but it really isn’t. You need to treat these two situations as completely separate: you have a coworker who’s being treated poorly by a manager (sucky, but not something you can fix) and you have a boyfriend who has a bad manager (sucky, but not something you can fix). Pretend he’s not your boyfriend at work and pretend you have no idea where he works when you’re at home.

  4. GigglyPuff*

    Also agree with what Alison has said. As someone who works in a close field, I’ve met people who have worked with small museums, little to no permanent staff, run by boards, and believe me, you did not “fail” at your job. Places like this with little support, make toxic/bad management situations much more demoralizing and frustrating because there is no one else to support you.

    Preferably the way to make things better, which most likely won’t get fixed while you or your boyfriend are there, it’s going to take time. Is for your boyfriend to move on, and he be the one to report to the board what has been happening and why he is leaving.

  5. A Non*

    … So has anyone here seen a small museum be a functional workplace? Because my husband is pretty much in this situation too, and yep, it’s toxic. He’s determined to stay and fix it. I’m worried.

    1. MA in OH*

      Yes! The reality of museum work (in my experience) is that because people tend to take this work even more to heart and more personally than they would some other types of work. I think it comes with the territory. But the key to having a functional small museum workplace is understanding boundaries of each individual’s position and having genuine trust in each person to get the work completed. When either (or often, both) of those things don’t happen, that’s when the dysfunction sets in. It takes a lot of work on both the manager, be it a single person or a board of trustees, and the employee to understand the delicate nature of this work.

      1. Afiendishingy*

        I worked at a museum for a bit and it was pretty functional; my sister also works at a museum that seems functional. Both are pretty large though. This may be a small organization problem rather than a small museum problem.

    2. Ad Astra*

      I’m sure there are small museums that are functional, but I’m wary of small organizations in general. It’s not that they’re all dysfunctional, it’s that the small size makes any dysfunction a huge obstacle. There’s no way to just stay out of the drama when you work with four people.

      1. the gold digger*

        I have never worked in a museum (it would be just as dangerous for me as working in a library or a chocolate factory), but I have worked in both F50 and very small organizations. Although each type is dysfunctional in its own way, I prefer the dysfunction of a large organization because at least there, there is a process and a bureaucracy.

        1. Elizabeth West*

          Ha, me too–I’d be all over stuff I shouldn’t be all over. :}

          All the small businesses I’ve worked for had weird stuff like that. Some were better than others, but they all had something. Now that I’m in a bigger organization, I feel it’s slightly more impersonal, but if something went wrong, I could get a response that wasn’t completely off in left field. Or actually get one, since there are procedures in place for those situations.

    3. AndersonDarling*

      My sister worked at a small museum and her best quote was, “The Board use this as their personal doll house, they just want to move things around and decorate it. None of them know how to run a business but all of them believe they do.”
      It was the same at all the small museums in the local circuit. It sounded like the board members didn’t ever want to do real work or make business decisions, they just want to play with their museum toy.

      1. Manders*

        Yes, my mom’s on the board of a local museum, and I’m not sure that anyone on the board has ever run a business. I’m pretty sure she’s one of the only people who works in a field related to what the museum does, and she’s a university faculty member, so her tolerance for workplace dysfunction is very high. Some of the other board members haven’t held any non-volunteer position in decades. The museum is a well-known and prestigious one from the outside, but I know that she’s often stressed out by the internal dysfunction.

        I think a museum *can* be functional workplace, but the kind of people who want to sit on a volunteer board are often not the kind of people who have management experience.

    4. Not the Droid You are Looking For*

      I honestly think a lot of it has to do with having a “working” board rather than a “governing” board. In small organizations where the board is involved in day-to-day operations you end up with situations like this.

      I sit on the board of a small arts non-profit and we recently had to ask our “Pat” to resign from board service. She did a *lot* for the organization in it’s early years, but unfortunately as paid staff was added, she had a hard time letting go of work that should have been handled by the paid staffer.

      1. MA in OH*

        Exactly. The problem so often is that people take the work so personally that they hold onto it as though their life depends on it, which ends up causing all sorts of issues across the entire organization.

        I like the distinction of working vs governing as well. Having been involved with a living history community my entire life in various capacities, and having had the “joy” of seeing numerous people latch onto the perceived power of a board position, there are high and low points. But, when the board can understand that they hired a person for a set job and *actually* allow him/her to complete that job with minimal interruption, while the person hired also understands the dynamics of the community/museum, etc. he/she was hired into, it can work effectively.

