update: if I quit my job when everyone else is quitting, the organization will fall apart

It’s the final installment in “where are you now?” season at Ask a Manager. (If I didn’t print your update yet, it’s still in my queue for later!)

Remember the letter-writer worried that if they quit their job when everyone else was quitting, the organization would fall apart? Here’s the update.

I wanted to thank you for your kind response and the commenters for their feedback and thoughts on the letter. The day that my letter was published, I spoke to my family about the financial consequences of quitting without another job lined up and ended up resigning the next day. It was definitely the right decision. The short answer is that the organization kind of fell apart, but I wish them the best. The way it all happened is a doozy, so grab your popcorn and your coffee.

I gave a little over 7 weeks notice to coincide with the end of a program we had coming up and not leave the staff in a lurch. Our board chair, who happens to be my coworker Abby’s best friend, didn’t try to ask me to stay as she’d been through a tumultuous job herself and knew I was frustrated with the lack of authority in my position.

During my only board meeting that overlapped my notice period, the board chair shared that there wouldn’t be any time to say goodbyes to me as she wanted to go into an executive session with just the board to discuss the fact that all staff have now resigned. I didn’t even get a thank you for my five years there.

Abby, as some commenters suspected, was on a power trip and tried to take over the organization the second I resigned. Here are some highlights:

  • Announcing that she needs to be made interim Executive Director with hiring and firing power immediately, a title and authority she actively sought against for me, literally the day after I resigned
  • Stating that neither I or the Board are her boss
  • Deciding that I am not allowed to be part of the staff/board transition committee since I “won’t have time”
  • Even though she gave 18 months of notice, she wasn’t going to have time to prepare transition documents and must stay on as a part-time consultant to create these documents after her last day
  • Declaring that the transition committee “doesn’t have time” to take my feedback about announcing my resignation to the general community — despite the Board chair and I agreeing on a different plan

The transition committee’s original plan to announce my departure was going to be buried in another email, which made it look like they were hiding something (or that I had done something wrong), and this was a sticking point for me. During the back and forth with the Board chair about my resignation announcement, it came out that Abby had given the board an ultimatum to make her interim Executive Director after I leave, and the Board chair and board members involved in the “mediation” never informed the rest of the board about what happened or that Abby had yelled at program participants. I got a call from one of the Board members on the transition committee asking what was going on and I gave her the details. She was shocked, and then informed the other Board members what was happening.

The Board ultimately decided not to make Abby Interim Executive Director, and informed her of their decision two days before my last day. She stated that she would move up her last day to be either the following business day or December 31. The Board chose the end of December, to which Abby then decided to take a 6-week “mental health break” immediately and return to less than 2 weeks of notice period to wrap things up. I’m impressed with how unabashedly unashamed she was in using up her accrued sick time, which would not be paid out otherwise.

After I left, things got worse. I got a call Friday night at 11 pm from a Board member saying that my exit interview notes had gone out to the Board and staff by accident, and we worked to get him access to delete the email from the staff accounts. Luckily, Abby was already on her mental health break so she didn’t see the notes when they went out. Then, the Board member who was taking over some of the administrative things from me (payroll approval, mail pickup, etc.) started emailing me every week with questions. Almost all of the answers were found in my transition documents that I put together and shared, and some were silly, like asking if we had branded envelopes in the office. After a few weeks of this and responding back days later and with lots of “I don’t know as I’m not on staff anymore,” the Board member continued to email. I wrote back a polite but direct email stating that I can’t be one of the first people he asks questions as I’d left the organization several weeks ago, he responded with a nasty email ending with, “Whatever. I won’t email you anymore.” But then, the Board chair started emailing me questions and I told her off the bat that I’ve answered many questions now and moving forward, I will need to charge [an exorbitant rate] for my time. I stopped getting questions, finally.

I took several months afterward to recover from the burnout, and now I’m job hunting outside of the nonprofit sector using your book and the blog’s advice!

The organization didn’t quite fall apart, but it went into a hiatus and hasn’t had any staff since the end of December. Lessons learned:

  • Don’t give more notice time than necessary
  • Get everything in writing
  • Severance agreements are your friend
  • You can’t fix what is institutionally broken
  • People won’t return kindness if they don’t have to, so look out for you
  • Alison and the commentariat are a wealth of knowledge and support

Thanks again for taking my question and for your thoughtful response. I can’t express my gratitude enough!

{ 147 comments… read them below }

  1. Chairman of the Bored*

    If an organization opts for a system where people don’t get paid out for accrued sick days when they leave, they shouldn’t be surprised when people make sure to use all their sick days before they leave.

    1. emmylouwho*

      Yup, this! Obviously lots of other problems going on here, but that was not an issue.

      1. Random Dice*

        That was the only point in that whole mess where I thought “actually that one thing was totally fine”.

        The rest of it, though, Crap on A Cracker!!!

        1. duinath*

          even op just said they were impressed, i didn’t take that as a diss, personally. SO GLAD op is out of there, got them to stop contacting them, and took the time to recover! best of luck on your job search, op!

        2. OP #1*

          LW here! She had separate vacation and sick time, and since she never took her sick time and it wouldn’t be paid out, she decided to use it.

          1. Clisby*

            Did she have to provide medical documentation for taking 6 weeks of sick leave? If not, that seems really strange to me.

