my employee tears down other people, why can’t I work remotely if everyone else does, and more

It’s four answers to four questions. Here we go…

1. My employee tears down other people’s work to make themselves look better

I’ve been having difficulty coaching one of my employees. This is their first office job and they are having difficulty understanding appropriate conduct in this environment. Lately, they’ve been criticizing others’ work to make themselves look better.

They recently asked for a raise, which they deserve! In doing so, they compared their work to a coworker in another department who is making slightly more, and made the case that they work harder and have made more progress than him. It really rubbed me the wrong way that they would call someone else’s work into question to make themselves look better! I did tell them that was not appropriate in the moment, but it’s not clear that they understood the issue. In other instances, they’ve made comments about others’ work along the lines of “well, if I were doing that I would do X, which is much more efficient” or “when I did Y, it never took me that long.”

Each time I try to discourage this, it seems like they listen, but get defensive. It then shows up again in similar ways a couple weeks later. I’m concerned that this tendency to tear down others for personal gain is seriously going to hurt their career. How do I get through to someone who isn’t taking the invitation to reflect on their behavior?

If it were just the first example — comparing their work to a higher-paid coworker when asking for a raise — that’s not necessarily inappropriate. Pay parity is an important issue, and people need to be able to point out inequities in your salary structure (especially if there are race or gender differences, at which point “I’m contributing at a higher level than Brian but earning less” is particularly relevant).

But the broader picture you’ve painted with their other comments does sound concerning. How clear and direct have you been when you’ve told them they need to stop tearing down others? If you’ve softened the message in an attempt to be kind (which managers frequently do), it’s time to have a more serious conversation where you name the problem (with examples) and clearly say it can’t continue. If it still continues after that, I’d be skeptical you can solve it through coaching (at least not in the amount of time you could reasonably devote).

I’m also curious about their work outside of this. Is this the only area where they’re getting defensive and not taking feedback? This kind of thing often goes hand-in-hand with other problems, so I’m curious what else you’re seeing in their work habits and their relationships with colleagues.

Read an update to this letter

2. Why can’t I work remotely if everyone else on my team does?

I work on a team that is almost all fully remote. I happen to live near our company’s office so I go in on a hybrid schedule, but many of the rest of us are scattered all across the country. The company makes a big deal in its job postings and promotion about how it is remote-friendly.

My coworkers and I all have the same title and do the same job. All of the job’s tasks can be done fully remotely with one exception: Every so often (like once every 1-2 months) we all have to physically assess a prototype — this can’t be done remotely. When my remote coworkers need to do this, our company will fly them to the office and put them up in a hotel nearby. If the employee can’t make that work with their schedule, the company will (very occasionally) ship the prototype and necessary equipment out to them.

Some of my family members live across the country, and I’d really like to move near them at some point in the near future. I would maintain a permanent address in my current state so that taxes and such wouldn’t be a problem. I floated this idea to my manager a few weeks ago, not as a formal request, but in a “I’ve always dreamed of doing X — do you see it being feasible?” sort of way, and she didn’t seem thrilled about it. She mentioned that it was so nice to have me so close to the office for prototype assessments, and said she’d have to check with X and Y person to see whether our budget could cover my travel.

I do understand that my making this move would increase our team’s expenses. However, I can’t help but feel like not allowing me to move or asking me to cover my own travel to the office would be unfair. Almost all of my teammates have the privilege of living wherever they want and having their travel to the office covered. It seems to me unjust that this option wouldn’t be open to me solely because I wasn’t remote when I was hired. Do you think I’m missing something?

It’s possible that they have legitimate work reasons for wanting at least one local team member, and that having you be that person has allowed them to offer fully remote work to everyone else. When you go in on your hybrid schedule, do you ever do anything in the office that would be tough to do if you were remote, aside from the prototypes that everyone flies in for? If so, that’s likely what’s driving your boss’s reaction.

Otherwise, though, you might ask if they plan to keep your slot on the team local regardless of who is in it — like if you leave at some point, would they only hire a local replacement who could work your hybrid schedule? Or would they consider remote candidates too, as they’ve apparently done for the rest of the team? If it’s the latter, then they’d be being really short-sighted by refusing to let you move.

All that said, your boss didn’t say no; she just said she’d need to look into getting your travel expenses covered. It’s not unreasonable for her to need to find that out before giving you a real answer, since it’s presumably not budgeted for currently. So I wouldn’t assume this is a no, especially since she thinks it’s still a hypothetical “I’ve always dreamed about this” question.

One other thing to be aware of: I’m not sure exactly what you mean by “I would maintain a permanent address in my current state” but taxes are based on where you’re actually living and working. Using an address for taxes in a different state than the one you’re spending most of your time in would be illegal for both you and your company.

3. Can I pass on a volunteer who’s only interested if they eventually get paid?

I work for a nonprofit and we rely heavily on volunteers. It’s actually part of our mission — to build a movement by involving volunteers in our work. These volunteers do a wide range of things, some of which require significant professional skills and qualifications and others which can be done by anyone interested. Sometimes we have something that we absolutely need and we hire a freelancer or consultant; sometimes we manage to find a volunteer for that same kind of project. We have a small communications team and some limited capacity for in-house creative work, but we do often look for outside help. We had a volunteer develop branding guidelines for us, and another redesign the homepage of our website.

I am looking for a volunteer to do some video editing, and today I interviewed someone who had said they were interested. In the interview, after it became clear that our project lined up with their skills, they said they would be interested in volunteering, but only if they could get a commitment that if we liked their work, we would hire them on a freelance basis moving forward. It got me thinking — I hear so much on the internet from people, particularly creative workers, about being asked to do things for free, for “exposure,” and I absolutely understand why that would be frustrating, so I sympathize with this volunteer. But on the other hand, I don’t think it would be hard to find someone who truly wants to do this on a volunteer basis (I already had another interview lined up next week for the project). We do often have people excited to do things as a volunteer, from a wide variety of professional backgrounds, and it feels weird to say that someone with a creative background could spend their times stuffing envelopes for us, but not making a more beautiful card to put in those envelopes. How do I balance wanting to respect the time and expertise of designers and artists with our volunteer-heavy model? Can I just pass on this volunteer with a clear conscience because this arrangement wouldn’t work for us?

Yes, you can pass on this volunteer simply because the arrangement wouldn’t work for you. Nonprofits often use volunteers for things they could hire freelancers for, generally because they have limited budgets; that’s pretty much built into much of the sector. And in your case, since part of your mission is to build a volunteer movement, it makes even more sense that you’d prioritize using volunteers when you can.

That doesn’t mean that you don’t respect the time and expertise of designers and artists. That would be true if you were pressuring people to do free work for your organization, guilting people who want to be paid for their work, or being shocked if you couldn’t find volunteers for the things you need. As long as you are up-front from the very beginning (including in ads or first contact with potential volunteers) that the work you are advertising/recruiting for is unpaid and respect it when someone declines, you’re fine.

Read an update to this letter

4. Disclosing medical status when applying to medical-cause organizations

Is it appropriate to disclose that you have a certain medical condition when applying to an organization that focuses on that condition? Say you suffer from chronic llamapox, and you’re applying to work at the National Llamapox Foundation. Should you bring up that you have llamapox in your application? I’ve always thought that lived experience can be a legitimate qualification for a job like that (especially if you’re in a role like patient outreach, as opposed to something like bookkeeping) … but are organizations even legally allowed to consider that information?

Yes — this is an exception because you’re showing a personal connection to their mission. Employers are allowed to consider that you have personal experience with the issue they work on, and often that can be a real bonus when they’re hiring.

{ 240 comments… read them below }

  1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP1 (tearing down others) – obviously an attitude adjustment is needed here, but also is there any truth to her comments? Is it correct that those people are taking much longer than they should on those tasks etc? I see a potentially very frustrated person who sees underperformance around them and hasn’t learned to address that professionally. I think your approach as a manager will differ significantly depending on whether there is actually any truth in her remarks, no matter how unprofessionally presented they might be.

    1. matt*

      this was my question as well…it’s not great, but there may be a kernel of truth in it that’s worth exploring. it’s their first job, perhaps they just need coaching in how to navigate these kinds of difficult conversations in a positive way?

      1. green bean*

        LW here! I should clarify – when they have called others’ work into question, it’s work happening in a completely different department and at a completely different tier of the organization. Specifically, they’re an entry-level llama trimming assistant critiquing the work of the llama recruiting manager.

        1. Stuckinacrazyjob*

          To me that’s out of line because I feel that these people probably have reasons their work is slower she’s not privy to and can’t understand.

        2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          So it sounds more like this person needs a global conversation about knowing and staying within the boundaries of their job responsibilities. It can be okay to point out that something could be functioning more smoothly – but rarely should that be the job of the most junior employee who may not have the visibility or experience to know about regulations that require certain processes.

          1. Alanna*

            It sounds like what this person needs is a firm “keep your eyes on your own paper” response in the moment, as well as a bigger conversation about the pattern. When this happens on my team, I don’t let the conversation divert to the performance of third parties: “I don’t have a lot of insight into Bob’s team, but we’re talking about your performance here, and what I expect is X and Y.” “You may be right that the Llama Training division could improve — I don’t have a lot of visibility into how that team is run. But we’re talking about your performance here.”

    2. ecnaseener*

      I think it’s also worth noting that the raise argument – “that they work harder and have made more progress than him” – doesn’t sound unprofessionally presented. Maybe the exact wording was more of a tear-down than it sounds, but if it was close to the wording in the letter and LW still found it shockingly unprofessional, LW’s calibration might just be a bit off.

      1. Random Dice*

        I thought their calibration was off, for that example.

        The other examples, well, they’re not cool. Especially after being told to knock it off, getting defensive, and then doing it again.

        1. JSPA*

          depends; if it’s, ” I’m doing the same sort of tasks at an equivalent level faster and better” they’ve got a point.

          But too often it means, “They come in later than I do and leave earlier, so I’m sure they’re slacking” or ” We do tasks that have an outwardly similar description, so the fact that I do four of mine in a day, while they talk about working on one of theirs for a week, must mean they are slacking” (ignoring that, say, formatting internal memos and formatting the annual report are not at all comparable…or that getting 50 small donors is different than long-term donor relations with a big donor…or that the failsafes and guards needed on a lawnmower are only superficially similar to those on a pencil sharpener).

          In which case, they need to be clued in to how much they don’t know, as well as reminded of the importance of keeping their eyes on their own paper. (And that work isn’t like a test where you’re graded on a curve. And that the goal is to learn from the different approaches of your coworkers, not to assume that you came into the job already fully equipped with all the knowledge you could ever need or want.)

          1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

            Oh yes. I have a coworker who complains incessantly that our manager leaves 30 minutes before the rest of us log off for the day…completely ignoring the fact the manager comes in an hour before the rest of us and sacrificed to be the person physically going into the office to make it possible for the whole rest of the team to be remote.

            They are also the newest member of our team, not really getting that their role is different now, and constantly complaining that this isn’t how her old team did task X (but we aren’t doing X – we do Y and are subject to very different requirements and regulations. Hopefully she turns it around soon – but in the mean time she is making exactly zero allies on the team.

    3. El l*

      My suggestion as to the conversation that has to happen:

      “You’re doing good work – but you’re copping an attitude that requires you to be an absolute rockstar for your colleagues to put up with it. [Cite examples of them tearing down others] Where I get concerned is that you’ll make mistakes someday, it’s only a matter of time – and your attitude will make moving on from them so much harder. Others may not forgive you if you keep talking trash this way. Like a great general once said, ‘People will forgive all kinds of mistakes, but where they don’t forgive is when you are less than you pretend to be.’

      “It’s great to be competitive and exacting, but you have to keep your attitude relational to others. And if you can’t, you’re going to alienate many and give yourself a ceiling.”

    4. Pescadero*

      If I do more work more efficiently than someone else, for less pay – and I point that out to management…. that isn’t “tearing others down”, it’s just pointing out inequitable reality.

      1. IDIC believer*

        It’s not tearing assuming all major variables are known. To compare within a department is sometimes difficult, but much more so across departments.

        In my accounting department, person A processes 100 invoices/wk while B only 35/wk. A might be convinced they are more efficient, but A handles simple commodity invoices and B handles complex medical services – which means B actually is more efficient.

        LW’s employee isn’t in a position to accurately judge, which is what LW should address.

      2. Arthenonyma*

        But according to the LW upthread, that’s not what’s happening – they’re not comparing their work to others on their level. It reads to me more like “the VP of sales has no idea what he’s doing and gets paid the big bucks, whereas I’m here working my butt off for peanuts, I should get a raise since I could do his job with my eyes shut”.

  2. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    #4 my one caveat is about how your illness impacts your work. Disease-specific nonprofits are not immune to prejudice about the illness they are working to increase undetstanding, help with access to treatment, etc. NAMI pretty requires lived experience as either a person living with mentall illnees or a loved one of. But tbe Executive Director of a NAMI chapter complained to me about more than one employee whose depression interfered with their work. And this is a woman who almost lost her daughter to depression and sees herself as a huge advocate. I can see her not hiring somebody who brought up their mental health struggles in an interview.

    1. ecnaseener*

      Yes, I was thinking this too. Maybe ask around in forums about the disease (or failing that, check glassdoor) about people’s experiences working at/with that org with that disease.

    2. LW4*

      Yes, I worried about that too. Especially because the disorder I have can range from “just need 30 seconds out of my day at a specific time to swallow some pills” to “I need a caretaker 24/7”. Where I fall on that spectrum seems like way too much detail to get into in a cover letter, and I could see someone assuming it would impact my work.

      1. JSPA*

        toss in, “albeit extremely high-functioning”

        or work it into a longer statement of how and why you’re motivated and interested.

        “Despite it having no day-to-day impact on my functioning, [trait] itself, people’s reactions when they hear about [my trait], seeing my fellow [trait havers] navigate a much rockier course, and my gratitude for the research already done, [statement of result that make you passionate about and well suited to the job].