    5. Charityb*

      I used to work as a night guard at a museum where the exhibits regularly came to life and ran around. It was a little weird but it wasn’t too dysfunctional of a work environment.

    6. squids*

      I’m on the board of a fairly small (7 employees) museum. It’s usually functional, but a while ago when we did have some turnover and some employee interpersonal issues, it was difficult to handle. Makes you appreciate bureaucracy (ie structure and policies.)

    7. MegEB*

      I don’t have any personal experience working in museums, so all my information is gleaned from AAM and various friends, but it sounds like museums are just absolutely ripe for dysfunction.

    8. Amanda*

      Only ever once, and it was a group of 3 people who had been together for 15+ years and had the best leadership of anywhere I have ever seen due to an AMAAAAAZING ED.

      Every other one I’ve worked at or seen the inner workings of has been batshit. And I include my own in that list.

  6. Allison*

    I do agree that OP needs to disengage, but if it were me, I’d be really worried that my boyfriend would feel like I’m abandoning him if I go from trying to help to withdrawing completely; I’d worry he’d accuse me of not caring anymore, even if I really did care. Any advice on how the OP can handle this, should that issue come up as a result?

    1. OP*

      OP here. I tried for a very long time… besides being asked to train him, I pretty much refused to help except at the big events in an attempt to step back. If he’d start talking about doing something that I knew would drive Pat nuts (some of that “attention to detail” stuff) I’d give him a warning but just let him deal with it.

      What changed, however, was Pat’s attitude towards me. She actually tried to take away a job I had as a volunteer and give it to my boyfriend instead, citing it as an example of him not doing his job description. But it had been my volunteer part of the job before my boyfriend got this job. That’s when I started to get myself more involved.

      1. Ad Astra*

        Honestly, I think you need to sever all of your own ties with this organization. It’s completely understandable that you’d be upset about Pat’s actions, but there’s nothing you, personally, can do to fix any of it. If you continue to volunteer for this museum, you’ll continue to witness dysfunction that you can’t do anything about, and that’s going to drive you crazy.

      2. fposte*

        That’s not a reason to get more involved, though; if anything, it’s a reason to be less so. If you’re a volunteer at an organization and somebody says “We don’t want you to file any more,” your response is to shrug and say “Okay, whatever’s good for you.” If you liked the filing and won’t enjoy volunteering any more, then you stop volunteering.

        I understand why you feel really involved in this museum, but it’s disproportionate to your situation. Just because you know the clowns doesn’t make it your circus.

      3. neverjaunty*

        OP, it’s time to un-involve. I understand you care about the organization, but right now everything you’re doing shores up Pat’s dysfunction (and, ultimately, her long-term destruction of the health of the organization).

        Let your boyfriend do his thing, but more importantly, let Pat fail. If she drives all the volunteers away and paid staff (like your boyfriend) find jobs elsewhere, what’s she going to do? Press-gang people off the street? Tell the board that she’s going to do everything her own self?

      4. Gandalf the Nude*

        OP, I say this as someone who’s now good friends with, and loves hearing good gossip from, a former coworker still at dysfunctional Ex-job: get out, pour yourself some wine (if that’s your thing), and start laughing. You can’t change the situation, but you can change your reaction to it. By far the funnest way to do that, as Allison has pointed out before, is to turn it into a source of entertainment. Let the boyfriend decide if he wants to tough it out there, and if you really can’t cut off the venting without coming off as unsupportive, let him vent. But instead of grinding your teeth and getting frustrated, grin and shake your head because it’s just another story about mean ol’ Pat.

        1. Oranges*

          I had a game called “Who Does That? Ex-coworker Does That!” Points are based upon how often I had to say that in a single day. And I had to text/tell someone in a snarky manner what it was.

          It went from “OMG need him dropped from the top of Everest and set on fire then run over by a tank” to “I hate him but seriously he’s effed up since who DOES that?”

          This might help you or not.

    2. LBK*

      I think you can still be emotionally supportive outside of work and provide ideas for things that he could do if he wants that kind of help. The OP just can’t directly do anything about it herself, and I think in a reasonable relationship that would be understandable to most people – plus most adults don’t want their SOs fighting their battles for them anyway, and I don’t get the sense from the letter that this isn’t the case for the OP. It sounds like it’s more her own desire to help that’s driving it than her boyfriend asking her to intervene.