            1. OP #1*

              Oh no, it was a power move by her, almost to dare the board to say anything to her. They didn’t!

              Also, is your profile name from Psych??

              1. Clisby*

                Yeah, that sounds odd to me. But maybe they didn’t have a written policy on it. I never worked anywhere that would nickel-and-dime people by requiring a doctor’s note for 2 or 3 days of sick leave, but 6 weeks? They dang well did require proof of medical need.

    2. OrdinaryJoe*

      Exactly! The same with vacation days … why organizations don’t understand that these days are part of the overall compensation package is beyond me. So … yeah … 2 week vacation before I give you my two week notice.

      1. Cafe au Lait*

        My Dad’s advice for quitting a job was to go on a two week vacation and then submit your notice the second day of the vacation period.

        I prefer to handle my quitting differently but I can see how he came to his conclusion.

      1. MsM*

        Looking back at the original letter, though, it’s ironic given how much of a fuss she apparently put up over everyone *else’s* vacation time.

        1. OP #1*

          Yes, this! She had a weird complex about how you need to work even if you’re going through something and if she could work through it, you should be able to. My managing philosophy is that you need to take care of yourself and take mental health days to recover and refresh, even if you’re not physically sick!

    3. FG*

      In cases where sick leave is separate from vacation leave, it’s rare-to-never that sick leave is paid out. Sick leave is intended to be used for medical (incl mental health) reasons, not as fun time. When orgs use one PTO bucket for both, that’s a different story. Did Abby game the system? Sure. Would any org pay out sick time? No, & it’s not bad policy.

      1. Clisby*

        Yeah, I’m retired now (in US) and never worked anywhere that paid out unused sick leave – only unused PTO. I also never worked anywhere that had sick leave and PTO lumped together.

        I don’t really think of sick leave as compensation in the way PTO is. Sick leave (in its own bucket) is there in case you need it for medical reasons; if you don’t have any of those medical reasons, you don’t have any business taking sick leave. Just like paid parental leave has a value, but I wouldn’t expect a company to pay out anything for unused parental leave.

        1. londonedit*

          Yep, in my UK experience sick days are more like an insurance policy for if you’re ill – they’re not a defined benefit that’s paid out when you leave. Annual leave is different and that is part of your compensation package, so any unused accrued leave will be paid out in your final salary payment. It’s also been use-it-or-lose-it everywhere I’ve worked – you’re usually allowed to carry over a small number of days into the next leave year, but anything over and above that number that you haven’t used will be lost when the leave year resets. Where I am now, we can carry over five days but they have to be used in the first three months of the next year or they’ll be lost. Sick time has nothing to do with that, though, and is only there if you need it.

      2. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Where I work sick is separate from annual leave. They only pay out your unused annual, and it becomes use or loose after accruing 250 hours (and we are limited to 8 hour days – that’s a pretty good cushion to have).

        But sick leave (which isn’t paid out) keeps building and building till you leave the job. I have one coworker who currently has 600 hours of accumulated sick leave (they’ve been here for 15 years – and always were work from home). It’s a great safety net for an extended illness or recovery period if needed.

        1. Clisby*

          Yes, my accrued sick leave paid for 6 weeks of my maternity leave. I had more than 6 weeks accrued, but under that company’s policy, you had to get a doctor’s certification to use paid sick leave, and the norm was that doctors would certify 6 weeks for a vaginal birth and 8 for a c-section. You could ask for more, but you’d have to have a doctor certify it was medically necessary. 6/8 weeks were the default.

          I knew a couple of people who used more than that for surgery/cancer treatment, so it really is a valuable benefit to be able to carry-over sick leave even if it’s never paid out.

          1. Rebecca*

            I know this isn’t your point, but I’m continually struck by stories like this in (I assume) USA. Pregnancy isn’t an illness, you shouldn’t need to use sick leave for it!

            You should all be getting paid parental leave – a decent amount, not three weeks or something desultory like that.

            From a managerial perspective, I can’t imagine having one of my employees having to juggle work & a four week old baby, there is no way that employee is working at full capacity!

        2. How do we move our bodies ever?*

          I’be been at my job for 9 years, and I currently have 70 days banked. We have a very good sick leave allowance, and I’m bad at taking sick time, especially since we went remote. I’ve been sick the last week but the only day I took was a pre-approved vacation day. Time for some elective surgery lol.

    4. Alex*

      I’ve never heard of an organization paying out sick time. Vacation time, sure. But sick time? I don’t think that is a wise policy because it encourages people to come in sick (if I don’t take this sick day, then I will get it paid out in money later!).

      1. AngryOctopus*

        My mom got her accrued sick time paid out when she retired, but she was in a state university position with a union. But it can and does happen.

      2. MassMatt*

        Paying out unused sick leave used to be common for government employees, especially teachers, at least in my area. It’s not as common as it used to be, but it’s still a thing. Some retiring teachers would have 20 weeks or more unused leave stored.

        IMO this rewards health/punishes illness, and also encourages people to come to work sick, but it’s a thing.

        Private sector jobs seemed to move to sick leave/vacation time all coming from one PTO bank since at least the 90’s, which has its own problems. I think having sick days in addition to PTO is better, but then the employer is in the position of monitoring their use against abuse.

        I don’t have an ideal solution given lots of people are going to take “their” sick days each year if they will otherwise expire unused.

    5. 1-800-BrownCow*

      I echo others with experience that sick time is not paid out when one leaves.