    3. Random Dice*

      The frustration seems valid; the question is whether you were an appropriate person to vent to.

      I’d be pretty shocked if the director of a depression related group didn’t find it difficult to work around all of the depression in staff. I find it difficult to work around my own! (Including at this very moment)

      But also shocked if they were venting about depression being a bummer to manage en masse to someone other than a trusted confidante.

    4. Lanlan*

      Absolutely this. My dad was a mentally ill veteran working on a project back in the oughties for the VA, right, and it was an initiative to help mentally ill veterans. Guess who got fired when his mental illness flared up — and who didn’t offer him appropriate services before canning him. (One of his team members died of cancer while he was there. It’s not like this was unexpected or anything.)

  3. Punk*

    LW2: Please don’t go to your boss with a scheme to keep your current address as a tax trick. That’s not what business taxes are based on. It has to do with where the money is earned/where the work is being done.

    1. OP2*

      I shouldn’t have mentioned this in the letter because it is distracting from the conversation, but just to be clear, I did not mention that part to my boss.

      The idea isn’t to do it as a tax trick – the situation is more complicated than is worth getting into here.

    2. HB*

      ^ This – though my guess is the LW genuinely didn’t think of it as a tax trick and believed that what mattered to the company was whether she had a permanent address in the state.

      It doesn’t help nexus for a business is a different concept than residency for an individual – before even folding in the fact that each state’s requirements for both can be completely different, and at odds with other states.

      1. OP2*

        This is what I understand to be the case for our company. We have a few people who have temporary residences in various states that are not our state but are still considered to be based in our state since they have a permanent residence here. Our company has an explicit policy, which they promote widely, that they allow you to temporarily from other states as long as you still have a permanent residence in our state — I believe it has something to do with our specific state’s laws. They also include a disclaimer that this situation may make your personal taxes complicated and that you should consult an accountant about them.

        Again, not attempting to commit tax fraud, just want to clarify what my understanding is here.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          So, obviously I don’t have all the details that you do, but this sounds … not legal. Companies don’t have any ability to allow you to work temporarily from another state without complying with that state’s tax and business regulations, which in most cases will dictate that after X days they need to file payroll taxes on your income there, as well as purchase workers comp insurance for that state. And that’s totally separate from your own tax obligations, which your company cannot waive for you and which are based on where you are performing the work, not whether you have a permanent address somewhere else. All of those laws are based on the laws of the state where you are working, so your home state’s laws couldn’t exempt you from that.

          There are some areas — like MD/VA/DC — that have cooperative agreements with each other so that a DC resident who works 10 minutes away in MD doesn’t need to file MD taxes. But those agreements are the exception to the rule.

          1. JSPA*

            I’m guessing their family is in one of the States that doesn’t have an income tax.

            (per google) Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming

            I guess the business should still be on the hook for unemployment, disability (etc)???? But I imagine there might be more flexibility in that if you are able to go back to the state where your taxes are being paid in case of becoming unemployed or disabled???

            There seems to be something called “convenience of the employer rule” in some states that could also be in play.

            1. Sindirella*

              I live in SD. We still have to comply with state laws regarding taxes based on where an employee is working from. We allow our employees to work remotely in only a few select states because we have to pay taxes based on the state the employee is working from. If they are just visiting, that’s usually fine. Different states have different cut-offs for how long you can be in that state before you start having to comply with their state income laws. But you can’t just claim a legal residence in one state while living/working in another and not adhere to that state’s employment laws. It goes even beyond the taxes, employers have to adhere to ALL employment laws based on where their employee is working from.

              1. I am Emily's failing memory*

                Yep, a while back I had an employee that needed to travel overseas with her partner for just over two weeks, but she was mostly going for moral support and he was going to be occupied much of the time they were there, so she was interested in working remotely instead of taking it as vacation time. Before I approved her request I had to clear it through HR so they could verify that 2.5 weeks was a brief enough stay that it wouldn’t trigger any determination that she was a remote worker domiciled short-term in the country, because the length of time you’re considered “visiting” is dependent on the local laws in the place you’re visiting, not your home country/state’s laws or your company’s policies, and in some countries they can indeed be as strict as just a couple of weeks (this is especially true of countries with large tourism economies where the dollar/euro is very strong).

              2. JSPA*

                that’s if the company and current location are SD; I’m asking if LW is some place that does have income tax… will be paying income tax there… while staying for extended periods with family in SD (or florida or one of the others).

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Nope, even if the state they move to doesn’t have income tax, the business still needs to pay for various insurances there and there’s no “but the employee can move back to this other state if they need services” exception to that.

          2. OP2*

            Got it, sounds like I may just end up fully relocating (which is also totally fine). Thanks Allison and commenters for the insight!

          3. Echo*

            Out of curiosity, would this be legal if the address were truly temporary, like if I wanted to take a month to go live in an Airbnb in another state while still paying the rent on my local apartment? I’m wondering if OP2’s company created this rule in ~2021 when a lot of people were working remotely in this kind of arrangement.

            1. New Jack Karyn*

              It probably depends on which state–they have their own rules on how long the stay must be. Like, probably checking your work email while on a weekend getaway won’t be a problem, but 30 days might.

            2. Sindirella*

              Depends on the state you’d be staying in. Different states have different rules regarding how long you can be there before nexus kicks in. Some states are as short as 7 days, others as long as 30.

            3. Gustynpip*

              Intent is the key. If your intent is to permanently reside in a state, that state is your residence. Length of time of a stay is irrelevant, except that if a state is attempting to establish intent, they will look at how long you’ve been there. They’ll also look at whether you’ve changed your mailing address, gotten a driver’s license in the state, changed your voting registration, etc.

        2. Tesuji*

          Your company might end up paying a lot of fines one day.

          This has changed a lot over the years, but states have figured out that they were leaving a lot of taxes on the table. If your company isn’t up-to-date with the current laws, they might not realize how much liability they’re opening themselves up to.

          Right now, there’s ~22 states in which tax reporting/withholding liability can attach based on a single day of work performed within that state.

          We’re not just talking about employees who have changed their residence. In some days, just traveling to it for business (e.g., an onsite consulting job) triggers a reporting and withholding requirement.

          It doesn’t matter what *your* state says; it’s what the state you’re physically in says about your obligations.

          As a practical matter, this is like the “you’re supposed to pay use tax for out-of-state purchases that you didn’t pay sales tax for” laws, which everyone just ignored in the wild west days of the internet. How on earth could the state ever track down everyone who was ignoring that?

          The practical matter of enforcing it is a separate matter from whether the company is theoretically opening themselves up to huge liabilities for tax fraud.

          There’s a legitimate reason why a lot of companies don’t want to deal with remote employees living wherever they want.

          1. Rosemary*

            Right I have no idea how they would ever be able to track this for the “average” worker. I work in marketing research and in the Before Times traveled a ton for work. I might be doing focus groups in LA Monday-Tuesday then in Chicago on Weds-Thursday, back in my home state Fri-Tue then in Denver the following Weds. Or, I might spend an entire week in Boston. Rinse/repeat, with different cities for different durations. No way is this kind of thing being tracked.
            That said, I know that for instance professional athletes are on the hook when they play a game in a different state… but their “earnings” for that single day/game is often more than what most people bring home in a year, so it is understandable the Tax Man is going to pay attention to them…

            1. Daisy-dog*

              No clue with professional athletes, but normal business travel usually doesn’t count.

          2. JSPA*

            Which is one of the hidden reasons that hosting superstar (sports, entertainment) events can be so lucrative for the hosting state, on top of the more obvious “fans =sales and hotel taxes” part of the equation.

        3. BobTheRecreator*

          How sure are you that this is above board? you keep saying it’s not tax fraud but the more you describe it, the more it sounds like it’s definitely tax fraud.

    3. OP2*

      Sounds like I may just fully relocate then (which is fine). Thanks Allison and commenters for the insight!

  4. Rebecca*

    On volunteering:

    Volunteering should be mutual beneficial, not just people doing favours for you. What do your volunteers get out of it that isn’t monetary? Do they get real experience, a foot in the door to a field, references, networking opportunities, education?

    But I am also skeptical of organizations that rely so heavily on volunteers. How is that in any way sustainable? I am in education, and there are so many places around the world where I could go do volunteer teaching! The organizations never pay teachers, their entire model is reliant on people being willing and able to work for free for them (and some places where I had to pay THEM). An organization that relies so heavily on volunteers really narrows the field – you can only work with people who have the time and money to be able to work for free. And it’s always short term – a rotating door of people who could afford do that for a while until they got their experience or had more responsibility. Is that really good for an organization trying to perform good work or services?

    An organization that runs a limited volunteer program that is mutually beneficial is great – but one that relies on people who can work for free to do the important bulk of their work is all red flags for me.

    When I donate to non-profit organizations, I much prefer to donate to one that spends the money hiring a few good, long term, skilled people to perform the work I was supporting than an organization who couldn’t hope to perform the service at the same level with only short term volunteer teams,

    1. Perfectly Particular*

      This is a strangely adversarial take on volunteerism. The OP didn’t say the projects were full time, and many people have time for a side project in addition to their day job. Think of things like kids sports coaches, church committee leads, and HOA president. These volunteer positions require varying types of skill and time commitment, and offer little in return other than the satisfaction of supporting something that is important to the volunteer and their community.

      This model seems to be working for OP’s organization, and she feels that she will be able to find someone excited to do the volunteer work, so it seems to make sense to pass on the volunteer who is really looking for paid work. When there’s so little money, it makes sense to save it for where it can make the biggest impact, and video editing might not be the big impact item.

      1. Melissa*

        I agree that this seems like a strong stance. You’re bringing up churches especially— I am a member of a small church with only two paid staff. Everything else is volunteer, and people (including me) definitely bring their professional skills to the table. Our marketing materials are done by marketing professionals, our payroll is done by a person who retired from HR, Sunday School is taught by a teacher, etc. Of course everyone’s “real job” comes first, so there’s an element of “We will have to wait a few months to get that brochure made because so-and-so is busy at work right now” but overall, the system works well! We contract for projects when we need to, but that isn’t the bulk of our work. People volunteer because they enjoy it and it feels meaningful to them.

      2. AlsoADHD*

        Yeah I’m in a semi creative field and do similar volunteer work part time and am happy to! I do ask to be able to use the samples in my portfolio sometimes and to get references for my pages and websites but I have a full time job, freelance business, and volunteer with organizations I care about for my trade and it’s not an issue that I’m putting in labor for free—that’s what volunteering is. It seems unethical to have unpaid internships to me in for profit situations unless they cost more resources than they generate immediately but nonprofit volunteering could be fully transactional work just done for free. I even track billing and just zero it out.

      3. WellRed*

        But this is a business- yes, a business- whose model very much relies on volunteers. That’s very different from taking on an individual coaching role or sitting on a board. It’s great that it works now but what happens when they can’t find volunteers? The work doesn’t get done, the people (or whatever) the nonprofit serves doesn’t get served and then the money dries up.

        1. doreen*

          It’s different from an individual taking on a coaching role. yes – but there’s not much difference between a sports organization running almost entirely on volunteers ( coaches, board members, treasurer , etc) and a sports organization where the coaches and other workers are paid ( and they do exist) other than the money.

        2. Falling Diphthong*

          If the “business model” (for a business, for a sports team, for a charity that pulls invasive weeds, for the kindergarten spring festival) isn’t sustainable, it eventually fades away.

          It’s not the case that people who refuse to volunteer to do X would definitely do X for money. There’s a whole subgenre of human interaction that comes down to “I don’t want this person to do me a favor from the goodness of their heart, like an equal; I want them to take my money and be my employee who can’t say no to any future requests because I am paying them” and the other person is like “Nope, favor from the goodness of my heart, or it’s not happening.”

          1. infopubs*

            Exactly this. I have a crafty hobby that I am particularly good at, and I donate the finished items to comfort people (think handmade stuffed animals, but slightly different.) People often ask if my items are for sale and are shocked that I don’t sell them for potentially hundreds of dollars. My answer is that you get one as a gift if I love you, or as a donation if you are a complete stranger. Adding money into the mix creates stresses, expectations, and obligations that I’m not interested in At. All.

            1. bellalye*

              Ditto! I’m an advanced seamstress & costumer, and I’ve learned to never take paid commissions. Something about being paid for this work makes me second-guess myself and procrastinate on projects, resulting in high stress for me and lower-quality garments for the client.

              On the other hand, I have designed and constructed full costume closets for K-12 and community theatre productions, prom dresses for family members, and some kick-ass cosplay pieces for friends.

              Volunteering just works better for some folks.

              1. bellalye*

                Thinking back, I guess there was one exception to my comment above.

                In the middle of a career change I took a a temporary pay-the-bills position working in a semi-conductor factory repairing clean suits. Nothing about this work was creative (I replaced zippers, mended holes, and applied patches, etc.), so I never felt the same stress or demotivation that I experienced on costume commissions.

            2. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

              Yup. If I want to knit for you, I’ll do it for free. If you want me to knit for you, you probably can’t afford it.

              1. badger*

                SO MUCH THIS.

                Actually, it’s kinda funny even with stuff that isn’t hobby-related; sooooo many lawyers, doctors, vets, etc. get the “hey, you’re in X profession, I have a question” with the expectation that the answer will be free. If I like you and I have time and it’s something I know about, I’ll think about it, but it’s still not an automatic yes.

                1. JustaTech*

                  Yes! I have aunts who are doctors and lawyers and whatnot, and if I have a question it always starts with “do you have the time/inclination to answer this question”, and it’s always a really short question (sometimes the question actually is “do I need to pay someone to do this thing?”).

            3. Starbuck*

              Word! I also do crafting at a high enough level that people think I should be selling my work for hundreds of dollars. Absolutely not. For one, the work of setting up a website / payment system / small business taxes etc are all chores that I absolutely loathe and would take away from my time and especially motivation to craft. For two, I just don’t want the level of expectations that come with someone being a paying customer. I am not willing to provide that level of service on top of the unrelated full time job I already work. So my crafts are given as gifts, or if a family / friend wants to literally just hand me a stack of cash to take something off my hands, that’s fine too.