    3. Charityb*

      I don’t think withdrawing completely is a really good idea at this point. I think the OP will be fine acting as a sounding board or having casual discussions with the boyfriend about work. The only part that she can’t really do is intervene with the board or with Peg. I definitely agree that that would be a mistake. But if the boyfriend wants to make a move on his own, there’s nothing wrong with him talking it over with her and getting some feedback and advice, especially if the OP knows more about the workplace or the people involved than he does.

    4. MashaKasha*

      Somewhat related story from my own experience, my husband was not faring well in his first job out of college. His manager was just picking on everything he did and finding wrong in everything. I couldn’t very well ignore it, among other things because this was the father of my child and at that time a sole provider for our family. I was on unpaid maternity leave that I couldn’t come back from anytime soon, and we depended on his income. Also, I had helped him find that first job so felt a bit responsible for the outcome.

      What I did was, I went through my network, which was bigger than his, because I’d lived in that town two years longer than he did. I literally went and visited a casual friend at her apartment to talk about it, and helped him find a new job through that casual friend. I didn’t even try to help him work things out with his manager at his first job, because that particular cluster was way over my head and I really had no advice to give him. I don’t know what the job market is in the museums area. Is it possible to help him find a new job, rather than try to get Pat to stop being Pat and be a rational person instead?

    5. Mabel*

      Wow, this really struck a nerve with me. I’ve been working lately on setting and enforcing boundaries (in my personal life), and it’s hard. I often feel like others will think I’m a heartless jerk if I’m not always available to do whatever anyone else wants me to do. The thing is, I don’t owe people that (and frankly, I’d rather have relationships with people that are not based on my willingness to be a doormat). Unless boyfriend is very immature/insecure, when the OP tells him that s/he needs to completely withdraw from the situation because it’s bad for her/him (the OP), I can’t imagine boyfriend would have a problem with that. Worrying about the boyfriend feeling abandoned is like saying that he can’t handle this himself. And I have had the exact same feelings in the past (“I can’t stop helping because it would be terrible for the other person”), and I had to turn it around (“am I saying that the other person is helpless without me?”) in order to stop trying to “help” other people (who hadn’t even asked for help anyway, but even if they had – I can still decide that it’s not good for me to keep “helping”).

      1. fposte*

        Yes, I think this is a thoughtful response. In general, partners don’t get involved in each other’s work; resetting to that norm shouldn’t make anybody feel abandoned. And that shouldn’t really be a priority in a work decision anyway.

    6. Artemesia*

      I’d tell him what Alison said — that he probably needs to move on and then make clear that you think your meddling is just adding to the dysfunction so he knows you have chosen to disengage — not with HIM but with the museum. And certainly end interacting with Pat of volunteering at this cheese farm.

    7. Sketchee*

      If he thought that, how about a script like “I do care and I’m trusting you to handle your job like the responsible adult man that I know and love you to be. I know that you don’t need your girlfriend to help with your job and I have so much faith in you to run your own work life.” =)

  7. Erin*

    …yeah, you both need to get out. I used work for a very dysfunctional farmers market, with a board of 15 overseeing 4 employees. I can certainly understand loving the cause behind the group – in my case, supporting local farmers, the farm-to-fork movement, eat local, all that good stuff, in your case, I imagine it’s the arts, preserving local history, etc. – but find another way to be supportive of this cause. This truly is a recipe for disaster. You can’t fix it, you can only get out.

  8. CaliCali*

    Bad workplaces are just depressing, but the reason something is toxic is because, in part, you’re swallowing the poison. The most toxic places I’ve worked come hand in hand with a deep emotional investment in the place. That’s why, despite knowing of the dysfunction, there’s something that draws you, and something that even moved you to include your boyfriend in it. Pat’s a power hoarder (something I’ve also seen a lot of in toxic places), and she is threatened by anyone else’s show of competence that takes away her position as poison peddler. When both of you are gone from there, you will look back and wonder why you sunk yourselves in for so long — but it’s very normal when you’re inside. I suggest you both talk to people outside of the situation (like us!) to get a bit of perspective — you both need out, because the process of attempting to fix an unfixable situation will poison everything else.

    1. Mabel*

      …the reason something is toxic is because, in part, you’re swallowing the poison.

      So helpful to keep this in mind!

      1. neverjaunty*

        Yes, this is such a concise way to put it.

        After all, if volunteers were not emotionally invested, they wouldn’t put up with Pat for five minutes.

    2. Anonsie*

      This an excellent point, and it applies to so much more than just workplaces. It really helps put into perspective how the most toxic online communities I’ve ever witnessed could be full of good people who cared deeply about the community and about doing good, meaningful things in the world. Lots of online spaces can attract jerks, but there’s a special kind of toxicity in a place that can make good people act like jerks, or tolerate behavior they normally wouldn’t stand for.