      As for vacation or PTO time, every place I have worked, once you give notice that you’re leaving, you cannot schedule or use vacation/PTO unless it was preapproved before your notice and you also forfeit any accrued time, so no payout either. Not very fair, but I’ve been told it’s not illegal. I learned that lesson the hard way when I once gave my 2-week notice and then received a reminder that I my remaining PTO days were dismissed. I notice most people will use up their PTO then before they submit their 2-week notice. When one of my direct reports moved on a couple years ago, using up all their PTO time in February was an obvious sign they were leaving as they usually would save their time for over the summer when they liked traveling to the beach a lot with their family.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yep. The consequence of that is a week or two’s illness, then resignation, then the last two weeks. Two people can play silly games!

      2. Mad Hatter*

        When I retired from a a city government office after 28.5 years, I was allowed to count 1.5 YEARS of unused sick leave towards my retirement and immediately began drawing my 30-year pension. Note: this policy no longer exists!

          1. Anon Fed Here*

            Varies by branch – mine doesn’t – spouse’s branch is phasing it out by start date (spouse doesn’t qualify – by more than three years).

      3. VacationPayout*

        in the US that would be illegal. you have to get paid for unused vacation time. not getting paid for unused sick time – and not being able to use it for extended periods as if it were vacation – is normal.

        At my first job I was told I had to use vacation time for a scheduled medical test then got laid off a week later. I had an exit interview with the CEO and ended up complaining about this and another financial issue and he made sure my time was retroactively changed to a sick day (and split the other financial issue with me) because he was afraid I would file a complaint if he didn’t (I wouldn’t have known it was an option).

        The requirement to pay out vacation time is why so many companies have been moving to “unlimited” PTO – it benefits the company, not the employees.

    6. kiki*

      I think it’s really normal for sick time not to be paid out when folks leave. At my organization, the goal was to give people enough sick time that most people wouldn’t use all of it (though COVID threw that for a loop). The relatively high amount of sick time was designed to accommodate folks who have chronic conditions, need surgery, have a lot come up medically one year, etc. While I understand why people are more likely to use up sick days before they leave if they’re not paid out, paying out sick days encourages folks to work when they’re sick so they can receive a payout. I’d rather have my coworker take 6 sick day in their last two weeks than have them come into the office when they really should stay home.

  2. Karen*

    “You can’t fix what’s institutionally broken.”
    This was quite possibly the best thing for me to read this morning, after a weekend of serial institutional failures.

    Thank you, and best wishes on your next chapter!!

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      Yeah, I’m starting to realize that the reason I keep running into the same issues over and over again at my job is because we have a missing stair which is not a person but a position. I’ve argued that we need someone to do this, but it falls on deaf ears. So this is a very good and helpful way to frame things.

      1. Nicosloanica*

        Yes, my org used to have an admin and didn’t replace them – we hired a bookkeeper instead. Coincidentally, about the same time, I became very unhappy with all the admin tasks which suddenly started landing on my plate. I hope they enjoyed the cost savings of not hiring someone, as they will likely end up paying far more to replace me when I quit.

    2. Ampersand*

      That one sentence is so succinct and straightforward. I love it. Adding the word “institutionally” to an otherwise well-known phrase really drives the point home re: stuff we can’t control at work.

    3. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

      I would *love* to put that in my signature block – considering that the amount of institutional brokenness at my current workplace is epic and multi-layered.

      (sigh) better not…

    4. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

      Thanks, Karen! It was my mantra while I was quitting and during my notice period. Helped me laugh at their latest grand idea.

  3. Momma Bear*

    Sometimes the best option is simply to get out. I’m glad you pushed back on answering questions, OP. They had SEVEN weeks to ask.

    1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

      And a turnover document that probably had most of the answers as well.

      Sadly that would have required them to put forth the effort to read to get the answers.

      1. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

        It did! “What’s coming out of the bank account?” – it’s in the transition document, I promise you!

        1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

          Oh I know…did the same at a previous job, and still got a phone call a year later, where is the password for this program. Yeah – I couldn’t remember it, referred them to the transition document (that it turned out manager who called me had thrown it away the day after my last day). Oh well – their loss.

    1. tw1968*

      Yes!! I am hoping LW replied to them with “why are you asking this now instead of during the 7 weeks of notice I gave?”

      1. goddessoftransitory*

        “Before you answer, know I am charging three hundred dollars for this conversation.”

  4. OrdinaryJoe*

    “People won’t return kindness if they don’t have to, so look out for you”

    I hate that this is so true, across so many organizations, and for so many people. It’s a sad commentary on how so many people treat others, especially when there’s a power imbalance.

    1. MigraineMonth*

      I don’t think it’s true that people won’t return kindness. Some don’t, some do, and some will give you kindness you never earned.

      I do think it is very true that organizations, businesses and institutions don’t give kindness, and that relationships with them are transactional by nature.

      1. Tio*

        I also don’t think it’s true as a total. I think the more accurate version is “Some people will return kindness, but many people won’t, so you need to know which type you’re working with and focus your energy on the first people.”

      2. ferrina*

        Look up theory of reciprocity- most people will return discrete acts of kindness. It’s part of social behavior/social contract. It’s also why we tend to like people that are nice to us.

