updates: the abusive volunteer, the heavy furniture, and more

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

1. An abusive volunteer is holding our website hostage

As it turns out, I wasn’t as generic in my description as I thought I was, and there are at least three AAM fans in my organization that recognized me! Oops. Anyway, patience is not one of my innate strengths and I know I have a tendency to go “f*ck it, we’re making a decision” too early in the decision-making process, so it was nice to hear from you and the comments section that my personal opinion of “he’s got to go” is what we need to do. (I’ve been trying to get this guy gone since 2021!)

Within a month of my letter, three of the four of us primarily involved in this went on previously-scheduled vacations. We’re scattered over the country so aligning with time zones is difficult enough during the week and aligning with life on the weekends is just as challenging. (Fergus and I are four hours apart!) Fergus wrote up a request for volunteers but as far as I know, no one’s volunteered. I’ve reached out to the two other members I’ve been working with about having the conversation we said we were going to have with Fergus and no luck. By this point, I’m so frustrated by the lack of follow-through that I’ve completely given up. I can’t unilaterally remove the guy and seemingly no one else is giving this situation the same priority as I am. (The next person to complain to me about Fergus is probably going to get an earful about how if they aren’t willing to contribute to the solution, I’m not going to listen to them complain about the problem.)

Regarding the question of “what would you do if Fergus was hit by a car/dropped off the grid/disappeared in a fit of pique tomorrow,” you and a decent portion of the comments section included suggestions for tools to help build a new site and to copy information from the current site and am I deeply thankful for all the advice! I was, however, absolutely unsuccessful in getting any of them to work. Problem definitely exists between keyboard and chair, LOL. I have been teaching myself WordPress but it’s kind of a successful failure: copying information over by hand is slow-going and I’m held back by not knowing how any of the behind-the-scenes stuff is set up anyway, so while I can (eventually) make a beautiful WordPress site, it’ll be nothing but text and pictures with no ability for the treasurer to do anything. If I felt others cared as much as I did about this, I’d be willing to fling personal funds at the problem to hire someone who knows what they’re doing, but since no one else seems to care, why should I spend money out of my pocket?

So this is where I leave everyone, with the very unsatisfying update of nothing has changed, nothing looks like it will be changed, and your intrepid anti-heroine is left defeated. However, should something change, I promise I’ll keep everyone posted.

2. I think I’m about to become a receptionist against my will (first update)

The “surprise me” button on your website recently showed me my own post, and there were a few interesting developments, so I thought you might be interested in one last update!

I didn’t mention this in my final letter, but when I got laid off I was starting to try to leave anyway. My commute was horrific, I was getting zero benefits or PTO, and the office admin was a bully who’d convinced the office manager that I was a slacker who couldn’t be trusted to do any work without aggressive micromanagement from both of them (which I suspect contributed to no one being willing to push back on me being saddled with the reception work). Saying I was “sad to go” was just me trying to be positive about the experience during March 2020 chaos — it was actually a huge relief.

The job I got later that year was a similar short-term setup and during onboarding I mentioned to the HR rep that under the previous company I hadn’t even gotten paid for federal/statutory holidays. She told me to immediately contact the Ministry of Labour because apparently in Canada that’s SUPER against the rules (I’d lived in the U.S. for most of my life so I was totally clueless and honestly hadn’t questioned it when the company assured me it was the norm). I filed a claim and they didn’t even fight it, and I had a nice check within a few weeks.

It’s so funny that I came across my letter today, because I get emails from Glassdoor when new reviews are posted for companies I’ve reviewed and one just came through my inbox advising office admins in that city to “run for their lives” because the reviewer had gotten pretty much the exact same treatment.

So I guess if nothing else I know it wasn’t just me! Plus, I’m now more likely to investigate when something about my pay seems hinky, in retrospect it was pretty naive of me to think “if it was illegal they wouldn’t do it” until a literal HR professional outright told me it was wage theft.

3. Interview anxiety that I can’t overcome — what are my options? (#3 at the link)

In short, my update is that I’ve pretty much decided to stop looking for a new job! Not long after writing to you, I finally pushed myself to seek counseling, which was hard but really helpful in helping me to dig a bit deeper into my anxiety and helped me conclude that I’m happy to stay where I am for a while and focus on some personal goals; I have great benefits, a very good salary for the amount of work I do, and can work pretty much whenever I want! I turn 30 soon and whilst younger me was incredibly motivated and eager to advance and I’m getting used to the fact that it’s okay to not have a remarkable career, I still have a lot of work to do and still feel unhappy at my job but knowing that there’s some pretty strong positives has really helped shift my mindset and mood.

Oh, and I did have not one but two good interviews in the summer that I smashed! Both made it clear what I needed to revise on for the interviews and gave good feedback, and whilst I didn’t get an offer, I’m only slightly miffed about missing out on one of them!

4. Returning heavy office furniture when resigning (#3 at the link)

Not much of an update on this one. I ended up not getting offered the job (which was okay — there ended up being less flexibility and a lower salary than I’d expected, so I likely wouldn’t have accepted even if they’d offered).

I still work at my same job from home, and I still gratefully and happily use the heavy office furniture my company so generously bought for me. When I move on from this job someday, I’ll ask both my boss and the person who bought the furniture for me what they’d like me to do.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. PhilG*

    LW4: by the time you leave the company may have depreciated the furniture. If so they may tell you to keep them.

    Depreciation is the expensing of a fixed asset over its useful life. Fixed assets are tangible objects acquired by a business. Some examples of fixed or tangible assets that are commonly depreciated include buildings, equipment, office furniture, vehicles, and machinery.

