updates: paying for your own travel, improvement plan for a pastor, and more

It’s “where are you now?” month at Ask a Manager, and all December I’m running updates from people who had their letters here answered in the past. Here are four updates from past letter-writers.

1. Making a remote employee pay for their own travel to visit the office

Plot twist — I quit! The boss was making noise about wanting everyone (except the one pre-pandemic remote worker) back in the office, and when asked why, she let us know that she liked seeing us face to face. When pressed, there wasn’t any other reason than vague things like, “It’s better to be in-person.” I liked not commuting for two hours a day, so I bailed, and I’m much happier now (for a lot of reasons).

Regarding the out of state employee, however, the update is that there’s no update. Everything remains the same: the out of state employee remains mildly annoyed, but unwilling to rock the boat and risk the arrangement, so she dutifully continues to pay for her own flights, transport, meals, and hotel 4x/year, so the boss can have the pleasure of having her do the same job, just in person for the week (minus the lost productivity of Monday mornings and Friday afternoons when she flies in and out). Indeed, two more employees negotiated remote work agreements with the boss, with the same terms: let me work remotely, and I agree to show up in-person, on my own dime, four times/year. For this reason, and many more, I am glad to be gone, and I wish them all the best! It just wasn’t a cultural fit for me, and I’m in a better place now. I do appreciate your advice, and all the constructive advice in the comments section — all good food for thought!

2. My boss asks for my input, won’t take it, and then turns out to be wrong (first update here)

I wrote to you in the Beforetimes about how my boss would ask me for recommendations on how to do a thing (the specific example I used was printing advanced reviewer copies of a book he wanted to publish) and then wouldn’t listen to my recommendation (which was STRONGLY that he avoid using the cheapest version because the website was a dumpster fire), and then things went wrong (because, again, dumpster fire).

I am happy to report that I am still on very good terms with said boss — he’s become a friend of the family after my mother also worked for him, and we meet him and his wife once a year for dinner at a local restaurant. He’s also provided me with excellent references for the job I got fairly soon after I wrote the letter (he was retiring and happy to give a reference for said job search) and the one I’m in now, which is the best job I’ve ever had (though I don’t tell him that, of course, but I do tell him I love the job). Both of my bosses at the last and this job said multiple times that his strong reference really stood out for me as a candidate.

As for my current job, the best I’ve ever had: I work at a nonprofit that is a truly wonderful group of people and I love what I do now, which is focused on our contacts database and processing donations and all the fun stuff that comes with being in charge of a database (really, I love it!). I am also awaiting placement of an adopted child in my home, something which could happen in the next couple of months or could take years, and I am very happy to be working for an organization that really does care about life/work balance and doesn’t just say that family comes first but actively supports their employees in this respect. For all the naysayers who believe that nonprofits are terrible places to work, I’ve been at two since the job I wrote in about and I love that the focus for both of them has been on human beings and not on profits, and in my experience are far more willing to spend money where it’s needed in order to facilitate getting the work done the right way. The for-profits who only care about the bottom line are the places I’ve worked where we had cheap computers, ugly offices, and not very good vacation time.

Thanks again for your excellent advice, then, now and always. I believe I have matured so much just because of you and all the terrific commenters on AAM.

3. How do we write an improvement plan for a pastor?

Your advice helped so much! And that of the commenters. I rolled off the committee but they did move forward with the 360 review process led by someone with actual experience doing that type of activity. Often churches don’t take that route.

It has taken a year but the person was officially out on a PIP. Because I was a part of the committee at that time I was able to see it. It well written. Clear expectation delineated in both behavioral things and task related things. A timeline with regular review of improvements and specific consequences if not achieved. He did take it well when presented with it. Some of that conversation included that past leadership had failed him by not being specific in how he was failing. In this case, leadership being the senior pastor not the personnel committee. They wanted it be clear that none of this should be a surprise but it likely was because of how senior pastors had delay with him in the past.