        There’s a long list of reasons why the Kindness ROI ™ isn’t predictable. There’s personality factors (entitlement, narcissism), social pressures (if their boss doesn’t like you and it might hurt their career to express kindness), defensive behaviors (if I’m nice to you and you change, I’ll just get hurt – common in toxic environments or survivors of toxic environments where this mindset is a survival strategy), ignorance (yes, some people genuinely don’t know how to be nice), habit (they meant to be kind but habit took over), triangulation or similar antisocial coping mechanisms (I didn’t handle my stress well and took it out on you), and even a messaging that falls flat (you meant to be kind, but for whatever reason it didn’t quite come across as kindness).

        I’ve actually built my career on my ability to establish relationships across different departments, objectives and personalities (my current job was custom-made to utilize that ability for the organization). Kindness is definitely a skill I’ve studied and invested in. There’s some small acts that tend to have big pay off. One type of kindness is acting in a way that you don’t need kindness to be paid back to feel good about what you’ve done (i.e., that you’ve acted in a way that is both healthy for you and healthy for those around you). Easy to say, difficult to master.

        1. Random Dice*

          This was fascinating.

          Alison Greene – any chance you could interview ferrina about this topic? It sounds so insightful and helpful!

        2. Khatul Madame*

          Very true – I consider any acts of kindness as deposits in my karma bank, and have learned the hard way not to rely on the recipients of kindness to reciprocate and even acknowledge. To be fair, they don’t always know.

        3. Rainstorm*

          Can you give us an example of small acts that tend to have a big pay off?
          I too find your comment fascinating.

          1. ferrina*

            At my org, the smallest thing I’ve found with biggest pay off is letting people know when something isn’t a priority. We work in a deadline-driven industry where there are a lot of competing priorities, so when I can tell someone “it’s a nice to have, not necessary” or “I’d love to get it back sometime next week, but tell me if that doesn’t work”, they really appreciate it. When they help set the deadline, it 1) shows them I respect their time and priorities, 2) turns them into a collaborator on the project, since they have now voluntarily made a commitment. It also means when I say something is a priority, I’m more likely to get it back. Same thing with rescheduled meetings- when something is a low priority, I like to say “hey, I’m your lowest priority! Don’t worry if we have to reschedule a couple times- I know you’re busy!”

            Other small things:
            – Not caring if their camera is on (virtual environments), but keeping mine on 85% of the time. Not all the time (since that adds too much pressure) but enough that they feel like they know me. (bonus that I talk with my hands)
            – Being genuinely glad to talk to them. Everyone feels good when someone is happy to see them- obviously not the weird over-the-top, but appreciated.
            – Active listening. Ask follow-up questions. Rephrase to ensure that you’re understanding. Add sympathetic noises. There’s a gazillion resources on how to do active listening.
            – Mirroring. This is a communication technique where you adopt the same language or phrases as the person you’re talking to. Sales folks and interviewers use this a lot. The key is to not use any words outside of your regular vocabulary, but adjust within your vocabulary.
            – Complimenting what they do. “I love how you laid out this slide” “Great wording- can I steal that?” Again, not over the top, just genuinely recognizing what they’re good at. We often don’t take time to recognize people, and these are little things that build on itself. Especially critical for younger professionals who may not have a strong frame of reference on their work skills.
            – Ask for help. Not demand, but ask. Make it specific and include why you’re asking them: “Hey, I know you’re a super user on X. I’m struggling with how to Y- can I get 15 minutes of your time to pick your brain?”
            – Make it easy to say No. A lot of people find it awkward to say no, so when you make it easy to say no or yes, people tend to really appreciate that. It gives them the space to do what’s right for them, and it also demonstrates that you trust them to know the right thing (everyone loves that feeling). This might include adding caveats like “Do you have time this week for X?” where they have a built in excuse to say No. (obviously this only applies for things that are truly optional)
            – The magical phrase “What do you think?” This is something I read in a book when I was 10- a fairy godmother tells a little girl that the magic phrase for getting her friends to play with her is “What do you think”. You make your statement on what you want, then say the magic words. Even as a kid I thought that was hokey but it WORKS. It is my magic buy-in phrase.
            – Be imperfect. I’m ADHD so my imperfections can be pretty obvious. When I tune out in the middle of a conversation, I acknowledge it. “Sorry, my brain just rebooted and I missed what you were saying. Would you be able to repeat it?” or “Wait, you already sent me that! You are way ahead of me- sorry for the unnecessary request!” or “I feel like you’ve told me this before, but I’ve forgotten- what was the process for ABC?” Brene Brown might classify this under vulnerability. Being human with other people in a way that shows that I made a mistake, I see that it impacted you, I’m genuinely trying to be better. (Obviously if it’s a regular repeat mistake, this won’t cover that)

            Obviously this isn’t an exhaustive list, and context matters. A lot of this is simple respect, but it’s usually lost in the bustle of daily life or the drudgery of work. When someone takes that small moment, people tend to notice and remember. It’s not always on a conscious level, more like a vague feeling of “oh, that person, yeah, they’re cool”

            1. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

              Letter writer here! These are such good examples! They didn’t work for me in this context because of the bullying and Board’s taking advantage, but in general, I’m a big believer in respect and fostering a culture of gratitude. I put the phrase there because in this context, my attempts at kindness were seen as weakness and grounds for bulldozing.

            2. Eater of Hotdish*

              Thank you for sharing this excellent list!!