            4. Kayem*

              Absolutely this! I make homemade jellies, jams, and other sweet preserves as a hobby. I’ve gotten quite good and experiment with all kinds of ingredients (especially hard liquor). I do this every fall and I always give away everything I make.

              People keep saying I should sell at a farmer’s market or offer money for it. Nope. Do not want. As soon as it becomes transactional, it’s a whole other level of customer service. There’s always a batch that doesn’t turn out. Maybe it crystallized, or didn’t set, or set too hard, or the fruit floated, or is too boozy. Maybe they don’t like the flavor once they tried it. Nope nope nope.

              I give family and friends jams and jelly because I love them and I give it away to others who ask because I enjoy sharing. Yes, it costs a good bit of time and money and yes, I could recoup some of that selling it, but the added stress of making sure each batch comes out right just isn’t worth it. I have fun, they get free food, everyone wins.

        3. Anon on this one*

          This exactly. Also, I’ve worked for large non-profit orgs, and my experience is that when you’re talking about what is basically a company with paid employees, volunteers often just enable their efforts to underpay and understaff.

      4. Smithy*

        I agree with this – and also want to flag that for organizations that do have a model of volunteerism – taking on volunteers who really want to get paid is genuinely a disservice. As it ends up being misleading to them about your values and also to other volunteers. In abstract, this could be a conversation about how much artists do or do not deserve to be paid for their labor but in specific situations whether religious groups or youth sports, it often becomes more specific and potentially more straightforward.

        I recently visited the George Floyd Memorial Square which appears to be going through the process of being formalized by the city and still largely run by community organizers/volunteers. And it’s clear how much community and volunteer engagement demonstrates to the municipal government the widespread local support for whatever the next steps may be. So, if there’s an upcoming event for which they’d want a graphic design for fliers/invitations, no doubt they could pay a graphic designer. But I imagine there are also a lot of professionals or students willing to volunteer their time/talents for this cause to create signage for an event or two a year.

        In no way am I saying that’s where the OP is from or the model being used by the George Floyd Memorial Square – just to give an example where I could see someone feeling like their services would be worth being paid for. But also a group that might value demonstrating broad based community support through volunteerism and donations of talent. And communicating that value isn’t a problem when it’s done thoughtfully.

      5. Twix*

        I agree that this is a bizarre take. I just finished redoing the IT infrastructure for a small organization whose mission I support. There was no personal benefit to me other than that it was an opportunity to do something that interests me in service to a good cause, but for many volunteer workers that’s plenty. Discounting all other concerns, would having a full-time IT person on staff be better? Of course. But the organization has neither the need nor budget for a full-time IT person. Would hiring an IT consultant have been better? Probably. It took me 4 months working nights and weekends when I was available, while working full time it could have gotten done in 1-2. But again, there was no budget for that. The reality was that it wasn’t a choice between “Find a volunteer or hire someone”, it was a choice between “Find a volunteer or keep using our 20-year-old system”. It sounds like that’s not the OP’s case, but the larger point is that a non-profit that’s paying someone to do X is always doing it at the expense of paying someone else to do Y.

        1. JustaTech*

          I think you hit on a really important thing here “it was an opportunity to do something that interests me in service to a good cause”.
          My spouse really enjoys doing small-organization IT-type stuff, but it’s not his day job (doesn’t pay enough), so he volunteers with an organization he’s already a member of.

          I used to volunteer at a soup kitchen/food bank: that has nothing to do with my day job or my professional skills; I did it because it sounded like fun (and it was!). What I got out of it was blisters, occasional weird snacks, meeting new people and the warm and fuzzies. There’s a lot to be said for the warm and fuzzies!

      6. Gustynpip*

        It’s actually a realistic take. Very few volunteers can be relied on to stick with a task for a long period of time. Being involved with volunteers, I’d say about 1 in 20 (maybe less) understand that a committment is needed and will be there doing the job in six months time. They can just not bother showing up and what are you going to do? Fire them? If they don’t do a quality job, what are you going to do? You insist they do things the way you need them done, except for those rare ones, they just don’t come back. A business can’t run with volunteers. For things like the OP describes – special projects, for instance, volunteers are an option. But for the day to day work of any business, nonprofit or otherwise, you need people who have some skin in the game to get the job done right.

    2. Drake Mallard*

      Agreed! I’ve been involved with a local non-profit that relies heavily on volunteers for creative work and event planning and they’re starting to have trouble finding folks to do this work locally. The director tends to micromanage the work while offering little in the way of benefits or even thanks. This model may work for a while (and longer in larger communities) but it eventually gets old and local creatives wise up.

      1. Parrot*

        I mean, it sounds like in your example the problem isn’t the model, it’s the unappreciative, micromanaging director.

        1. Tony T*

          free freelancer.!

          In this day (and age), I read, incessantly, sort of, the hand-wringing about the “economy”, China, The Terrific Recession, the Great Unwashed, the Unemployed, the Homeless, ad nauseum.

          Here are people who will work for free at “Non-Loss” firms that rely upon free worker!

          Who are these enabled folks? Well-to-doer$? Retirees? Dilettantes? Hobbyists? Empty-Nesters? Women who “lunch”? Who can quit if someone looks at them wrong.

          Not as if the possibility exists of paying others who actually need it.

          OK, I’m done.

      2. EPLawyer*

        the thing with volunteers is they can always just walk away if the working conditions aren’t great. They don’t have to worry about paying the bills, health insurance, or the stress of job hunting.

        Volunteers at least deserve thanks.

    3. doreen*

      I think that depends a lot on the work being done – not just the type of work itself ( such as teaching) but also on the specifics of how it is done. Going to a foreign county to volunteer as a teacher full-time for four weeks is not the same as volunteering at a local adult education program (HS equivalency, ESL etc) for a few hours a week longer term.

      1. Melissa*

        The ESL thing is a good example. Our local library offers ESL classes once a week for adults, and they are taught by a retired volunteer teacher. She’s been doing it for ages, and she does it because she enjoys it. There’s no way they could pay a teacher to do it; they just don’t have the budget. So if they didn’t accept volunteers, they just wouldn’t have the class.

        1. L-squared*

          But, for a library, the ESL course is like a nice bonus for them to offer, not a core part of them functioning. And I think that does make a difference. For the OP, I’m not sure how much this is position is crucial to them operating. If it is though, I think they should probably consider doing the freelance thing

      2. Parakeet*

        This. Most volunteering isn’t voluntourism. At least in the US, anti-gender-based violence programs make quite heavy use of volunteers (I’ve volunteered with several). It’s NOT to replace paid staff (orgs that aren’t all-vol generally have very strong policies about what work, during what shifts, is performed by volunteers vs paid staff). Volunteers get substantial training, and usually make a commitment to a certain number of hours per week or month for at least a minimum period of time (six months or a year is what I’ve seen – and of course things come up and people are occasionally unable to meet the commitment, but people are expected to make it in good faith). Staff in direct service nonprofits (I’ve done that too) are overworked enough without people wanting the orgs to get rid of the volunteers because they have some kind of misguided objection to volunteering.

        Grassroots political orgs are also volunteer-heavy (and often user all-vol models, at least at the local chapter level where there’s unlikely to be enough money to hire even a single staff member).

        The National Lawyers’ Guild provides, among other things, legal observers at progressive protests and free legal representation for arrested progressive protesters. Those are lawyers with day jobs volunteering their time and skills to support activists in causes that they too support. That’s the point of the program.

    4. Cats > People*

      I always assumed people volunteered to give back to their communities or support a cause they believe in, not because they expect to get something from it…I know that’s why I do. My volunteer work (animal rescue) is unrelated to my job (attorney), though if there was legal work to assist with I would happily help, even though it would do nothing for me professionally – I would much rather the nonprofit I volunteer for spend their money actually helping dogs and cats than hiring a lawyer to review their adoption contract, lease, etc.

      1. Kaiko*

        I think it’s fine to note that there is a wide variety of motivations for volunteering, and that it might vary inside a volunteer corp. I work with an organization that is all volunteers except for me, and we try to find networking and development opportunities for younger volunteers, and frame involvement more as giving back for older volunteers. in my own volunteer life, I tend to focus more on the mission (libraries, climate change), but I want to do interesting work at a level that suits me (event planning, rather than canvassing, for instance).

        OP, does your organization have a formalized volunteer development plan, or volunteer job descriptions, or things like that? I assume you do, given the robustness of the volunteerism, but they might be worth considering if you don’t.

      2. Freida*

        This – in the last five years, I’ve volunteered as a youth orchestra tutoring supervisor (I nominally kept track of the high school students who were tutoring elementary school students); as a board member for a nonprofit semi-related to my work (right now I’m doing some furniture refinishing, which is not what my paid work or expertise is in but it’s what they need); with a cat rescue, as a foster; and this spring I’m joining a gardening group that’s intentionally religiously diverse and grows vegetables for local hunger nonprofits.

        In the more distant past I’ve volunteered at three DV-prevention/response orgs, one as a board member and two as a peer advocate; as a council member for my church (whew, never again!) and as the leader of various academic organizations.

        Some of those opportunities were more productive than others, and some led to significant networking and some did not. With the orchestra kids I mostly was there to be their adult figurehead and the cleaner-up of the occasional bloody nose (and to support the work of the elementary school music teacher who was short on resources). The cat fostering I really loved but eventually gave up because of my partner’s allergies.

        TL:dr – volunteer opportunities vary widely in structure, impact, and benefit to the volunteer(s).

      3. Czhorat*

        Giving to the community and supporting a cause you believe in *is* getting something out of it.

        I do understand the comment, but some organizations just work that way because people believe in them.

        I was working on a construction design project for a very large religious organization. On the client side of the job the construction project manager, technical subject matter experts, and everyone else on the project were volunteers because it was important to them to advance the mission and share the things in which they believe (this is not a majority religion here in the US).

        I saw some of the work they’d completed. It was on par with the best corporate installs I’ve seen by paid professionals and the team was excited to move on to bigger and more challenging projects.

        Would this be sustainable if they didn’t believe in the mission? Not at all. But if you DO have people who feel that they’re giving to their community then it works well for everyone.

      4. Chickadee*

        Some fields (in my case, biology) require volunteering and working very low paid internships to get your foot in the door. It’s a massive equity issue that exasperates the lack of diversity in the field and it needs to stop.

        1. Czhorat*

          And that IS an issue; this may not be one.

          It’s impossible to know without further context.

    5. Snow Globe*

      I don’t think I agree that volunteers for a non-profit need to get something out of it (“real experience, a foot in the door to a field, references, networking opportunities, education”). Presumably they are volunteering their time to the organization because they believe in its mission. Helping to accomplish the mission is what they get out of it. I’ve never volunteered with an eye toward “what’s in it for me?”

      I mean I agree they shouldn’t push people to work unpaid if they don’t want to, but many professionals are very happy to donate their skills to an organization with a mission they believe in.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      A lot of people volunteer because helping out (specific cause) is personally rewarding to them. It’s not part of a long-range plan to move themselves into a specific job, just part of living a rounded life.

      After retiring, my mom volunteered to help teach reading at her local elementary school. Because she enjoyed helping others, and liked children. She also helped with Meals on Wheels and a local cultural organization, plus lots of stuff with her church.

    7. Goofy*

      I agree with you.

      The expectation that monies should ever be provided duties performed or free volunteering can’t always be sustainable can be uncomfortable discussions in the world non-profit.

      Creatives and others with specific skills will decide for themselves their levels of participation.

    8. Dust Bunny*

      I work for a non-profit that uses volunteers *occasionally* for specific tasks, but if we find something is an ongoing need we pay for it. We paid for the graphic design work for a recent event, for example, because it was time-sensitive and anything that needed that kind of priority should have been paid.

      That said, our volunteers are usually either students or professionals (spouses of doctors, specifically) who are looking for something academia-adjacent on which to spend time until they find an actual job, or to get out of the house for awhile. Our department head supervises them and will provide references to potential employers or colleges.

      I sometimes volunteer for entities or events related to some personal interests of mine, but it’s entirely on my own terms and I don’t expect to get anything out of it except knowing that I contributed.

    9. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Your views on volunteering seem really skewed based on your personal experience. No, the animal shelter doesn’t need to necessarily pay the person who’s doing the dozens of loads of laundry and dishes every day. If someone is willing to come in and do that work for free, for whatever reason, that’s fine. It is ok for someone to be willing to donate time, labor, money, expertise, or whatever to an organization that they support. It is ok to not do these things.

      That does not preclude the possibility of organizations which are taking advantage of people, but that only happens in a system which permits it. If you don’t like it, then work to change the system or work to get yours out of the system. In your case, you’re in education. Find a new profession if you want. In the meantime, recognize that your norms and views are skewed by a messed up system.

    10. Anonymous 75*

      In my own personal and experience as a volunteer and doing paid work with volunteers, most people volunteer because they believe in the cause of the agency and want to help. Some specially don’t want to work in the field for numerous reasons (better paying job, easier to leave for whatever reason, don’t want it to turn into and obligation as opposed to a joy, etc).

      caveat: some people are assigned through community service. they obviously have to be there.

    11. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I feel like a lot of people today are conflating intern vs volunteer. I’ve always understood volunteering as that you’re doing specifically to help that organization, not get some type of quid pro quo, beyond the general satisfaction of helping a cause you support.

      1. Turquoisecow*

        Yes, I thought this also. Interns should be learning from their placements, not just doing grunt work. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship.

        Volunteering, while also unpaid, has no such requirement. The volunteer will presumably feel good about supporting the cause and won’t hate the tasks they’re doing (or else why would they volunteer to do them?) but there’s no guarantee they’ll learn anything new or get any networking connections or job leads from the experience.

        My mom volunteers at her food bank once a month because she feels good about helping people. She enjoys the people she works with but the labor is mostly mindless and she’s not learning much except maybe a little stuff about food or how the food bank operates. She’s retired so she’s not making any professional connections. Maybe if she worked in a food related industry she might, but she’s not interested in that and I don’t think most of her fellow volunteer do either.