4. Can I ethically hire when the company is a mess?

I’ll say up front I didn’t take your advice exactly, but your advice turned out to be spot-on, of course! Hiring is such a desperate and desolate exercise these days and I needed this job filled, so I did go ahead and hire this person; I tried hard not to actively mislead them – if anything, I chose to be a bit silent on certain topics and focus more on the philosophy I try to bring to the table in daily work as a manager. I flagged that we were having a leadership change and were experiencing a lot of sudden transition, and tried to do it in a professional way. I still struggled a bit with it – but ultimately the part of your advice about how a lot of people don’t care about some of the cultural stuff was right-on. Now that they’re in, many of the warts are visible and they are rather unphased. I wish I had a better update for you – but basically, I hired them anyway and it seems to have mostly worked out. I just completed their probationary review the other day and they are doing great. I hope they will be happy here for years to come, even after I depart.

{ 29 comments… read them below }

  1. many bells down*

    I was really interested in #3 because my church was in a similar situation, only they put the minister in question on a PIP and then… totally ignored it. Nothing was done when he failed to meet the requirements of the PIP, AND THEN he left and it turned out there was a much bigger problem with him. Now there’s a formal investigation that’s been going on for half a year and still isn’t over.

    1. Psychnurse*

      My church is going through something similar. It is such a difficult thing to deal with! Ours is a small church with one FT minister and 3 PT staff. All personnel, HR, administrative matters are handled by congregants who are of course volunteers. So when we needed a PIP-type plan, our personnel committee did their best but it was still a disaster.

      1. many bells down*

        Yes! It’s so weird when staff answers to volunteer congregants. Fortunately we got a new board in before the bigger issue came to light… because the previous board would never have dealt with it.

  2. New Mom*

    #1 – I’m on the job hunt and looking for remote or super local jobs. I’ve seen remote jobs that actually stipulated that travel to the HQ would be at the expense of the individual and required quarterly and that would literally be cost prohibitive for me. Hopefully not the norm going forward.

    1. Poppy*

      That would be a hard no for me. I would be interested in a remote job, but I’m not paying to travel to HQ.

    2. NGOadmin*

      I work for a non-profit that has a policy that if a worker previously based in the location of our headquarters wants to go remote, we would determine if their particular role can be done remotely and, if so, require them to cover the costs for travel to headquarters up to 3 times a year. This is because we have actual business reasons (external events) to have them in the office at least twice a year but we can’t pass on increased costs to our donors for their choice to move out of state. However, if we hire someone outside of our headquarters location for reasons that benefit the organization, we would cover their travel costs to headquarters. I don’t think we’d ever hire a person remotely with the expectation that they cover travel costs

      1. BubbleTea*

        Yes, we never had remote employees before covid but when WFH broadly worked okay (it did place an unreasonable burden on our admin who went into the office alone every day once it was legal, and did a lot of printing and posting things, so everyone fully WFH isn’t workable permanently), we started hiring a couple of people remotely and some of us (me!) went entirely remote in order to move away. The agreement is that they can ask us to come in person for training etc up to four times a year at our own cost, and if they want us more than that they’ll pay. So far I’ve been remote for six months and not been asked to come in yet.

    3. KatEnigma*

      At my husband’s current job, that was a requirement if he had taken the job as a contractor vs an employee.

  3. Catwhisperer*

    Does #4 rub anyone else the wrong way? They actively stayed silent around certain topics as opposed to telling the truth and ensuring their new report had the full picture before accepting the offer. It seems like OP really prioritized their own discomfort over the new hire’s ability to make an informed decision.

    It’s great that the new hire passed probation, but there’s no way of knowing how happy or successful they’ll be in a dysfunctional workplace after the OP leaves. I’ve been on teams where the manager left shortly after I was hired and it did not turn out well because there was no longer any buffer between the team and the dysfunction above us. I knew when I was hired that the manager would be leaving, but if that hadn’t been made clear up front I would’ve felt tricked and lost a lot of respect for the hiring manager.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      Sometimes unfortunately being “conspicuously silent” is the best you can do. Would it be better to be obviously vocal about all the problems, have that reported back, and get fired from a job you need??

      Many folks who are interviewing are attuned to the non-answer answer.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        I mean, here’s Alison’s advice from the original letter, which I think has good framing for being transparent while being professional:

        “You shouldn’t say, “This place is a disaster zone, run!” (and if you feel you’d have to, you’d be better off avoiding hiring right now) but you can say, “I want to be up-front with you that we’re going through some challenges. We have new leadership that’s changing the culture, a lot of people are leaving, and there are concerns about XYZ. I can put you in touch with people who would be your peers in this role if you want to talk one-on-one with some of them to hear their perspectives.”