              I love the “my brain just rebooted” line–I have ADHD also, and I may need to start using that.

          2. Critical Rolls*

            Taking a little time to have friendly interactions with facilities people has paid big dividends for me a couple of times, and they are generally more responsive and more expansive in what they’ll help with. Really, establishing a baseline of goodwill through courtesy and a small investment of time has gotten me a lot of returns in all kinds of situations over the years.

      3. Ampersand*

        Agreed. I believe kind people tends towards kindness, unkind people don’t, and organizations/companies are generally out for their own interests. With some exceptions.

    2. Usagi*

      It’s true that shitty people won’t return kindness. It’s definitely not true of all, or even necessarily most people. Don’t let this experience with a handful of loons jade you.

    3. kiki*

      In my experience, most people will return kindness, but it’s also environment and situation-dependent. Having done small things for coworkers tends to repay itself with interest overtime, in my experience. But sacrificing your personal life and sanity for a job is simply not repayable by anyone or any organization. So don’t make huge sacrifices, but if you have an extra 20 minutes to make someone’s life easier, definitely do it.

    4. Zombeyonce*

      I came to the comments to say that I’ve found the opposite to be true in the few places I’ve worked except those that were toxic work environments. My experience has been that, on a personal level, most people are quick to return kindness.

    5. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      I think being kind is always worth it. Even if the other person doesn’t pay it back, I feel good about being kind, so I’m still winning.
      While working at the agency, a project manager I didn’t even like all that much was suddenly fired. She sent out a message to let everyone know, and I wrote a kind message back. Suddenly she was on the phone to me, crying, explaining the real reason why she was leaving, and wailing that I was the only person to have written a kind message to her. I let her cry it out on my virtual shoulder, and wished her all the best. We friended each other on LinkedIn (I suppose it’s not friended but you know what I mean). She then landed a job in another agency. When it was my turn to leave the agency to start freelancing, I reached out to her and all others who might be able to send me work. I started writing to her, and inadvertently sent “Hi Charlie” as a message on its own when I meant to just move to the next line to write a proper message to ask how she was and explain the reason for reaching out. I hadn’t even finished the message before she had replied with “oh you’ve updated your profile, you’re freelancing, can you handle this little job for me?”
      I thanked her profusely for sending me my first job, and she answered that she was delighted to help out the only person to have shown her any kindness when she left the hellhole we’d met at.

    6. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Some people don’t, some do. I have had kindness repaid in some wonderful ways.
      My first job as a freelancer was sent to me by a former colleague who remembered that I was the only person to send a kind message when she was brutally fired.

  5. Richard Hershberger*

    “People won’t return kindness if they don’t have to, so look out for you”

    I am as cynical as the next guy, but this is overstated. Some people will, some won’t. Knowing which is which ahead of time is a challenge, but if you go into relationships assuming that they won’t, this becomes a problem.

    It is the old joke about the newcomer moving into town, who asks his new neighbor what people are like here. “What were they like at your old town?” the neighbor asks. “Oh, they were wonderful! Friendly and helpful and all around great neighbors” is the reply. “You’ll find they are that way here, too” is the answer. Then another newcomer moves in and asks the same person what people are like here. “What were they like at your old town?” the neighbor asks. “They were terrible people! Rude and selfish and all around horrible neighbors” is the reply. “You’ll find they are that way here, too” is the answer.

    This isn’t to say that you should let people walk over you, but that you should let people show you who they are. Go in assuming the worst and the worst is what you will get out of it.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this has not been the case where I work–we routinely help former employees, and vice-versa. But then we don’t have a lot of crazy going on with current employees, either (we’re not institutionally broken).

      I think really if an organization is out of control, boundary-poor, and dysfunctional when you work there, it’s unlikely to improve after you leave.

    2. There's a G&T with my name on it*

      I reacted at this point too, but given everything else I reckoned let this one go. I suspect this is partially the burnout talking (and possibly having to deal with racism on top of everything else?), so I’m taking this to be more like “don’t go out of your way to be kind”, rather than “don’t be kind at all”, so just setting those boundaries for themself for next time.

      1. Richard Hershberger*

        I hope it is burnout talking about simply needs a period of decompression. But there are people out there who really think this way. They are deeply unhappy people, and unbearable to be around.

      2. Venus*

        I think it was meant more as ““Don’t *expect* people to return kindness, so look out for you”.

        Not that kindness can’t happen, but we should treat favors that we do for others as gifts with no expectation of reciprocity later.

        1. CM*

          This is exactly how I took it. Like the standard advice about giving out loans to family and friends — only give them the loan if you’re comfortable considering it a gift and never seeing that money again, without hard feelings. Especially at work, if you’re doing something to be kind, don’t do it with the expectation that you will get anything out of it. I see a lot of letters here bemoaning all the extra effort the letter writer put in, only to be dismissed or disrespected by this organization. So I think the OP is giving some good advice.

        2. Michelle Smith*

          Exactly how I read it. Quite surprised so many people are nitpicking at this part of the update.

          1. MsM*

            Especially when the very next line makes it pretty clear to me OP doesn’t think *everyone* is inherently rotten unless forced to be otherwise.

          2. Random Dice*

            Me too!!

            This read to me as what I call “boundary porcupine” – when you first learn to make boundaries after a lifetime of people pleasing, there is a bristly aggressiveness in laying down and defending boundaries. It is especially jarring coming from someone who had previously made peace at all costs, but it’s a vital initial step.