        1. Texan In Exile*

          “the labor is mostly mindless”

          I also volunteer at a food bank and this is one of my favorite things about it! I show up and they tell me what to do – usually, I move items from one container to another – and I do it and I go home.

          I have also done volunteer work where I am managing a project or creating and implementing communications strategies and I do it because I care deeply about the cause but that work is a lot like the paid work I used to do and is not my favorite. If I have to manage people and deal with getting approvals, I’d rather get paid.

          1. Texan In Exile*

            (But I will do it because the alternative is crazy people being elected.)

            (MY CANDIDATE WON!)

          2. Adultier adult*

            This seems to be the core of my feelings as well—- need bodies?? I’ll volunteer! Want to utilize expertise? Freelancer

      2. Echo*

        Yes! I kind of like calling this type of work “pro bono” because the benefit isn’t exposure or experience, it’s getting to use your skills to help a cause.

      3. I am Emily's failing memory*

        Yes, volunteering is just another form of supporting an organization. It’s a gift of service instead of a gift of money. For many people who don’t have room in their budget to donate as much money as they want to a cause they care about, they truly appreciate the opportunity to contribute something they do have – time and/or expertise. My employer even gives us a couple days of PTO we can use each year specifically for volunteering.

        Habitat for Humanity relies heavily on volunteer labor to do their projects, but it’s sustainable because they have a good reputation and people want to be part of the work they’re doing. Heck, the U.S. election system relies on a huge volunteer labor force with just a few paid workers, to man the polls and recount ballots. And there too, people want to volunteer because they believe in democracy and want to be part of ensuring free and fair elections in this country, not because they expect it to lead to paid work opportunities.

    12. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      “Volunteering should be mutual beneficial, not just people doing favours for you.”

      I don’t agree with this transactional view at all. For one, I don’t see contributing to the betterment of the world or supporting a mission whose values are important to you on that list. I also don’t view volunteer work as doing a favor, I view it as part of my responsibility as a person in society, and especially one who has a lot of privilege.

      1. starsaphire*

        100%. It’s simply the social contract, and it’s a model I grew up with – and it kind of shocks me to see “doing good works” placed in a transactional framework.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        Same. I find volunteering very satisfying and have a few things that I contribute time to on a regular basis. Unlike a job, I can schedule my volunteer time around my life obligations, choose the amount of time I’m able to give (including ramping up/down when we have things going on), and pick organizations whose mission I believe in so they can use more of their money on supplies, rent, or whatever else they have to pay for.

        None of these things benefit my career at all (and I’d guess none could offer me a comparable salary to my current gig). None of the work that I do as a volunteer requires the level of skill and effort my career requires. I want my volunteer time to be something not related to what I do professionally and without all the pressure that comes with that.

    13. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

      I think scale matters here: you’re talking about organizations that are relying entirely on volunteers to do their main work, and expects those volunteers to put in full-time hours, on site and away from their own homes. That’s very different from, say, someone spending a few hours a week at a library, synagogue, or community center teaching adults to read.

      When someone asked me if I would proofread a chapbook for free, I said yes–not just because they were also volunteering, but because it was a specific project that I cared about. My doctor is taking a week’s vacation in July to do volunteer work that’s not her day job, or anything close to it, so it’s not a lying-on-the-beach vacation, but it will be a break from her usual work. (I happen to know this because I was trying to schedule a follow-up appointment.)

    14. Starbuck*

      “An organization that runs a limited volunteer program that is mutually beneficial is great – but one that relies on people who can work for free to do the important bulk of their work is all red flags for me.”

      This is just a really out-of-touch way to look at volunteering. I live in a community where a lot of people come to retire, then make significant volunteer commitments to run local festivals, arts orgs, animal shelters, etc. Yes often some paid staff are needed but there are lots of cultural orgs etc that are simply never going to exist without either substantial volunteer labor, or significant public funding (which as we know isn’t really available). I agree non-profit staff should be skilled and well paid, but these are orgs with missions that simply can’t be accomplished if you’re charging for the true cost of what programs would need if everyone involved had to be paid a wage etc.

    15. Tulipmania*

      Odd take. For nonprofits and charities, people volunteer because they want to help the cause. I didn’t volunteer to clean the animal shelter in order to learn how to clean, I did it to help dogs and cats. Volunteering satisfies one’s generosity and community spirit, it’s not a quid pro quo.

    16. Some days are hard*

      I think the LW needs to consider how they are recruiting their volunteers to maintain respect for creatives.

      When I opened my brick and mortar business location, I was getting calls and e-mails every day about “opportunities” for work that turned out to be non-profits asking for a volunteer. They would actually ask to hire me for the things I advertised through my business; but then say it’s for charity. Some of these volunteer “gigs” would equate to thousands of dollars of work, and they would cite being a creative as a “passion” not something you do for the money. They would also cite the myth that the “exposure” could help your career. Working for free just gets more people calling you who ask you to work for free! As the years have gone on, most of these non-profits have learned not to cold call me to volunteer. I’d advise the person who asked to volunteer but then get paid later on not to use this tactic to create a credible service. You teach people how to treat you, and many professions (I’m sure besides creatives) are undervalued for their skill.

      If the non-profit is cold calling people and creatives to find their volunteers (people who don’t know the mission or aren’t necessarily affiliated with the non-profit or don’t know the person who is even calling them); I think they should reconsider their tactics. If they are getting word out, or have another volunteer who knows somebody, etc and then “interviewing” volunteers who know it’s a volunteer gig beforehand, they way they handle it is fine.

      But I will say, unless a non-profit has an incredibly important personal mission to me; I will not be a person who helps devalue creative work the way non-profits often do. (And sometimes people who volunteer contribute to a culture of devaluing creative contributions and allowing fair living wages-stifling a community that could be supported). I urge anyone who volunteers for anything to consider if they are being used to take away work opportunities from people in their community.

      1. Chickadee*

        Well said, especially the last paragraph! Creative folk get the brunt of it (especially cold calls from strangers), but this absolutely affects other fields too – park ranger jobs used to be advertised as “paid in sunsets” to justify the low pay.

      2. Pato-Mac*

        Several years ago, I was on a mailing list for DC-based alumni if my undergraduate alma mater. Someone on the mailing list was organizing a benefit concert for a charity. She was looking for a lawyer to review contracts for free.

        I’m a lawyer and responded to learn more. It subsequently came out that all of the musicians and related personnel (sound techs and such) were getting paid at an arms’ length market rate for their work. The musicians were not A-listers, but bands with some local following.

        I bowed out of this “opportunity.” In my view, if the creatives are getting paid a market rate, you shouldn’t expect to stiff lawyers. I would have felt differently if all people were donating their time. The organizer was Very Offended and did not seem capable of grasping this point.

  5. Buffy Rosenberg*

    Redirecting the negative comments into constructive feedback can sometimes work. What’s your concern about how long it takes Bob? What impact is that having on your work? It can help dig out whether there’s a real point to consider underneath or whether they’re being negative.

    Turning it back to what they’re doing, too, can be helpful.

    If their comments are generally not that insightful (or completely subjective), “If I was doing that I would have done X”, can be met with “thanks for your thoughts, now, how is Y going? Tell me about Y”.

    Or if they’re reasonable ideas: “I’m delighted to hear you’ve got so many ideas for projects like X. I trust Bob in leading that piece, but when Y comes up next month, we can discuss you taking a lead.”

    Or, if the projects they give unsolicited feedback on are way out of their scope/expertise: “It’s great that you have ideas, but I suspect the reason Bob is doing X because of Y. Bob’s approach has worked for us before.”

    Or even “If you’d like to lead on projects like X or Y yourself, I’d need to see xxx from you.”

    1. green bean*

      LW here – my concern about continuing to redirect is that I think they’re taking that as an invitation to keep bringing these critiques of others’ performance up. I mentioned elsewhere in the comments, but they’re pulling examples of work from all over the org – as the assistant llama trimmer, they continue to share their thoughts about how they could do the llama recruiting manager’s job much quicker/better. However, thank you for the prompts – I think I’ll try some of them! Cheers.

      1. Alanna*

        Yeah, I think you need to have a separate conversation about this. “I want to talk to you about something I’ve noticed recently. You’re talking a lot about other people’s performance and where you think they’re falling short. For example, last week you brought up X and Y. I want you to be focused on your own performance and growth, not other people’s. What’s going on here?”

        (And then let them talk for a minute — it doesn’t really matter what they say here, except that it might give you some insight into where this is coming from, and it makes the conversation feel more like you’re solving a problem together)

        And then say something like “I need you to understand that not everyone is going to do their job the way you think it should be done. Your focus needs to be on [whatever their job duties are]. If you have bigger questions about other teams’ roles or the company strategy, I can set aside time occasionally for us to talk about that, and if you’re having real trouble working with someone, that’s a problem we need to solve together. But going forward, I need you to stop talking about your opinions of your colleagues’ performance. Can you do that?”

      2. MigraineMonth*

        It sounds like this isn’t the case, but does your organization have any policies that encourage direct competition between employees? (The most extreme version of this is the company that made its lowest-performers wear dunce caps, but there are subtler forms like benchmarking an employee’s performance against the average.) I ask because I used to tear down coworkers when we were forced to compete against each other to keep our jobs, and it took a while to adjust to less-toxic environments.

    2. Random Dice*

      I’d go with the last option “If you’d like to lead on projects like X or Y yourself, I’d need to see xxx from you.”

      It’s really easy, especially when new, to look at someone doing the most visible part of a task and assume that’s all there is, and that it’s wildly easy. In reality, most jobs have a hidden iceberg where the true challenge lies.

      And some of that iceberg involves the pragmatics / social skills not to burn a work relationship for no dang reason, to score cheap points.

    3. *kalypso*

      When I have to give comments on another person’s work in my check-in, I always relate it to how it affects my work – ‘I have trouble asking Ariel for help because she’s always running off with Flounder and I can’t get a response in time for me to finish writing the song for the show’, ‘when I ask Belle about how many breadrolls we need for the weekend, she always gives me a response about books and I have to translate into breadroll quantity’. The only kind of redirect that I can see working here is to ask for it to be framed like that = ‘how does Bob in llama recruiting affect your work?’ and if they can’t answer why Bob doing llama recruitment differently changes their work, it’s not relevant.

      There is a school of thought out there that I see getting pushed to newer workers that they should be providing feedback and ideas to show they’re interested/engaged/willing to learn, but it doesn’t come with caveats of situational awareness and context, and I expect someone told them a variant of this and they’re probably not realising that it’s not making them come off the way they think it’s meant to.

  6. Buffy Rosenberg*

    The criticisms of others might a provide a good opportunity to explore with this person how people can have different types of skills, and they all have value.

    EG yes, Bob might be slower to complete X, but also Bob might do a more detailed job on X, or might have other skills which this colleague lacks.

    “I would have done that faster” might mean they haven’t learned yet that ticking each task off the list as fast as possible isn’t *always* the most important measures of effectiveness (although an important way to work sometimes).

    Also, maybe there’s an opportunity for greater team collaboration? Get people sharing ideas directly, openly, with trust and goodwill? Is it worth doing some trust building work? Encourage them to:

    a) as an initial response to “Bob does this differently”, consider why Bob might do things differently, in good faith
    b) share ideas together about ways everyone can improve X or Y, without competiveness, judgement, snark – or defensiveness on either side.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I don’t think it’s at all appropriate to discuss one employee’s performance with another though. You’re right that people need coaching on how different skills can be valuable, and that people need to be taught how to use different skills to be collaborative – absolutely they do. Those are somewhat advanced skills though, a precursor to management level skills and this is someone failing at a really basic ‘stay in your own lane’ level of skill. It’s completely unacceptable that they are tracking the performance of others just to put themselves at the head of a childish scoreboard. This is completely the opposite spirit to that of a teamwork culture, or to having a professional understanding of their place. I’m sympathetic that this is their first office job and that they may come from a highly competitive background; some educational establishments are more ‘first past the post’ than others. However I’d exercise this sympathy by letting them know how far off course they are. OP has already tried broaching that it’s unacceptable, but they’ve been disbelieved because this is such a rooted habit and so, needs to nipped in the bud unequivocally. Something like: “Let me stop you right there. We are never going to discuss your colleague’s performance because you are not well placed to assess their work; just as I would never discuss your work with anyone but you. When you make critical comments about others to make yourself look better, it makes you look like you don’t understand professional norms or teamwork and I need it to stop happening, no excuses.” I get that this would be a missed opportunity to discuss more advanced level skills, but this employee has no basic foundation of teamwork awareness to build those advanced skills upon. A basic understanding of their professional level needs to be cemented in first.

      1. House On The Rock*

        Thank you for this. it’s so tempting for managers to get derailed justifying the work of another employee when someone criticizes them. All that does is 1) give the critic an inroad to further criticism and 2) give the impression it’s fine to assess performance of staff over whom they have no authority. It’s a very human reaction! You want to defend someone you think is being unfairly maligned! But it’s best to resist that and focus on the behavior at hand. Especially in a case where this person’s criticisms are not about things impacting their work but, rather, how they think they are better than someone else

        I’ve shut this down by directly saying “Bob’s work isn’t what’s in question here. Let’s focus on what you are doing to meet the requirements of the higher level/paygrade”. And I’d say this even if Bob were underperforming, because that’s, in and of itself, not the other person’s business to manage.

        As an aside I’ll say that in over 20 years of managing staff in different capacities, I’ve almost never had someone demonstrate how another employee’s “failings” impacted their work. Because if it did, that would likely be apparent in other ways and would be managed.

      2. abca*

        “When you make critical comments about others to make yourself look better, it makes you look like you don’t understand professional norms or teamwork and I need it to stop happening, no excuses.”