  9. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)*

    OP, I get you. And I think Alison’s advice -and the commenters advice – is spot on. You need to break up with this organization and move on. And it’s going to be hard, and hurt a lot, and really suck, but they’re not going to change. As Dan Savage says, DTMFA.

    You’re letting your involvement with something you love be manipulated and perverted by interpersonal drama. You likely feel incredibly invested – and why shouldn’t you? You worked there, you were a volunteer,your blood, sweat, and tears are in this. And not only are you (and your boyfriend) not being recognized, you’re being shi*t on constantly.

    So what’s going to change? Pat’s not going to change. Shes’ going to keep making volunteers, employees, and fellow board members miserable and resentful. No matter how many emails are sent, meetings are hard, or feelings are hurt, nothing will change.

    Instead of continuing to channel your precious emotional energy and resources into this toxic situation, what would happen if you found another museum/hobby/passion/volunteer opportunity where you were appreciated? It would be hella hard: it’s like breaking up with someone when you still love them. You know it’s the right thing to do, but it doesn’t give you any immediate gratification. But maybe in a month – or a year – you’ll realize that the gnawing feeling of ingratitude, resentment, and stress have given way to satisfaction.

    I’ve been in your shoes – and i’m sure many volunteers have – and it just sucks. So DTMFA and find another organization who gives you what you need to engage meaningfully and feel like you’re able to make a difference.

    1. OwnedByTheCat (formerly Anony-Moose)*

      I should clarify that the “MF” in this situation is Pat and the museum, not the boyfriend. :)

  10. Jerzy*

    It’s understandable why OP wants to remain involved if she believes in the mission of the organization, but nobel cause or not, this is a workplace, and a toxic one at that.

    In addition to Alison’s advice for you to disengage and your boyfriend to find new employment, I would encourage him to find a tactful and diplomatic way to let other board members know the kind of shenanigans Pat is pulling that may be driving away volunteers. I would only do this on his way out the door, and only if he has a strong enough standing with the rest of the board. If Pat is the only point of contact he has, and the board gets all of its information through her, I probably wouldn’t bother.

    It is a shame when one lousy person can do so much damage to a good organization, but neither you nor your boyfriend seem to have standing to fix it. Sorry, OP. I think the only way out of this is to get out for good.

  11. Sunflower*

    I’m a little confused why you recommended your BF apply for this job in the first place? It seems like Pat is treating him the same way she treated you. You knew the only way out of that mess was to quit the job so I’m wondering if you had reason to believe things would be different for your BF? Has there been anyone in this position since you left/before your BF? How did Pat treat them?

    I think you need to get out of this org completely. Even if you weren’t having the relationship problems, the place and Pat sound like a nightmare.

    If you’re that dedicated to staying with the museum, then I’d tell your BF to quit/leave and THEN voice your concerns to the board about how Pat. Don’t just limit it to how she treats this position- talk about how it’s affecting the volunteers and discuss possibly appointing a new supervisor to whoever fills his role. I don’t think you can have this conversation while your BF is still in the role for all the reasons Allison listed.

    1. LBK*

      I think the OP thought Pat had changed her ways since they had gone back to being friends. Based on the events outlined in the letter it seems apparent to me that Pat’s problem is with whoever is in the full-time position – it wasn’t that Pat got better, it’s that the OP removed herself from the position that made her the target of Pat’s nastiness when she quit. However, I think it’s tougher to see that pattern when it’s happening to you, especially since it sounds like this was months later that the OP recommended her boyfriend for the job.

      1. OP*

        OP here. I recommended he apply for the job 3.5 years after I left. In that time the museum went through two more employees in that role–one lasted two seasons and one was pretty much fired after one season. I had assumed the first one quit due to the low pay of the role and his girlfriend’s unexpected pregnancy, but I found out only this year that he had similar problems with Pat.

        The second one was not fit for this kind of role–she didn’t want to do any work, just stand around all day and gab with volunteers while complaining how boring the job was, and openly complain about other volunteers. It was this employee that my boyfriend replaced.

        1. Museologist*

          I totally understand how hard it is to disengage. I’m currently working at a very small museum and have worked for others in the past. Most people only get involved in this field because of a deep appreciation for the collection/the people/bringing the collection to the public. It’s literally a field of people who care too much!!