            This LW doesn’t have a kindness problem – they poured kindness out, until it was harmful for them. And in return they got demands and crappy treatment that must have hurt so much.

            Boundary setting is a process, and they’ve done an awesome job so far! They’ll get less porcupine “quill-forward” soon enough.

          3. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

            My reaction, and I assume those of the others commenting, is that based on that statement the OP may be taking a toxic attitude from this job out into the wider world. It is pretty common here for people to push back on learned toxicity, so I am surprised to see you denigrate this as nitpicking/trivial.

            You read it differently – maybe you are right, but that doesn’t mean others don’t have a point for the OP to reflect on.

        3. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

          Venus, you hit the nail on the proverbial head. Perhaps I should have added that you shouldn’t expect respectful interactions to be returned in bananapants settings like the one I was in!

      3. Sherm*

        Yeah, I was a little concerned that the OP wrote that. It sucks when a place beats you down so much that you wonder if you are the only truly kind person on the planet. I hope OP has a complete recovery and finds a much better workplace.

      4. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

        Letter writer here! Yes, it was definitely a reaction to the lack of reciprocal respect and kindness from the Board and everyone involved, and only in this context, not in general.

        Good catch on the racism aspect too. I didn’t give that in the update, but there were definitely tinges of it in how I was treated vs. how Abby was treated by all board members. It was almost as if they continued to expect me to be the quiet brown woman who won’t rock the boat or speak up when mistreated, which has *never* been my MO.

        I posted this in another comment, but I tried to foster a culture of gratitude and expected reciprocal respect, which is what I was operating on throughout this time. But the Board and Abby, who represented the institution, definitely tried to take advantage over and over. The Board members would tell me one thing and then do something else, and at the end of it all, I was the only one looking out for myself.

    3. bamcheeks*

      I would say there is a big difference between people and institutions, and although LW said “people” she is talking more about people in an institutional context than people as individuals.

      I think it’s very possible to believe that people as individuals are disposed to be kind, but that they very often won’t be in an institutional context.

      1. Nicosloanica*

        Yeah, and I think there’s a weird thing in nonprofits where it’s especially shocking to get the “institutional” treatment when you leave (although it’s perfectly understandable! You are no longer an employee!) because you do put a lot of your personal self into the work, and that’s expected/encouraged, so all of sudden being treated in a formal employee way is strange and new. I remember also feeling disconnected and let down by the exit process at my previous job. But, you move on and stop thinking about it.

      2. Eater of Hotdish*

        I think that’s exactly it. Part of the difference is that institutions have a lot more inertia than individual people do, and any decision–particularly one that costs resources–is going to have to go through much more of a process than an individual person going, “Sure, I can help you out!”

    4. Ben*

      Yes, I think the lesson is more, “don’t let yourself be taken advantage of.” If you want to help someone out with no expectation of a personal benefit, that’s fine. And if you want to help out because you think that it might have some eventual material benefit, that’s fine too.

    5. ferrina*

      Universal statements are always fun.

      But seriously, OP’s statement sounds jaded in an unpleasant way. Feeling bitter towards the organization is justified (and probably a good thing- you don’t want those people near you), but projecting that onto the world is not called for. The thing with kindness is that you have no idea if it will be reciprocated, and if so, how or when. If you expect that it will always be reciprocated, then it’s not a kindness- it’s a basic transaction. But if you constantly do kindness without ever having kindness done to you, that’s important information about the people around you. Or if they only do kindness if they can get something out of it, or if they only do kindness for certain people, or in certain circumstances, or if their a favor shark, etc, etc.

      Kindness isn’t an investment- it’s a statement. Make sure your kindness says the right things about you, and listen to what other people’s kindness (or lack) says about them.

  6. Not Tom, Just Petty*

    So the board really got the idea that you were some sort of admin assistant to Abby. “Where are the envelopes?” Really?
    I like the petulant, “fine! I won’t email you anymore.”
    Oh, you understand the words I’ve been telling you? Congratulations.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      I probably would’ve written an email back saying, “Thank goodness!,” sat on it for a few hours, and ultimately hit send because it would be so satisfying. But only if I didn’t need a future reference from them, I suppose.

  7. Toodaloo*

    This is the dream: after years of toxic mismanagement and bullying by an incompetent blowhard, they quite literally fall apart after the people who genuinely DO THE WORK depart for their own well being. Kudos to you for knowing your worth!

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      Right? My only nitpick with this whole update is that the company “hasn’t totally fallen apart”–they have no staff and are on permanent hiatus. I think this is Xeno’s paradox at the “fallen apart” line at this point.

      1. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

        Letter writer here! They went on a hiatus and had zero staff at the time of writing but plans on hiring a *real* executive director, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt!

  8. Peanut Hamper*

    I have read about some terrible behavior on this site, and Abby is certainly at the top of the list.

    For the life of me, I will never be able to understand why some people act like this? Demonic possession? Controlled by aliens? Actually an alien? 17 rabid raccoons in a trenchcoat? My mind boggles.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      And now that I think about #2 from today’s first post, this is also the reason that “why?” is never the right question when it comes to how people behave. “How?” is the correct question.

      “How do I change this behavior?”
      “How do I manage this behavor?”

      or in this case,
      “How do I get the hell out of here so I can get away from this behavior?”