        This is so harsh. And it says nothing. “It makes you look like you don’t understand professional norms?” I mean, maybe not, because the worker here is very junior. So it’s not like they “look like” they don’t understand professional norms, they actually don’t understand all of them yet. And is the only reason not to do this because it’s against professional norms? As Alison said, that’s exactly how the gender pay gap still exists. You’re doing better work than your male coworkers who earn more, but in your discussion with your manager you are only allowed to reference your own work, as if that exists in a vacuum. I’m a women in tech and this happens literally all the time. We have elaborate spreadsheets with expected tasks for each pay level. You go to your manager and say “I should be in level X, because I do these tasks”. Manager says, “Yeah, well, actually, we expect people to do at least 50% X+1 work to be in level X”. That’s bad, but some companies are like this. So nothing to do about that. Until you notice that all your male coworkers are in level X. And they don’t do 50% X+1 work (or even 10%). So you go to your manager again, and manager says “let’s just focus on your job, not on that of your coworkers”.

        I’m wondering if your manager also talks to you in the same way. Like, if she felt like you were too harsh on your direct reports, and she had already said “that sounds a bit harsh”, would the next conversation be something like “Let me stop you right there. Expecting junior employees to have a full understanding of professional norms is unreasonable and frankly makes it sound like you don’t understand professional norms yourself. I need this to stop happening, no excuses”. I’m honestly wondering, maybe this is normal in some industries. I’m more familiar with matter-of-fact directness. The “no excuses” phrase would absolutely be an escalation in my work, something you do after already having brought up clearly that something is an issue. Not when all you have done so far is trying to discourage the behaviour. And even then, it just sounds to me like someone who is scolding a child to be honest. I’m not sure what it adds. There’s no indication that the person doing this keeps giving excuses.

        1. Random Dice*

          That’s a valid point, for sure!

          But I think not relevant here. This worker is in, say, Teapot Painting and is pointing out how Recruiting could do their job better… as a newbie, who only observes froma distance a tiny bit of a field they know nothing about. And does that for the IT department and Manufacturing and Acoustics and…

        2. Ellis Bell*

          It definitely is harsh for a first attempt! However I was taking OP at their word that it isn’t; that they’ve tried soft language about the inappropriacy. If the employee really is that clueless it’s a kindness to be very firm and direct.

          1. Ellis Bell*

            Oh, and it absolutely doesn’t apply to pay disparities. That’s a completely different angle.

      3. green bean*

        LW here – wow, THANK YOU for this. I’ll definitely be using some of this language. Alison’s right – I’ve been softening in an attempt to be sympathetic to the learning curve, but need to be kind and direct, and what you shared will be super helpful. Appreciate you!

        1. Ellis Bell*

          I think soft language as a first or even second attempt is pretty reasonable. There’s tons of people who would take the hint and respect the chance to save face. I just got the very strong impression that this person is absolutely If so, it’s a real kindness to just tell them to cut it out privately before they embarrass themselves publicly. You can totally follow it up with something positive to end on; you said they do deserve credit. Something like “I tell you this because you’re right that your work is excellent; you don’t need comparisons to say so, and I don’t want this habit overshadowing it.”

      4. Random Dice*

        That’s where I land too.

        No WAY Mx Too-Big-For-Britches Newbie gets to force an unprofessional performance evaluation of their coworkers.

        Explaining hasn’t worked for this person, I doubt more explaining other than “your behavior is unprofessional; stop, or…” will work.

        1. green bean*

          I’m in total agreement. Clarity is kind! I’m going to have a check-in with them next week and lay it out for them.

      5. Pescadero*

        “It’s completely unacceptable that they are tracking the performance of others just to put themselves at the head of a childish scoreboard”

        When there is a fixed raise pool (which we absolutely have in my job) – every dollar your co-worker gets in a raise is a dollar you don’t get.

        So – my raise every year is based on that “childish scoreboard”, and if I don’t work to put myself at the head of it, I make less money.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          That’s completely outside my experience and you’ve really piqued my curiosity. Would you say this system works well and creates a healthy environment? Is it just more of a baked in reality for your industry regardless of effect? Or is it just a bad idea from above that you all have to make peace with? I’ve worked places where there’s very fixed budgets but nowhere where openly speaking negatively about colleagues would be tolerated, much less rewarded so I can’t imagine how this works in practice or if there’s any formality to the competition.

    2. eeeek*

      “I can do that faster” triggered memories of an employee whom I could not manage into recognizing that speed is not the goal. We had learning outcomes for student jobs, like “understand and develop the skillset to complete assigned projects in a timely, accurate, and high quality way.” This student employee focused on “timely,” but interpreted it to mean “fast” instead of “by deadline.” They were puzzled and offended when I returned work for correction, and complained that because they had gotten two weeks’ worth of work done in two hours – waaaaaay faster than Jonquil got their work done – they should be praised. I only started to get through when I offered to grade their work and let them revise and resubmit for a better grade. We could then have a “what could you have done prior to your first submission to have improved your grade?” conversation. I have no idea if that took root.

    3. learnedthehardway*

      Honestly, I think addressing the root issue bluntly and firmly is the way to go. I would do it in a performance management meeting, separate from discussions of their work or raise request

      I would be direct: ie. “As your manager, I have a concern with your performance as a team member. You have a habit of criticizing other people’s work when discussing your achievements or to make yourself look better. (Insert specific examples here). Criticizing other people in order to highlight your own work is a very destructive habit. It does not make your achievements look better. It actually detracts from your accomplishments, and it makes you look like a bad team member. This will hurt your career and will cause your managers to distrust you and your team members to be angry with you. It also tells me that you’re not confident about your work being able to stand on its own. I know this is difficult to hear, but I am making it a performance goal for you to learn to advocate for yourself WITHOUT tearing down other people. Can you commit to working on this? I will help you.”

      Then give advice on what the worker SHOULD do, if they want to highlight their work:
      – compare their results against target expectations set by their manager, or against their own prior performance
      – compare their achievements with average metrics of their function / department – that’s much less personal and is valid. They could also compare their performance against historic metrics – eg. I contributed to our dept improving productivity by 30% over last year.
      – confine their achievement statements to their own work and show the impact they have had on the team, dept/function
      – ask questions about why something is done X way, rather than say you would do something better, if the work is in a different department / functional area.

  7. The Ghost of Cable Street*

    The volunteer video editor may have a fair bit of high end equipment and experience compared to someone who has used Windows Moviemaker a few times. This is one of those tasks that can sometimes be seen as a hobby so not always valued correctly.

    1. L-squared*

      That is my thought.

      Like what is the quality difference the person in question brings to the other person OP is considering? If its massive, then it may be worth it.

      1. Antilles*

        And also, how much does this quality difference impact what you’re doing?

        The level of polish needed for a one-off 2-minute joke video at the start of your monthly meeting is dramatically different from the level of polish needed for your formal organization intro video that’s going to be the first impression to anybody who visits your website.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Even if it is just a hobby–some people have significant investment in their hobbies and the fact that it’s not their living doesn’t mean it’s only worth “hobby value”. I know a ton of people who can produce fine-art quality work as a “hobby”.

      I work for a nonprofit and if it turns out that we keep needing something and looking for volunteers to do it, we either lower our expectations significantly and do it in-house or we figure out how to find the money for it.

    3. Bunny Girl*

      Exactly. And as someone who has been in the creative community before, people get asked to work for free ALL the time. I completely understand non-profits needing volunteers. But this letter put a little bit of a bad taste in my mouth. I left the creative community I was in because I just kept getting asked to work for free. Depending on the level of time, skill, and commitment being asked, I’m just skeptical.

      1. EPLawyer*

        I don’t see this is as asking. They put out the word they needed volunteer video editors (or whatever) and then people OFFER to help. So the person has a choice about whether to interview or not, going in knowing its a volunteer thing.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Right, they’re not approaching professionals and asking them to work for free. Nonprofits make their volunteer opportunities known, and people can offer or not (based on whether that’s a cause they would like to support).

          I’ve volunteered for various causes my entire adult life and do it because it’s important to me to support the causes I care about, not because I’m looking to get anything back other than a sense of making a difference for causes I care about, which is an important value to me. People who don’t hold that as a strong value don’t need to volunteer (or can donate money or contribute in other ways).

          Also, much of that work wouldn’t happen at all without volunteers to do it (this covers everything from a lot of animal rescue work to fostering kids). I’m a little taken aback at the idea that we should be OK with some of that work not happening if the money isn’t there to pay for it all.

          1. Chickadee*

            I think some of us are bitter because we come from fields where entry level people spend years volunteering (full time!) or working very, very low paid internships (I’m talking $75/week + shared housing) because that’s the only way to gain experience. It’s impossible to compete for paid work against the people willing to volunteer, so volunteering becomes normalized and expected – to the point I have an advanced degree and people still suggested I volunteer to pad out my resume! Change needs to come from the top, with academia, nonprofits, and gov agencies paying people for their work.

            1. Happy meal with extra happy*

              Am I reading your comment correctly that, based on the problems in your field, there should be no unpaid volunteering anywhere?

              1. Chickadee*

                Not at all, I’m just explaining one reason some of us have a negative reaction to this question. Personally I’m happy to volunteer my time for causes outside my field or money for causes within my field – but the problems with volunteering (and voluntourism) replacing paid positions isn’t limited to a single field.

                Nonprofits and other orgs need to be thoughtful when considering the time, labor, and expertise they require and whether it’s appropriate to ask for volunteers (donated labor) vs ask for funding so they can pay people (donated money). Which will vary between fields, tasks, and locations!

            2. House On The Rock*

              In the case you describe, with your industry, that does feel likely predatory and unfair. But it’s also true that there are lots of people who are very happy to lend their professional experience to nonprofits because they believe in the mission and get satisfaction from the work. One example that comes to mind is a retired professor of veterinary medicine who has spent over a decade volunteering close to full time at our local humane society. They, and the animals they help, have benefitted greatly and it means they have to pay one fewer vet. No one is being taken advantage of, everyone wins.

              1. Chickadee*

                My problem isn’t with individual organizations or individual volunteers, it’s with the larger pattern, which is exasperated by chronic underfunding. My field is full of brilliant, passionate, hardworking people – and I’m tired of watching them leave and work minimum wage jobs because it pays better. I’m tired of science being dominated by middle to upper class white people – I want to fight for funding and well paid internships so we can start recruiting people who aren’t subsidized by their family like I was. I have a wonderful job doing work that directly benefits the community – but I’m only here because I could afford years and years of being paid below minimum wage. I want to use my privilege for good and break the pattern. Which means, in part, that I will never volunteer within my field again. I will push for high intern wages and dedicate myself to mentoring people from underserved communities. I won’t accept the status quo.

                (As an aside, I’ll happily donate labor *outside* my field, as long as I’m not undercutting professionals seeking fair compensation for their labor. I’m not anti-volunteer, just pro-people being paid.)

                1. Pato-Mac*

                  “I’ll happy donate labor outside my field…”

                  So you’re just foisting the problem onto people in fields other than yours.

          2. Somehow_I_Manage*

            The director in this case has a clear mandate, and that should make things easier. “We have a stewardship based model. My responsibility to our board is to demonstrate that we seek support from our volunteer network first. We only defer to contract work after exhausting our volunteer network. We would of course be happy to keep you in mind for paid opportunities, but you should know that this specific type of work typically does not often go unfulfilled by volunteers. Please bear that in mind as you consider this opportunity.”

          3. Badatnames*

            I’m the OP and Alison’s point is one reason we invest so heavily in our volunteer model. There are other organizations that provide similar direct services to ours but with paid staff only and the end result is they serve many fewer people. We have paid staff that are the core of all our mission-critical work so that if anything goes wrong with the volunteering, we try to minimize the impact on our work. We invest significant time and resources in our volunteer management and continue to try to improve our recruitment, training, and recognition. We aren’t perfect, by a long shot. We just tried a new kind of project and it turned out it needed a much greater investment of staff time than we planned, so there’s some staff frustration at finishing that up, but now we know not to do that again. We also are aware of the equity issues around some people being able to volunteer and others not. We recently re-examined our approach to fostering the ability of our clients to volunteer in our advocacy work and now offer a flat reimbursement on request if they need to cover transportation, lost wages, etc. I think it’s an issue where there’s not a complete blanket solution (never use volunteers for mission- related work/ don’t worry about anything if people are willing to volunteer) but I was particularly interested because I had seen so much about creative types in particular feeling burned out by these requests.

            I’m in vacation and traveling so I’ll try to respond some more, but it may be later. Thanks for everyone’s thoughtful responses!

          4. Tulipmania*

            Are people really that unfamiliar with volunteering as a basic good action most people aspire to do at some point in their lives? (Out of generosity, not self-interest?) Yes, lots of people don’t have time or resources to do it, but the idea that anyone would need it explained to them makes me question their values.

            This isn’t the same thing as being asked to intern or work for exposure. Those are unrelated issues. The exploitation of freelancers is not impacted by people responding to a call for volunteers to lend their expertise.

            Charity fundraising? Giving blood? Walking shelter dogs? Church event committee? Soup kitchen?

  8. Buffy Rosenberg*

    Incidentally, on the “I would been faster”, long ago I had a colleague smirking to everyone who would listen about how he took only 20 minutes to do a version of a regular report I produced for clients. (It took me a lot longer than 20 minutes. It was detailed and took longer than 20 minutes to simply read all the materials which needed analysing.)

    Sure enough, he’d just copied top level figures into excel and made charts. The client was paying for a far, far deeper analysis than this; they could stick the top level numbers into excel themselves.

    But he was utterly convinced he’d done my report in 20 minutes because he just looked at the visuals and didn’t even understand what was in it. He was in sales so it wasn’t his job to understand it. He’d produced a mock up report as a sales tool, except he truly thought that it was the same as the actual report, because he only looked at the visuals and didn’t understand the work.

    The point being, check this person really understands what others are doing, and encourage them to consider, as general good practice, whether there are reasons why people approach things differently than they would.

    Leaping to “I could do that faster” not only risks coming across as negative and a bit insecure. It can also inadvertently highlight gaps in understanding about the work.