          What I don’t think people understand outside of this field (and even what paid staff in museums don’t understand, unless they’re front of house/learning) is that museums are entirely dependant upon their volunteer base. Never have I seen a small museum capable of paying the number of individuals needed to run the organization. Feedback from volunteers is taken seriously in most organisations because, while staff may come and go, most volunteers stick around for years.

          I think if Pat’s behaviour is impacting that of the volunteers and reducing engagement, it’s time to say something. Museum’s are filled with people who carry a banner for ‘The Way Things Are Done’ and cling to the original plans like Rose on a floating door in the Atlantic. It’s so hard to push past that mindset and be proactive. I think you need to speak up on behalf of yourself and the impact Pat is having on your volunteers- not on behalf of your boyfriend.

  12. Kaitlyn*

    My two cents: disengage from the museum, and support your boyfriend for the time being. Re-engage when the waters are a little clearer.

    My advice to him would be to check in with the rest of the board, or the executive council at the very least, about general expectations and his job performance. If Pat is withholding important information, or constantly re-writing the job description, or alienating volunteers, it’s likely that the board already knows what’s going on…but they might not. If volunteers are a key part of the organization, and they’re being systematically alienated so that she can boss your boyfriend around, then that’s a deeper issue than two personalities in conflict.

    1. Zillah*

      I agree – and since the board has backed him up on at least one occasion when Pat was trying to get rid of him, it seems possible that they won’t just defer to Pat. The OP does need to disengage, but I think that this is good advice for their boyfriend.

  13. Rowan*

    I’m betting that some or most of the board actually knows how awful Pat is, or at least suspects. The trouble is that volunteer treasurers are hard to find. If I were advising the board, I’d suggest they check out LinkedIn’s relatively-new feature for finding executive volunteers and replace Pat post-haste.

    But sadly, the board didn’t come here for our advice. ;-) OP, the advice you’re getting from Alison et al is spot on: run now, run fast, don’t look back.

  14. Jessie*

    Pat does sound like the sort of person who feels threatened by an employee who knows how to do their job. It almost sounds like she’s afraid that if she isn’t “correcting” her employee constantly, then she’s not really doing anything at all. I’ve seen this before (several times) where a very poor leader, who doesn’t understand their subordinate’s roles, latches onto the dumbest things to get upset about because they don’t understand what’s going on around them. Like a manager I had who only focused on whether powerpoint items were lined up perfectly, because he didn’t understand the slide content his employee’s were briefing and wanted to feel involved in the process. It’s a pretty toxic environment to work in.

    That’s why, even though it’s apparent Pat thought highly of the OP afterwards, that’s how she came across while working for her.

  15. The Bimmer Guy*

    For what it’s worth, Pat doesn’t sound like a very good friend, either. She sounds either wishy-washy or genuinely nasty, and those are traits that I can easily see seeping into someone’s personal life. I agree with Alison; the thing for both of you to do is to start looking for other volunteer/employment…and maybe reconsider whether you want this person in your life at all.

  16. Intern Wrangler*

    Does this board have term limits? It sounds like Pat has been on the board, in a position of power for a very long time. This would not be best practices in non profit board governance. And it’s unusual to have the treasurer be the primary “boss.” That role usually falls to the President of the Board. It might be worth looking at organizations like Board Source or for resources on board management.

  17. voyager1*

    I think you need to be supportive to your boyfriend.
    I also think you need find different places (or a place) to work

    Also that boss Pat sounds terrible. No maybe to it.

  18. Bunny Purler*

    I really needed to read this today. I work for a tiny charity in a heritage related field, where I am the only employee and we have a board of very engaged trustees. We have recently had some Very Big Problems hitting us from outside, and I am really struggling to keep the entire show on the road. Alison’s reminder that this sort of organisation is usually very dysfunctional may have saved me from defenestrating my laptop.

  19. Been There*

    Sadly, this situation sounds a lot like every volunteer organization…. and I’ve been at multiple – both as a volunteer and as paid staff. The emotional component is huge – you are essentially working to create your own reward. I’ve struggled with finding the balance in caring about what I do and the impact it has on my community, and finding a work/vol/life balance that doesn’t turn me into a ball of stress. Ultimately I’ve learned the hard way to set my own boundaries – my health is more important than my job, my job is more important that my volunteer gig, and volunteering is important for the reward it get from participating in it (when there is no reward it is time to take an LOA or move on).

    Being emotionally invested in what you do isn’t a bad thing – but there are a lot of people that confuse caring with needing to be always right, and unwilling to compromise. Toxic environments are no good for anyone, especially when you aren’t getting paid to deal it.

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