    2. Sparkles McFadden*

      This sort of behavior is usually because they are very warped people who believe that everyone else is doing these same sorts of things all of the time (or would be doing so if those other people were “smart enough”). They spend all of their time imagining nefarious plots, and they think everything they do is warranted because they need to protect themselves from the imagined nefarious plots. They are never really happy and the closest they can come to happiness is by controlling, hurting, or at least affecting, everyone around them. It’s always: “I will show them all and WIN!” These are the sorts of people who have Enemies Lists in their desk drawers.

      It’s quite pitiful…except they make the workplace a horrible place for everyone else, so no one has much pity to spare. This is why good management is so important to a workplace.

      1. Random Dice*

        So much this.

        I’ve learned that the best indicator of someone being a genuinely bad person is that they claim that “everyone does it” (whatever bad thing they’re justifying).

        Nobody ever actually puts on a super-villain suit, but those words are a tip-off.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          It’s kind of the inverse of the “I tell what I think is a funny story from my childhood and the reaction is horror and ‘I’m so sorry that happened to you.'” When you’re in a toxic environment it seems totally normal and until you experience a wider world it never occurs to you that what you thought of as discipline or correction was abuse.

          With this type of person, it really never occurs to them that everyone isn’t plotting against everyone else they know, stealing (physical stuff or intellectual property), lying, bullying or otherwise behaving in a thoroughly amoral way. They see it as normal.

      2. Lana Kane*

        100% – They spend all of their time imagining nefarious plots, and they think everything they do is warranted because they need to protect themselves from the imagined nefarious plots.

        On top of that, believing that they are outsmarting the nefarious plots makes them feel smarter than everyone else, which makes this behavior a never ending cycle of fearing the plot and then getting the dopamine hit of having outsmarted it.

    3. Zarniwoop*

      What I don’t understand is why they are so often tolerated. (Though in this case “Board chair’s best friend” explains it.)

    4. Nicosloanica*

      Rereading the original letter, Abby had been there for 10 years. That means she was there long before OP (who has a five year tenure) so she probably felt she had seniority that she didn’t actually have on paper. Plus, she had connections at the board level – in my org, long running staff are also past board members themselves, sigh. There’s a “founders syndrome” that sets in, even if they’re not the original founder (and especially if they are).

  9. Profit and Drama Are Inversely Proportional*

    I thought my large private enterprise had politics and drama – but nothing and I mean nothing compares to non-profits. It seems that pay and drama are inversely proportional.

    1. Phlox*

      Power dynamics between staff and board, funder dynamics, mission driven work – lots of relationships and different motivations/perspectives that can make the field nuanced and complicated!

    2. LimeRoos*

      Eh, the worst politics and drama I encountered was working in mortgages at a bank, so broad statements like that are fun but uh, definitely not accurate.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I do think that mission-driven organizations are generally harder to leave. If you work below median pay for a llama-rescue organization, it’s probably because you really care about rescuing llamas (and that may be screened for in the hiring process). It’s easy from there to cast leaving the organization as a selfish choice that means you don’t really care about the llamas.

        It isn’t restricted to non-profits, though. I worked at a large private company where the entire company culture was convincing every employee that they were part of an important mission (which is why everyone familiar with how the company works talks about drinking their Kool-Aid), and they burned through employees like trick candles.

        1. Nicosloanica*

          I think we’ve said before that *small* nonprofits and small (especially family-run) businesses are particularly prone to drama – not that they all are, but it’s more common, in my experience. Yes, any nonprofit can tend towards guilting employees and always pointing to “the mission” but I found that in my for-profit work too, a lot of corporate rah-rah about the team being so critical and customer service being the meaning of life. Small organizations, by their nature, have an outsized reaction to individual personalities so one or two loons can really make the whole thing cease to function.

            1. Nicosloanica*

              Yeah, and a lot of workplace laws don’t apply to small orgs, which doesn’t help the level of professionalism

          1. Michelle Smith*

            Is that limited to nonprofits though? I’ve heard similar things about small startups.

      2. Profit and Drama Are Inversely Proportional*

        The difference is that if your mortgage department is full of drama you just go find another one. There is no “this is my life’s goal and mission” aspect to most mortgage officers.

        1. Nicosloanica*

          see this was always my assumption but working for a bank they tend to make a big deal about customer service / serving the community or whatever, as if they are not profit driven businesses. Or working for consulting firms there’s a lot pressure about the team-as-family. It’s been weird to witness. Ultimately I like nonprofits because at least when they pressure you, there is a kernel of truth that you may actually be helping people / making the world better.

          1. LimeRoos*

            Yep! Totally agree. A lot of companies are very into the work team as a family thing. My husband is dealing with that right now and it’s really frustrating because no, they’re definitely not family and frankly wouldn’t want to be because we’re pretty much no contact with his dad. We’re pretty sure his managers wouldn’t want no contact lol.

            But also, people can go find another non-profit job? Sure there may not be the same cause, but there’s a million different non-profits with similar causes. Not sure how that relates to blanket statements being not the best. Also, most people I’ve met at my non-profit jobs haven’t been like omg this is my life’s mission! They just want a paycheck like everyone else.

      3. Random Dice*

        It’s a very valid rule of thumb.

        Other organizations can ALSO be toxic, but that doesn’t negate that nonprofits have unique characteristics that make toxicity extremely common.