    1. len*

      I think it is likely that the LW is able to evaluate their employee’s work quality. I don’t think they were considering a raise just because the employee said they work fast.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        They did mention doing things “efficiently” which (to my mind anyway) takes into account ‘meeting all aspects of the goal’ as well as doing it quickly.

        1. a clockwork lemon*

          Being efficient at your own work doesn’t mean you actually could do a better job at someone else’s. If you can do a task more efficiently than someone else, the way to approach that professionally is to work directly with that person to teach them how you do it, not to badmouth their work to their boss behind their back.

          I work much faster than some of my coworkers. It’s not because I have a more efficient process, or because I have some secret depth of knowledge my coworkers don’t–it’s because I read faster. Fast =/= efficient. If there’s a genuine efficiency gap somewhere that the employee is able to close, she needs to communicate that to the person doing the work. Then she can go to her boss and say she improved a process across the board for the whole team, which strengthens her argument for a raise without introducing the idea that she won’t share information with her colleagues when she thinks it can make her look good to her boss.

    2. Peanut Hamper*

      I completely agree. I’ve seen this before when re-assigning work to new employees. They get it done quickly, and it looks good on the surface, but that’s because they only touched the surface; they didn’t know that there was a lot of stuff beneath that needed to be done as well.

      On the other hand, I have had instances where somebody new to the process did uncover some hitherto unknown efficiencies. This cuts both ways. It never hurts to listen and ask questions if time permits. It can be a teachable moment for the employee as well as the manager.

    3. Random Dice*

      100% this.

      I have a wonderful job that lets me interview folks who have spent decades becoming experts in a wide range of industries, about which I know either nothing or very little. Every single time, I learn that there is a whole universe to that field, with subspecialties and specialized knowledge that on closer examination becomes fractal.

      When someone assumed from the outside that a job in a field they don’t know is easy, and that anyone doing it differently after decades is just too stupid to try the things that occurred to them after 6 seconds of thought… that person is almost always both deeply ignorant, and deeply arrogant.

      And crap at social skills to boot.

  9. AlsoADHD*

    Honestly with LW1, I wonder a) is the employee correct in any way about how things could be done better/more efficiently and are they good at their job and these tasks? Are these ever hints or even associated with direct asks they want certain kinds of responsibilities or recognition? If they’re not good at their job, or if this translates to bad relationships or uncooperative behavior outside your 1:1s, I get it, but in a 1:1, are you having a knee jerk reaction to hearing truth?

    One thing I kind of hate in work is that management sometimes pretends there’s no comparison or competition on a team when there IS and we’re just pretending our collaboration doesn’t have that component (I’m neurodivergent in multiple ways, autistic in addition to the ADHD so for me, it may be amplified by that, I hate facades in all areas). I’m competing for promotions and money within the budget of raises and such with these folks realistically at every job I’ve ever had except a union one where we collectively bargained. That doesn’t mean I am not helpful and collaborative but it means I want full credit for everything that’s mine and I’m mindful of opportunities and so forth. I will praise coworkers but very strategically, because frankly I’ve done it truthfully and too much and lost opportunities I thought I should have too, mostly to men and almost exclusively to neurotypical folks.

    I’ve had the most success being promoted by realizing I’m in competition with folks in many cases as the reality and that it’s a pretty lie we aren’t. (This doesn’t need to be hostile, but it does mean needing a manager who notices stuff and appreciates actual output in terms of productivity, innovation, external relationships, etc, rather than just who seems fun and who they like best — I’m not unlikable but I’m never winning the schmooze game which is almost always never won by the best performer and follows whatever bizarre neurotypical rules people decide on rather than the actual established goals.) Granted this employee is being unsuccessful because they come off as problematic—maybe shrill or harsh (and maybe they are even truly wrong about the critiques?). But the things they’re saying don’t sound that bad if they’re true and in 1:1 as much as they sound like a reflection of not feeling appreciated for their own work. This could be from inexperience or trauma from a past industry, but it could also be because as a manager, LW is dropping the ball and seems to ignore this person’s relative strengths or ignore inefficiencies or give mixed messaging as to what’s important to do well. That can be softening the message when you’re “discouraging” such talk but it can also be what’s prompted the employee’s messages to begin with!

    1. green bean*

      Well, the issue is (and it would’ve been helpful for me to share this in my letter!) that they’re comparing their work as an assistant llama trimmer to that of the llama recruiting manager. The concern I have is that it seems like they find themselves in competition with colleagues in different departments and at different levels altogether. I can’t get them to hear that while their work is important, it’s a completely different scope. However, you’re totally right – I’m doing a fair bit of softening in an attempt to deescalate, but it’s had the opposite effect. Thank you for sharing your insight!

    2. Ellis Bell*

      I think the most important detail in the letter is that the OP thinks this employee deserves a raise! There’s no banging at a glass ceiling going on here, no overlooking of someone’s talents; that’s just not the issue in this letter. Rather, it’s just a problematic bit of cluelessness about how to speak about others. I hear you about neurodivergence, being so myself, and wanting to just cut through the crap already and stop pretending everyone isn’t in competition. Of course everyone is in competition. Of course everyone is working collaboratively in a joint enterprise though, too! The thing is, there’s a right way and wrong way to bring up others in relation to yourself. You can totally speak about standards generally, and what achievements you’re responsible for, of course. You can say you’re excelling without putting anyone down. If you do, you need to have a point; maybe there’s a pay disparity or the person you’re talking about is directly affecting your work. Then by all means, if you have a point, make your point. But if you’re just trash talking people in completely different departments and levels because you think makes you look big… then it’s time for a talk about how that’s a no no.

      1. Pescadero*

        “I think the most important detail in the letter is that the OP thinks this employee deserves a raise! There’s no banging at a glass ceiling going on here, no overlooking of someone’s talents; that’s just not the issue in this letter.”

        I disagree.

        Until you actually GET the raise – “deserves a raise” is 100% equal to “doesn’t deserve a raise”. It’s just words with no action.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          That’s actually a pretty standard and obvious line of advice and one I follow myself. However, the thing to do if a pay rise doesn’t materialise on schedule, is to job hunt. You wouldn’t attack your colleagues, and if that approach goes down well, you’re in a dysfunctional environment.

  10. Varthema*

    I’m struggling to vocalize why having a graphic designer stuff envelopes for free is better than having a graphic designer design a card for free… and I think it comes down to who’s asking and who’s offering. Volunteers are great to help a nonprofit get low/no-skill work done, like stuffing envelopes – it helps the nonprofit stay alive, which presumably the volunteers care about. When it comes to tasks that require skill, there’s an obligation to be a bit more careful. I think my expectation would be that the nonprofit do the best they can with the resources they have (e.g. have the employee with the closest skillset design the card, and if it’s not as good, oh well), and if they need it to be a higher quality than they have the skills for in their current pool of employees, it’s time to revisit the budget and do some triage to see if there needs to be a role created for that, or if a freelancer needs to be found. Happy days if a graphic designer gets in touch and says, hey, I’m a graphic designer and I love your cause, anything I can do to help? But -advertising- for a volunteer graphic design role rubs me the wrong way. I’m not sure how well I’m articulating this.

    1. AlsoADHD*

      I posted below before seeing this but graphic design is one of the primary areas I do volunteer work. I do not want to stuff envelopes or do housekeeping but there are organizations I enjoy helping with my skills (the same ones I use at my full time job and freelance and make money off of) and I think it’s fine to advertise in the correct places and transparently what your is (places where nonprofits request and post for volunteers, your own website, but job boards might get iffy if they have no volunteer section). Personally I won’t volunteer for super strict deadlines or work with difficult people at nonprofits and I’ll also only do that volunteer work in short bits at a time and for organizations I value, but I’m not sure why it’s a less acceptable way to volunteer or unreasonable to request. I’m well compensated in my regular job with plenty of time to freelance or volunteer. I’d be really bored and annoyed stuffing envelopes but I enjoy making useful stuff in my various skillsets technologically and creatively.

      1. Me (I think)*

        As a photographer, I agree with this. I have done volunteer photography for organizations I support. I feel much better about using my skills this way (and I often get free creative reign which is a nice change :-).

    2. Lalchi11*

      There are lots of professionals who want to donate their time and skills to nonprofit organizations on an ad hoc basis. For example, I’m a lawyer and I’ve done pro bono work representing non-profits. I would much prefer doing that than stuffing envelopes for them.

      1. EPLawyer*

        Yes. As long as the organization is up front that is volunteer and NOT for the exposure, the person can make their own choice about whether to volunteer or not. Some do not mind donating their time and skills — as long as its not a bait and switch.

        The difference is — 1) non-profit and 2) its known up front.

      2. Happy meal with extra happy*

        Yeah, as another attorney, I’m finding the pushback from some comments on skilled volunteering as odd. Would these same commenters feel the same about pro bono work? We’re potentially talking about volunteers doing for free what under their standard rates could cost thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Pro Bono is an interesting example to me. I used to work with law firms and was impressed that pro bono work was often part of their culture – they had pro bono coordinators on staff to ensure the beneficiaries were getting their needs met and to vet the types of assistance being requested, among other things. Lawyers at the firms were still getting paid while volunteering, which is great. I wish more fields had this kind of set up. I’m not sure it’s comparable to artists being asked/expected to donate their services when most are already barely getting by. But, I agree that in this case the nonprofit is free to put out a request and see if they can find someone willing to donate; the quality might be lower than a professional, but that may be fine for their needs.

        2. a clockwork lemon*

          I think it’s so dependent on the organization. I volunteered with an animal rescue for a very long time in a role I both enjoyed and was passionate about–in large part because it WASN’T anything to do with my day job as a lawyer. When they decided to transition me into a more business/finance/management type role they wanted me to do 20+ hours per week (and sometimes more!) in unpaid work that I already did in my day job.

          I quit volunteering there instead–because if I was going to spend my free time doing unpaid legal work, I was going to do it through a legal aid program.

      3. BorisTheGrump*

        Hi! I’m a legal aid attorney and I agree with this to some extent. We love our probono attorneys, especially the ones who are skilled in our particular field of law and keep coming back to help with cases! Some of them do truly incredible work, take on the hardest cases, and make things possible that just would not be possible with our limited funding and capacity. Thank you for the work you do and please don’t stop!

        At the same time, there are some folks who think that ALL of the kind of work in my field should be done by volunteers. Or who propose the possibility of pro bono partnerships as a solution to massive systemic problems. (This hurts the most when the messaging is coming from the government at the same time that it creates policies that makes our work more onerous without increasing our funding…) And I think there are a lot of us who take the position that our clients are generally better served by people whose career has been dedicated to serving indigent folks than by rich firm lawyers who want a feel-good vacation but who will never commit to actually fighting the system. So maybe folks are having a knee-jerk reaction to the emphasis on using skilled volunteers versus finding a way to create jobs for people who want to try to do the good work full time. (Obviously in our real world that just isn’t always possible.)

        So yes! Volunteers are great! Pro bonos are great! Expand capacity! Sometimes volunteer work is the most radical work (I see you, movement lawyers.) But sometimes the emphasis on volunteer work feels like yet another slap in the face from the nonprofit-industrial complex

        1. A.K. Climpson*

          Speaking as a non-volunteer movement lawyer (private firm with public interest organizational clients), I agree it’s so hard to balance the importance of valuing the work with not charging too much to organizations with less money. I actually think that it is generally fine for nonprofits to advertise for skilled volunteer roles, and to take on people who are willing to offer help.

          But although I get the instinct to link that to pro bono, it’s super distinct from the current model of pro bono in the legal world. I think the knee-jerk reactions are often similarly reacting to feelings that volunteering is being institutionalized/expected in negative ways–like employers who are pushing the need to volunteer to get experience or a foot in the door in particular industries.

          You’ve highlighted the big issues in law: undervaluing the people who do the work full time and clients who get less committed and experienced counsel. There’s also an extra problem in law where big firms typically use pro bono for their own benefit–whitewashing massive harms caused by paid work with individual feel-good stories, using indigent people in need of legal services as training for associates, etc.–instead of, say, donating the equivalent money so that legal aid or immigration services can just hire more attorneys and pay them better. And the impact of poor volunteer work is also different: if an organization gets a bad volunteer graphic design it may need to delay a rollout or pay someone to fix it, but if pro bono counsel is inexperienced (or vanishes, as has happened), their client can go to prison.

          TL;DR: Volunteers choosing to do skilled work for a cause they believe in, great! Structures that require or exploit volunteering, terrible! Pay legal aid attorneys more!! (Take it from big law salaries?!)

      4. Rocket Raccoon*

        I’m a baker, and I volunteer at my local library. Sometimes I stuff envelopes, sometimes I bake cookies. Sometimes they need cookies and I am not available, and that’s fine. They are always grateful for whatever I can do, and I am grateful for the amazing services they provide. Yay libraries!

    3. Twix*

      I’m a software engineer with a lot of experience with computer hardware, which is another area where people frequently feel entitled to free labor. I recently volunteered my time to redo the entire IT infrastructure for a small non-profit organization that I have no direct affiliation with but whose mission I support. This was the type of work they would otherwise have had to bring in an IT consultant to do at a high-4 to low-5 figure cost. The reality is that they would never have the budget for that and if I (or someone else) didn’t handle it on a volunteer basis, it simply wouldn’t get done and they’d continue working with a system that was 20 years out of date.

      I say this not to toot my own horn, but to point out that for people who have professional skills that can add a lot of value to a non-profit’s mission, we’d rather be doing that than stuffing envelopes for an organization we believe in. I have no problem with stuffing envelopes either, but it doesn’t feel entitled or disrespectful to be asked to spend donated time doing high-skill work vs low-skill work as long as people are willing to respect a polite “No”.