        OP didn’t even do that, they just said there was a transition happening. If you aren’t comfortable saying difficult things to your reports, including during the hiring process, you probably shouldn’t be a manager.

      2. Alternative Person*

        Same. I feel like hiring in this kind of situation is a no-win and the OP did what they could do. From the OP’s update it seems like the hire is working out so I’d say that’s a win. For all we know the hire read between the lines, was expecting dysfunction and still took the job because they need it for long-term advancement.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

      I didn’t get the impression it was “discomfort” exactly, but rather that she needed to hire someone and didn’t want to put a good candidate off!

      1. Catwhisperer*

        So what if the candidate was good? Why trick someone into giving up a career of 10 years and moving into a dysfunctional workplace when even Alison says it’s unethical to do so in the original advice?

  4. Jennifer Strange*

    I love what I do now, which is focused on our contacts database and processing donations and all the fun stuff that comes with being in charge of a database (really, I love it!).

    Ah, my kindred spirit!

  5. Sloanicota*

    Speaking as someone whose entire career has been in non-profit, I agree that they can be wonderful places to work. The day to day is more meaningful, and some are more generous with work-life balance or leave if they can’t provide the most competitive pay (although TBH that’s not universal either. I agree with whoever on here said that small nonprofits, like any small organization, can be a hotbed of issues – not necessarily just because they’re nonprofit. They can be a bit like small family owned businesses, with all that entails.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Having been in the nonprofit sector for decades, thanks for affirming that they can be wonderful places to work. I haven’t personally worked at one that is small, but I’ve heard the stories from others and I agree with your perspective about organizational size being the issue for both nonprofits and the private sector.

    2. Jennifer Strange*

      Absolutely! I work for a non-profit and while I don’t make as much as my husband in the for-profit sector, my supervisor is 100% okay with my WFH on a pretty regular basis and encourages using comp time when we work outside of regular hours. When my daughter can’t go to daycare for whatever reason I have so much flexibility to work at home and, if needed, work outside of normal hours so that I can complete tasks when my husband is home and can watch her.

  6. curmudgeon*

    Now I’m wondering if the old minister at my mom’s church was put in a PIP or if she quit of her own volition.

    She was a self-centered rude ass wet sock of a human. Pro tip: if a visibly blind person accidentally walks into you in a crowded space, the answer is not to snap “watch where you’re going!” and stomp off.

    1. The Cat’s Ass*

      Whoa. She sounds nice (not). Rude ass wet sock of a human is brilliant tho. Definitely stealing this, thanks!

    2. KatEnigma*

      Some denominations make it pretty impossible to remove the clergy. Only misappropriation of funds or sexual impropriety (which does include any harassment of anyone) will get you removed immediately, instead of the church having to convince the hierarchy to remove the problem. The local board can petition for it, but can’t put a PIP in place to remove him or her.

    3. 2023, I am giving you the hairy eyeball*

      He got a better deal then I did. I was called in the senior’s office, told I was let go, all answers were “this is the decision that was made”. They didn’t throw me under the bus, they tossed me into the wood chipper. Of course, I was only an admin assistant, I was owed no courtesy or decency at all.

  7. hellohello*

    Yeah, in my experience the ridiculousness is more closely aligned with “small” than specifically with “non-profit.” Both for and non-profits have their issues, and non-profits are more likely to be on the smaller size and have the attendant issues that can arise when there’s bad or no HR, a tight budget, and people wearing multiple hats out of necessity. I’d be just as wary if not more-so of a small family business or small startup as of a small non-profit.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yup, small non-profits still usually have a board to report back to and that can help curb some issues.

    2. delazeur*

      I have to confess I roll by eyes a bit, as someone who works in the for-profit world and does some non-profit work on the side, when I hear non-profit folks talk about things they perceive as being unique about the non-profit world. There aren’t really any non-profits big enough to have a similar feel to working at MegaCorp, Inc., but they’re not that different from private businesses of similar size.

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