    3. Noncompliance Specialist*

      I think it really depends. I’m at a nonprofit and it’s mostly staffed by really lovely, professional people and great leadership. But I think the difference is that it’s fairly large (for my area anyways) and we’re in a highly regulated industry, which I think permeates the organization as a whole. Definitely some of our smaller partners have a little more weirdness. Generally I think the lack of internal structures in many smaller organizations (relying on boards for guidance), combined with a general ethos of wanting to give people a chance makes nonprofits much more likely to be drama incubators.

  10. Reality.Bites*

    Although I haven’t been in the situation of quitting a toxic work environment, if I ever were, I’d really enjoy picturing the organization collapsing without me and would be disappointed when it didn’t happen.

  11. ferrina*

    Our board chair, who happens to be my coworker Abby’s best friend

    Well that explains pretty much everything right here. The board chair set everything up to make her best friend happy, not to run an organization. The overly hands on approach? So she could actively protect her BFF. The weird lack of authority? You can’t possibly fire or discipline (or even manage) her best friend. Abby’s weird power trip? Why not, her best friend is on her side, so she (correctly) assumes she can get away with pretty much anything.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Weird that in the original letter OP mentioned that the chair asked if they needed to ask Abby to leave sooner. Was that just lip service from the chair or a legit plan that the chair might have put into action if OP had answered yes? Seems like not, given the dynamic of Board Chair Best Friend.

  12. Zarniwoop*

    “People won’t return kindness if they don’t have to, so look out for you”
    Please don’t assume this known-dysfunctional group is representative of humanity in general.

  13. Nicosloanica*

    Let me just say, OP, I was nodding along the whole time, unfortunately. I also work in a small nonprofit with a team of three that has seriously run the risk of having zero staff roles at all and rotating leadership. It’s tough. I think for my next role I would like to have a team of at least 15-20 people, if not more. I saw someone describe a team of 150 as a “small” organization lately and it reminded me, there’s small and then there’s small. With three people or less, coverage drama is inevitable IMO.

    1. Elle*

      Going from five to 150 in a non profit was such a welcome change for me. It was way more together and professional. Better benefits and access to funding.

  14. Bookworm*

    “People won’t return kindness if they don’t have to, so look out for you”

    I see some saying this is too harsh but I have to agree.

    1. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

      Thanks! I’d be interested to see if those folks who are saying it’s too harsh or jaded have been in positions where people take advantage of their kindness.

      1. Zarniwoop*

        I have been, and those situations genuinely exist, but other situations exist too.

        That your favorites-playing board chair takes advantage of kindness is neither surprising nor typical of all humanity.

        1. OP #1*

          Yes, it was definitely situation-specific. I’ve rarely had kindness or empathy thrown in my face like it was in this case. Definitely not in other interactions before or since then!

    2. allathian*

      In general, yes. But not in this particular situation. The OP posted in another comment that the organization saw kindness as weakness. That’s not a healthy environment where the normal social contract applies.

      1. Zarniwoop*

        Change it from “People won’t…” to “These people won’t…” and it makes perfect sense.

  15. Pam Beesly*

    Oh goodness, what timing. I was going to give my two weeks notice this week but my coworker (who shares my workload) just announced she will be out indefinitely so now I’m pushing my end date back to not screw the company over. I was planning to still tell my boss, to give her enough time to prepare for my absence, but should I wait a few weeks until my coworker is back?

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      You should do whatever makes the most sense to you. You can still quit as planned if this is the best option for you. Ultimately, it depends on whether your boss is a jerk who’s likely to make your notice period unpleasant or tell you to leave immediately. If they’re a generally good person who has handled stuff well in the past, give as much notice as you can. But if they have a history of being a jerk, they get 2 weeks.

    1. goddessoftransitory*

      *Sarah McLachlan song plays*

      “Look at these poor little bananas. They have no pants.”

      *shots of shivering bananas by a chain link fence*

      “For only pennies a day, you can help provide these bananas with pants, AND a hat.”

      *Shots of bouncing beclad bananas*

      “Donate now, and receive this lovely tote.” *shot of bright yellow bag with brown mottling*

  16. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    Sounds like you definitely made the right call to get out of there, given all of the nonsense going on with the board, who were clearly all wearing jaunty bananahats.

    1. MsM*

      I wouldn’t call it common, but it’s not all that unusual with small/startup organizations.

    2. OP #1 (the letter writer)*

      I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector for 20 years. In my experience, most nonprofits I’ve worked for have 12-15 board members, even if they have 2-5 staff.

      1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

        The NGO I volunteer at has at least 12 board members and only one paid staff member (the accountant, because nobody wants to do that as a volunteer, there’s too much responsibility). And some 300 volunteers. Apparently it’s quite unheard-of to have that many volunteers and only one paid staff member, but it works for us.

  17. MassMatt*

    Thanks for the update. I remember reading “I am her boss, but cannot hire, fire, or discipline due to the organization structure” and thinking “this place is a dumpster fire”.

    It’s maddening how many organizations do this when it is so clearly a recipe for dysfunction if not outright disaster.

    Congrats for getting out of there.

  18. toolate12*

    “ I got a call Friday night at 11 pm from a Board member saying that my exit interview notes had gone out to the Board and staff by accident, and we worked to get him access to delete the email from the staff accounts.” OK, this made me laugh out loud!!

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