  11. L-squared*

    #2. No joke, I thought I had written this letter and forgotten about it. I actually had to check my email to see if Alison said she was responding to me. Once I got to the part about “prototypes” I realized it wasn’t me, but everything else is me to a tee. Just ask yourself how much you like everything else, and if its enough to keep you there. What they are doing is blatantly unfair, and managers who do this don’t seem to see it or care. I’d start looking for a new job. Because if its anything like my job, it won’t change. I did manage to finagle a nice raise last cycle because of it (also, for me, its not my managers choice, but my CEOs choice that everyone in the city of our HQ must come in hybrid). But I don’t think that is enough for me to stick it out long term. That said, if you DO like your job despite this blatant unfairness, I’d ask for more money. Just the fact that you have to come in and do stuff more than your peers means that, to me, you have more responsibility and deserve more money. Overall though, I’m guessing that since your company sounds so much like mine, this is far from the only thing that the locals have to deal with that is very unfair. Sometimes things like this, there just needs to be a mass exodus of the local people for bosses to wake up.

    #3. Sure, you CAN pass on them. But I’d also wonder, despite your “movement”, if this is a short sighted thing. I don’t know how good or bad this guy is. But if he is very good, I feel like you have the potential to get a consistent person doing high level work for you, and all you have to do is fairly compensate them for their time. Sure, maybe you can get someone for free who is adequate, but wouldn’t having someone good be better? I understand the plight of non profits, I worked at a few. But often it seems they are willing to sacrifice quality to save some money here and there, and it can show. Its not always a good look

    1. Sloanicota*

      It’s very true that a lot of fully remote offices need at least one person to be semi-remote to make it work (in my job, who is picking up the mail?). Ideally, that role would be identified transparently, and perhaps even compensated differently. This rarely happens in my experience.

    2. Random Dice*

      I would first tell your manager that you are planning to move.

      I suspect they’ll find a way to make it work, if your work is good.

    3. CallMeAl*

      OP2, I’m sorry that so many of the commenters have pegged you as a tax dodger! I get where you’re coming from about it being unfair. Several years ago (before so much remote work), I had a smaller-scale similar experience. I worked at a nonprofit was the only one on my team who lived downtown, which over time led to a huge proliferation of having me drop things off at partner orgs, come in early, stay late, etc. (things that were, at best, tangentially related to my job, and which someone else could have easily accomplished during work hours).

      Basically, the company/your boss have decided it’s convenient for them to inconvenience you (although I’m sure they don’t think of it that way). I agree with Random Dice that it would be beneficial to have a more direct conversation about wanting to move than “it’s a dream of mine”, even if you don’t skip quite to “take it or leave it.” Hopefully, your boss sees that that convenience of having you on the team outweighs the inconvenience of paying for one (1) additional flight for the prototype assessments.

    4. fhqwhgads*

      I disagree about 3. It’s not short sighted to post a volunteer position and when someone shows up says “btw I wanna be paid” to say thanks, but no thanks, regardless of how good they are. It’s not entirely dissimilar to posting a position for a video editor and having someone show up and say actually I want to do sound engineering. That’s great. That’s not what we asked for. The applicant is not a good fit.

      If they found themselves in a position where they had nobody wanting to volunteer, yeah, they may have to consider hiring if it’s a crucial thing, but generally speaking if they’re relying on volunteers for this particular task the options are: a volunteer does it OR it doesn’t happen. And the second option is viable and not going to break the org. If they needed “great at it” they should be hiring, not seeking volunteers, but that scenario would have nothing to do with who applied. It’d be important for OP to consider if OP were so hung up on this particular encounter they weren’t considering their actual needs, but if we assume they know their needs better than we do – which we should – then the answer to their question is it’s fine to say thanks but no thanks to this type of applicant.

  12. High Score!*

    OP1, I’ve seen this happen where the employee actually is underpaid for the job, has attempted to point it out politely and is still unfairly compensated. They get to a point where they don’t care anymore. Then others start doing it too.
    If they are not seeing the whole picture, tell them that Other Employee is a specialist in Llama grooming but is currently filling a zebra grooming role. Or seniority is a factor. Or whatever.
    It sounds like this employee may have gone unheard for awhile. If you wish to retain them, find a way to listen and make sure they are fairly compensated.

  13. Technically a Former Director*

    LW#1 — This comment is intended as a supplement to the response from Alison and the other commenters, not contradiction.

    A common character trait is highly valuing “fairness” that manifests as comparisons. This includes comparisons to other organizations of departments, by contribution level, by effort level, etc. In tech, this tendency among employees and how to manage it is discussed in the (old) book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, and in the whitepaper “Effectively Managing Tech Workers” from the Society for HR Management. Lots of articles from folks like the Harvard Business Review, too, if you’re interested in diving more deeply into maximizing the perception of fairness among employees.

    Subjective / relative measures (comparing to peers) are valuable, alongside trends (comparing to previous performance), and objective measurements.

    They might be more receptive if you teach them the best way to make relative comparisons, rather than discourage them completely. That said, and forgive me if I am reading too much into your letter, it sounds like you might have some discomfort with ever making such comparisons. Is it possible that this kind of comparisons are a hot button for you?

  14. a clockwork lemon*

    OP2 – It’s interesting that you heard “no” from your boss based on a vague answer to an equally vague hypothetical. You say you’d like to move in the near future but haven’t made any plans–and you’ve made a bunch of assumptions that your company won’t let you do something they let everyone else do despite basically no evidence to the contrary. Read your corporate policies on remote work and decide if you would still want to move if your company said it wouldn’t work out.

    1. OP2*

      Hi, I’m very familiar with our corporate policies on remote work and am confident that this move would be in line with those policies.

      1. Random Dice*

        What they’re saying is stop presenting it as hypothetical and then taking it personally / getting discouraged when you get a vague hypothetical response.

        Start taking steps toward moving, let your manager know it’s happening, and act like of course it’s reasonable.

  15. Angstrom*

    A more valuable — and professional — approach than “I can do it faster ” is something like “The llama grooming reports seem to take a lot of time to fill out. I’ve come up with some changes that’ll make them easier and faster for everyone.”
    If someone is advocating for change, one good test is: Is this change only good for this individual? Or is this change good for the whole team/organization?

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      They might not be saying that they’ve changed things, just that they are faster at doing the same things. Sometimes this indicates that a person is faster at processing information, making connections, etc., or that they work more consistently without getting distracted or procrastinating. Sometimes it indicates that they are less careful or thorough, or that they AREN’T actually doing the same things, but are skipping steps. It’s important that the manager know what the situation is when responding to the employee’s comments.

  16. Basil*

    I worked in the volunteer management field for a number of years, I would just like to chime in that you need to be careful about what work you are having volunteers doing. Legally in most areas, they are not able to replace the paid work of a paid staff member. There’s a lot of nuance here and it can be difficult to figure out the line (because it’s generally agreed that it’s okay for consultant-type roles) There are some great resources out there specific to working in volunteer management that I’d like to point OP 3 toward in case they are unaware–Volunteer Pro, and Energize. Good luck, I know it can be a tough field!

    1. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      I think it can be a gray area because specialists can volunteer their time and talents if they want to. Having a graphic designer volunteer create artwork for a flyer to promote the nonprofit is different than having a volunteer do the bookkeeping. There are many nonprofits that survive on professionals volunteering because they have expertise in an area.

      I could be wrong but it could also matter if they typically had someone on staff doing the task and then try to have the volunteer do the task. For example if they used to have a graphic designer on staff but then that person leaves and they just rely on volunteers going forward.

    2. HigherEdAdminista*

      This is good to remember. I got the vibe from the letter that this organization has made it part of the mission that most of their workforce is volunteer. I won’t speculate on their motives for that, but you cannot deny that it has a lot of benefits for the organization –even if all the money saved really goes right back into the programs.

      Counting on volunteers to stuff envelopes or make a basic design for a flyer is one thing, but expecting professionals to produce all the graphic design you need or to design and manage a fundraising campaign seems to be a bit extra.

    3. Happy meal with extra happy*

      Do you have the citation for that they can’t replace a paid worker with a volunteer?

      1. doreen*

        I think it’s kind of about literally replacing a paid staff member with a volunteer. I remember reading an advice column ( not here) where a non-profit laid off a worker , goodbye party and all – and the next week, they were back performing the same functions as a volunteer. That would probably cause trouble if reported to DOL in a way that wouldn’t happen if those functions had always been handled by volunteers.

  17. Annony*

    It seems like you could just tell the prospective volunteer that unfortunately you cannot commit to hiring them in the future and that you are genuinely looking for a volunteer, not an unpaid trial period. You aren’t saying that creative people can’t donate their skills. You are saying that unfortunately, you cannot pay them.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I like the framing of an “unpaid trial period”. I think that clarifies where the potential volunteer is coming from.

  18. Peanut Hamper*

    LW2: Yeah, I wouldn’t be thrilled either if my employee proposed a thing that was illegal both for them and for the company. I would demur as well.

    That said, I don’t see this as a fairness issue. You weren’t hired to be remote; being partially WFH was something that came later.

    1. Gary Patterson’s Cat*

      I sort of read this that the OP wanted to keep their house/apartment where they are but spend extended time staying where their family is and work from there. In which case, that isn’t illegal.

      1. Lily Potter*

        Well, it depends on how extended they’re talking about. I mentioned in another post (which appears to be in moderation) that I live in a northern state that has lots of Florida “snowbirds” – most of them fly south after Christmas and come north again by mid-April. However, a few have gotten it into their heads to claim Florida “residency” for tax purposes, which DOES NOT work here. Our state is onto this and has dedicated staff that tracks these folks. In particular, “FL residents” with property here must spend at least 183 days not living in their northern home. Once they go over 183 days, the state will contest the Florida residency. I have friends that spend money on their credit card every single day in the event that they’re audited about their location by the state.

        Long story short – if the OP wants to spend time out of state truly doing “visiting” or “traveling” while keeping their home residency, that’s one thing. But setting up a residence out of state while claiming residency in another runs afoul of tax laws, and it’s something that IS being watched at the state level in some places.

        1. Rosemary*

          Yep I know someone who splits their time between Florida and Illinois and they are VERY careful about documenting that they do indeed spend more of the year in FL than IL. One year towards the end of the year they couldn’t make a trip back to IL because it would put them over the limit.

        2. Turquoisecow*

          Yep. My in-laws really want that Florida residency and said the state diligently checks things like credit card records to make sure you don’t sneak north by car or plane.

      2. Winter*

        Depending on the states, it absolutely could be illegal to work from one state for a certain period of time without declaring it, even if you have a lease or property in another state.

      3. Rasberry*

        It is illegal, at least in a lot of states. I live on the border between two states and if the job requires you to go to the different state even a day, you have to do the other’s state taxes for it. It can be a complicated affair.

      4. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It’s illegal. State taxes are based on where you are actually doing the work. Most states consider you at least a partial resident for tax purposes after you’ve been working there for X days (and X is usually a lot lower than people realize).

      5. Daisy-dog*

        Some state laws state that if you’re working in that state for more than a week (doesn’t matter if it’s someone’s residence that isn’t yours or an AirBNB), then you need to pay that state’s taxes & the company should have worker’s comp insurance for that state. This was relaxed a bit in 2020, but from OP’s description that wouldn’t fit even the relaxed interpretation of the laws. OP would be fully residing in that state.

    2. Pretty as a Princess*

      I agree that it’s not a fairness issue.

      It’s also entirely possible that having incurred the travel expenses for some time, there have been decisions made to not engage in any new remote agreements, while leaving the current ones in place so as not to penalize the people who were hired under a former policy.

      Or, it could be that they have restricted the locations in which they will allow remote work, due to tax and compliance costs. (The more places you have remote employees, of course, the more sets of different state laws you need to track and comply with.)

    3. T.N.H.*

      I too have gone through this type of dual-residency (lived in two states for a year, back and forth frequently). OP, please look into it more closely, and remember you will not fool the IRS. They can look at your credit history, your cable bill, your car insurance, and so many other factors to determine where you are located the majority of the time. The rules do vary by state and even city, but it is not as simple as keeping up an address.

    4. OP2*

      I shouldn’t have mentioned this in the letter because it is distracting from the conversation and isn’t an essential part of the plan, but just to be clear, I did not mention that part to my boss.

      The idea isn’t to do it as a tax trick – the situation is more complicated than is worth getting into here.

    5. Random Dice*

      Can we just assume that not everyone knows the ins and outs of tax law? Give this poor OP some grace.

      1. Peanut Hamper*

        This is not meant as an attack on LW, but an explanation of LW’s boss’s reaction.

  19. Juniper*

    Volunteer letter

    Honestly, I kind of get the perspective of the volunteer. I DO volunteer, but with a few exceptions it’s always been to develop work related skills, develop new connections, or be on the orgs radar when they do hire. I rarely volunteer just because I’m a generous person who wants to help. I’ve been desperate for jobs at times in my life and could totally picture telling a volunteer coordinator what my expectations are — whether that’s more complex projects, as I don’t want to just stuff envelops, or being in a better position to be hired — and trusting they’ll tell me if they can or can’t match that and, if they can’t match my expectations, they can ask if I still want to volunteer under those conditions.

    That said, I also know that expecting to be hired is not a promise you should make. I think moving on is a good idea if this volunteers expectations might lead to resentment. So I think it’s good to hire a different person for the volunteer role OR at least make it clear that it’s unlikely to time into a paid job because of X reasons.

    One thing to consider is making sure it’s clear that being paid if future work is needed isn’t something you can guarantee. I recently volunteered for a sports org where I made it clear that I was expecting to be able to coach eventually (they used volunteers for a lot of the admin work so they cool’s prioritize paying the coaches). Most of their coaching staff were, at one point, volunteers, so as far as I was concerned I was making a reasonable request. When I actually applied to coach I was shot down in a way that is also discouraging me from applying in the future. I tried to stick it out, but shortly afterwards I stopped volunteering because of left me feeling so disrespected. Just cause I’m anticipating people reading into it: this is obviously an over simplified version of the story, please trust that my reaction was valid. If they’d just been straight with me and told me upfront that they’re rebuilding and already have people who teach X and Y but also being honest about if they’d consider me if they need more people for X or Y in the future etc. then at least I wouldn’t have been wandering around assuming that I’d at least be seriously considered because they let me believe that to be the case by not telling me it wouldn’t happen when I clearly told them my expectations

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      Interestingly enough, when I volunteer it generally has nothing to do with my work life and I’m not trying to get a job or connections out of it. My volunteering in the past has been for emotional reasons. They are different approaches, and thus there are different concerns and issues.

      1. Lacey*

        Same. I do sometimes use my professional skills when I’m volunteering, but it’s not to build those skills or parlay them into a job. It’s just because an org I care about needs those skills.

      2. Juniper*

        So additional context might help — my first career was social work related, so it was quite common to volunteer while in school or building your career, at least where I live.

    2. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

      Interesting take. I wonder if the volunteer was trying to do something similar and just came across wrong. So maybe they were like “yes i’d love to volunteer to take photographs of llmas this time. But if there is ever anytime in the future if you are looking for a freelancer could you consider me?

  20. Lily Potter*

    I’m so glad that Allison stressed to LW#2 that they absolutely cannot live in one state but claim residency in another. They might think “how would anyone know where I sleep?” – trust me, unless they plan to live with someone (no lease), never use medical care, never vote, never receive mail, and never use a credit card or an electronic form of payment for ANYTHING, there IS a record of where they’re spending their time.

    I live in a high tax, northern state and our state revenue department has people on staff that do nothing but track this stuff. Many people here winter for a few months a year in FL and then try to claim residency in FL for tax purposes. The tax people WILL catch up to you when you try this kind of thing.

  21. I'm Just Here for the Cats!!*

    Interesting take. I wonder if the volunteer was trying to do something similar and just came across wrong. So maybe they were like “yes i’d love to volunteer to take photographs of llmas this time. But if there is ever anytime in the future if you are looking for a freelancer could you consider me?

  22. anoncat*

    I love Alison’s “oh by the way that’s literally illegal” comment to question 2, because that’s what I was thinking!

  23. HonorBox*

    LW1 – I think your best bet is to tell the employee that in these conversations, you and they need to stay focused on their performance. You’re in the position to evaluate the performance and contributions of every person on your team, and it isn’t their job to do that. If the speed or quality of someone else’s work is impacting that employee, then by all means, you’re going to want to know, but if it is just observation that there are differences in speed or quality, that’s absolutely not their place.

    You may want to remind them that as you’re doing evaluations of your employees, this kind of continued negativity is something you take into account when evaluating them. That might stop them in their tracks. If they’re armchair quarterbacking their colleagues, that shows a lack of professionalism. A hard truth might be what they need to hear, and reminding them that this is a performance issue that is as important, if not more important, than speed of work, might be beneficial to them.

      1. green bean*

        The issue is that they’re comparing their work as an assistant llama trimmer to that of the llama recruiting manager. If we look at salaries for other assistant llama trimmers within our organization and in the local market, they are being compensated equally

  24. BellyButton*

    There is a non-profit called Catch a Fire that connects small non-profits to a wide variety of skilled professionals and subject matter experts. The non-profit registers on the website and puts in their project details, volunteers register and put in their skill set and areas of interest. The non-profit can browse the volunteers and vise versa.
    It is a great way for non-profits to find people for projects. I have had great experiences as a volunteer from writing volunteer guidelines and handbooks, helping the board create succession plans, to coaching people on presentations.

    1. A Non E Mouse*

      Thank you for the Catch a Fire recommendation!

      I’m about to serve on an active board of an entirely volunteer-run grassroots organizing organization, where the board basically acts as the staff and organizational leadership. This may help us get a few items moving more quickly than they would otherwise as we’re really trying to rebuild organizational health following the pandemic, but my capacity is limited because I also work full time at a different kind of non-profit.

      And, as someone who has been recruiting board members for this organization for the last three years as part of our nominating committee, the emphasis on finding skills and interest match among volunteer leaders is critical. Some people want to use their professional skills in service of our organization, and others want to do something completely different. It’s a conversation I always have so I don’t assume (and others don’t assume) that just because Person A does communications at their day job, they want to do communications for us (or vice versa). And, I will also encourage people to think about skills or knowledge bases they’d like to develop to enhance their careers or just find personally interesting, so that it can provide value for them as they need!

      And, we are thinking more about the kind of work that will need to be paid to get the kind of consistency/compliance/etc that we need, which we can’t expect from volunteers.

  25. Flowers*

    OP 2 – No you cannot move to another state and maintain a different address to avoid paying taxes, unless you meant that you’d be a part time resident.

    Op 1 –
    I firmly believe in not tearing down someone else to raise yourself up. It grates on me in pretty much every context. You can professionally speak on your own skills and experience without dumping on someone else. I’d be thinking this employee had a not so great attitude even if they were skilled at their work. Look at your own plate, not anyone else’s.

  26. StressedButOkay*

    OP2 – Using an address for taxes in a different state than the one you’re spending most of your time in would be illegal for both you and your company.

    Please don’t do this! Allison is right, living in one state but having your address in another to try to skirt around tax issues is not good. You need to pay taxes to the state that you live in. My former company actually ran into this by accident – they didn’t code an employee correctly when they went remote in another state and the company had to pay a ton in back taxes and fines to the correct state.

    It was a headache.

    Also, can you try a trial run of going fully remote where you currently live and see how that goes? Ease them into not seeing you every week and it might be easier.

  27. kiki*

    LW1: I understand that it’s best practice to focus on the level of work you are doing and the value you are bringing to the company when asking for a raise, but I think bringing in market comparisons is also worthwhile and valuable. And in this case, what coworkers are paid and their performance serve as data points for market comparison. If LW is outperforming their colleague, why is their colleague being paid more? Why did LW have to ask for a raise instead of being proactively offered one?

    1. green bean*

      Well, the issue is that they’re comparing their work as an assistant llama trimmer to that of the llama recruiting manager. If we look at salaries for other assistant llama trimmers within our organization and in the local market, they are being compensated equally. The concern I have is that I can’t get them to hear that while their work is important, it’s a completely different scope. It’s not constructive, collaborative, or kind to compare my apples to someone else’s oranges and get upset when someone else tells me they taste different. I don’t know, I’m mixing a bunch of metaphors, but hopefully that makes sense.

      1. Kella*

        I wonder if it would be helpful to explicitly state that their work performance is not evaluated in relation to the performance of others, and that succeeding in their role is not dependent on the failure of others. Certainly, there are aspects of job performance that are competitive, like certain promotions or assignments. But especially if they’re recently out of school, they may still be viewing everything in terms of “I’m better than you so I get a higher grade” rather than being evaluated in the context of your own position independently. This can come with the caveat that if someone else’s performance is affecting their ability to do their job, that’s something you’d want them to come to you about.

        If this angle doesn’t ring true or doesn’t get through to them, another is “I’m responsible for everything all the time and if someone else isn’t performing up to standard, that’s going to come back to bite me.” An effective way to reduce that problem is to explicitly name what they are responsible for and what *you* and other managers are responsible for, and what the processes are for addressing performance issues, so that they can let go of all that extra responsibility.

  28. admin*

    OP2 – do you have any indication of how much salary employees at your level get in remote locations? The hesitation could be that remote workers are earning less and so the travel costs even out. If you’re earning more as a local employee, but want to move and keep your higher salary, your total cost as an employee would be higher.

    Also agree with the above folks; don’t be sketchy about taxes.

    1. OP2*

      We actually have a union contract stating that location can’t impact how much people make (this is a whole controversial thing, but that’s a topic for another day!)

  29. Lacey*

    OP3: I’m a graphic designer & video editor so I just want to assure you that while none of us are interested in doing things “for the exposure” – many of us love volunteering our skills for causes we care about.

    “For the exposure” is when people/companies expect their for-profit endeavor to be such a smash hit that it will of course bring us more work. Which, is rare. Extra rare when the project has no budget.

    But when we volunteer, it’s not about being seen. It’s about promoting the goals of whichever org we’re helping, just like if we were doing lawn work or folding shirts for the same org.

  30. Lizzo*

    LW3: You’re right that “exposure” for creative professionals doesn’t pay the bills, and as one of those creative professionals, I appreciate that you are being thoughtful! Videography in particular is very time intensive, even moreso than photography.

    One valuable thing that I have found from my personal involvement with nonprofits is gaining access to a network of potential clients. The nonprofits I choose to get involved with are very public with their thanks, they offer me branding visibility on par with some of their larger sponsors, they support me handing out my business card at events I work for them, and they sing my praises and share my name frequently. These referrals are incredibly valuable for me!

    This videographer may not be the right fit for you, but please consider how you might leverage the organization’s network for the benefit of the talented individuals who share their time and talent with you, and make that part of a formal organizational practice.

  31. Shandra*

    OP 2: If you did move/leave and the company didn’t replace you locally, would it have to discontinue shipping the prototype and necessary equipment to other employees altogether? Even if it is very rarely?

    I can imagine them not wanting to ship the gear before they absolutely have to. Especially if it’s a large-size shipment, and things can be damaged in transport.

    Agree with @Sloanicota upthread, that a lot of fully remote offices are able to offer that because at least one person is semi-remote. I’ve seen many people in positions that are actually semi-remote, who either simply disregard the in-person parts or look to another person to do them every time they come up.

  32. Katie*

    LW 2, absolute tax fraud all around. Federal and State. And they WILL find out. If you move you must register your vehicle in the state you actually reside in. You must get a new DL. What about voting? Companies have to follow the law in the state you are physically living in. You cannot mislead your car insurance company about what state your car is parked in. Don’t do it. It won’t be hard for the tax authorities to figure it out. It’s not as simple as borrowing an address.

    1. Flowers*

      Kind of related, kind of not but right around April 2020, I began noticing A LOT of vehicles in my neighborhood in NYC that had out of state license plates. I couldn’t figure out why such a sudden influx of out of towners, so I posted the question in a local group – turns out it’ was just a lot of NYC residents registering their vehicles in those other states for the lower insurance rates.

      1. Katie*

        Interesting. When the insurance finds out and drops them or they don’t pay out, they may regret it.

      2. Decent human being*

        Now I’m curious which NYC neighborhoods even require you to own a car or have it make sense for you to own a car. Between lack of parking and lack of gas stations and plenty of public transit options, I feel like it’s easier to not own a car in NYC at all. And if you need to move a dresser across town, you could rent a car or take an Uber or get a friend from the suburbs to help.

        1. doreen*

          I wouldn’t say that any necessarily require you to own a car – but there are plenty of areas where it makes sense to own a car. The mention of “lack of gas stations'” makes me wonder if you are thinking only of Manhattan, but off the top of my head, Staten Island and much of Queens are places where it makes sense to own a car. And then it depends on where you normally travel – there is great public transportation in my neighborhood but if I want to go from my house in Queens to my mother’s house three miles away in Queens by public transportation , it would take longer than it would take me to get to Manhattan by public transportation.

  33. Old & Cranky*

    Regarding Letter #2:
    “I’d really like to move near them at some point in the near future. I would maintain a permanent address in my current state so that taxes and such wouldn’t be a problem.”

    This would be rather concerning if I was the employer. I think the relevant taxing and employment authorities may have a little problem with this arrangement if it is discovered.

  34. fgcommenter*

    On April 4th, there was a letter “a new manager says it’s a problem that our employee cries…”. A popular idea shared many times in the comments was that a new person can see dysfunction that has been covered up by an “it’s always been this way and it hasn’t been as issue” mentality.

    Since those comments were permitted, it should also be permissible for me to point out that “well, if I were doing that I would do X, which is much more efficient” or “when I did Y, it never took me that long.” is also likely to be a new person seeing and calling out dysfunction.

  35. Thunder Kitten*

    OP1 – is it possible that they do have ways of doing things better ? The only teardown I see from your examples is the third statement where they comment on how long someone else takes on a task – that is firmly a “not their concern” topic. My response to “I would do it a different way” would be to give them a chance to demonstrate. Their way MAY actually be better, or they may realize that their way isn’t so great after all.

    I came into my position with unique knowledge – standard for my background but new for the group and likely drove my colleagues NUTSO at the beginning telling them that they were wasting their time with workarounds in some situations. BUT I took opportunities early on (with a supportive manager!) to show doing things my way was faster and more effective. It took a while for them to trust my methods and results but progress is being made. And sometimes I do acknowledge that the manual scissors are better for grooming llama faces than the electric clippers are, even though its slower.

  36. Fallingstarbag*

    Regarding LW3: I think it’s very easy to take advantage of a wider culture that doesn’t appreciate art enough – including the artists. I’m a content creator online and while I do fine for myself, I sometimes need to create art (I don’t want to self promote, so let’s say I’m a musician and I need album covers and website art), I turn to artists in my fan community, and they very often offer to work for free or work for next to nothing. It’s the opposite of ‘fuck you, pay me’ when creatives themselves contribute to that trend – I don’t think I’ve had one creator value their own work appropriately or ask for more than ½ minimum wage for the hours put in.

    I think there’s a bit of a moral question that should be weighed when considering the place of the creatives in things. Yes, you can reduce things down to supply and demand, and there’s a lot of people trying to make it work in creative fields, with comparatively little paying work, especially with AI generated work adding a glut of low-to-okay quality art to the mix, but where does that get us in the long run if we & the creatives that work for us play into that?

    I can only throw that question out there, admit everyone’s situation when working with creatives is different, and say that when an artist does professional work for me and then asks for too little, I throw in a ‘tip’ that brings things up to parity- oftentimes multiple times the price they offered to work for.

  37. Nina Bee*

    LW3, as a creative in the freelance industry, we generally see charities and non-profits differently than private companies in terms of paid work. I’d much rather volunteer time/services to charity than, as Allison said, be pressured into working for free ‘for exposure/folio/etc’ by a profit driven company. Maybe that volunteer is guilty of applying the same approach to your non-profit as they would to a profit company, which is on them, but you don’t have to feel bad about not being able to pay them because of your volunteer model. There’s plenty of people who’d be happy to help you who understand the pressures non-profits are under.

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