    Unlike intangible assets, tangible assets might have some value when the business no longer has a use for them. For this reason, depreciation is calculated by subtracting the asset’s salvage value or resale value from its original cost. The difference is depreciated evenly over the years of the expected life of the asset. In other words, the depreciated amount expensed in each year is a tax deduction for the company until the useful life of the asset has expired.

      1. Your Mate in Oz*

        I’d be even more suprised if they actually arrange to collect it.

        I have some spare IT suff/ewaste that my employer definitely owns and definitely wants back. It all works, it’s just outdated. And it’s sitting under a shelf by the front door where it’s been since they said they would send someone to collect it… six months ago. No-one has mentioned it for at least a month but I expect that next time they do an inventory it will get brough up again.

        1. GythaOgden*

          I left a job with supposed uniform requirements in November. Unsurprisingly, they didn’t want the jumpers and shirts that had gone through innumerable washes, been worn on some of the hottest days we’ve ever had and in all other weathers, and with my dyspraxic brain always telling me it’s warmer than it actually is…well you get the idea.

          I like them, the jumpers come in handy because they’re wool-mix, and I still work for the org, just at a level where we don’t need a uniform. I’m happy that these particular tangible assets depreciated incredibly rapidly.

    1. Forrest Gumption*

      True – when I left a prior company a few years back, they never asked for my company-owned PC back. I tried to reach them unsuccessfully a few times about it, then gave up. A friend pointed out to me that the computer was probably not worth what they’d pay for in shipping, so I kept it without feeling guilty.

      1. LifeBeforeCorona*

        Many years ago we could sign out computers. The package was a monitor, keyboard, and tower (?) . This was before laptops became popular. I went to return it and there was no record of my signing it out and they refused to accept it. So it stayed in my basement until I moved.

      2. Phryne*

        Is it usable though? I don’t have admin rights on my work laptop, and as soon as I leave they will deactivate my account and I can not access it anymore. So I would not be interested in keeping it…
        We are expected to return it though. I guess they might make an exception if you have a really old one and really can’t travel, but otherwise personally returning your laptop and access card is pretty much expected.

        1. Arabella Flynn*

          If you do run into the situation where the company doesn’t want the computer back, but you can’t access it because of a deactivated account, you can generally get access back (to the computer itself, not to the company systems) by completely wiping the drive and reinstalling the OS. Just Google “(computer model) factory reset” for instructions.

          1. Phryne*

            Good to know :)
            I’m pretty sure they’ll want it back though. I think they have a deal with the manufacturer where they old ones get sent back to be refurbished or recycled.

  2. Annabelle*

    I know it’s probably not…but the org in letter 1 kind of sounds like NaNoWriMo, in terms of like, absolute incompetence behind the scenes.

    1. Minimal Pear*

      Wow, I’d heard some vague rumors but I’m mostly checked out from the social aspects of NaNo these days so I’m not tuned in to what’s going on. Didn’t realize it was that bad!

  3. AcademiaNut*

    For LW #2, if you didn’t get at least two weeks vacation, or were hourly/part time with no vacation, I hope you tracked down your vacation pay as well. Even at my 10 hour a week part time minimum wage high school job at a business that was closed on stat holidays, I got pro-rated pay for stat holidays, and a prorated lump sum for vacation pay at the end of the year (4% of my pay, if I remember correctly, which works out to two weeks for a full time employee).

  4. DW*

    LW1, surely you know *someone* who can refer you to a reputable website designer. Meet with the designer, show them your website, explain that you need help setting up an out-of-the-box replacement, and ask for an estimate.

    Then approach everyone in your org (except Fergus) and ask whether they’d been willing to contribute $ for this project. Or look into crowd-funding. Or ask everyone else in the org for ideas on raising funds for this project. Or ask someone else in the org to set up a WordPress-type site, given that doing so is causing you stress.

    But PLEASE stop behaving as though this problem has no solution. Alison suggested a good one, and your resistance to it suggests that maybe unconsciously you’d rather complain about this / rather keep the drama going. (No offense intended; we all have some unusual stuff in our unconscious.) Good luck moving forward.

    1. coffee*

      I think this is a bit harsh, and we should start from the assumption that the LW is right about the organisation being unwilling to spend any money on it, and I think that for many people in a non-profit, implementing those kinds of fundraising ideas would be well out of bounds for their role (especially after being knocked back already).

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I don’t think LW has decided that this problem has no solution. I think she’s decided, very reasonably, that none of the other people who need to be involved in the solution are willing to do anything about it, and thus decided that she’s not going to care more than they do, to the best of her ability. I think it’s a very healthy choice, under the circumstances, if not the update we were hoping for.

      1. Twenty Points for the Copier*

        Yeah, this is my read, too. The original letter noted that they are all volunteers. At a certain point, if no one with more relevant skills wants to help and if the organization doesn’t want to fund hiring someone, it’s not LW’s problem to fix for them.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I agree, it sounds like she tried to take Alison’s suggestion but couldn’t get buy-in from anyone else and decided it wasn’t worth her time or energy if no one else was going to care about the problem. (Though vice president seems pretty high like they should be able to make it happen without a lot of buy-in to me, but I don’t really know much about corporate hierarchies so maybe not)

    3. Lenora Rose*

      As noted , the problem isn’t that LW has decided there’s no solution. it sounds like, if anything, they’ve been the single most active person in the org at pursuing a solution, and realised they can’t really do it without buy-in from the org as a whole. And have decided that they shouldn’t care more about the solution than the people in charge do.

  5. Chickadee*

    LW1 WordPress is good for building a website, but for the database part, have you tried PowerApps + SharePoint? It’s tedious to set up but a fairly robust low to no code option for databases. (It’s Microsoft, and about the same amount of coding as excel.) You can get fancy with it and use PowerAutomate and other features, even extend it to a website, but start with just SharePoint (the spreadsheets are called “lists”) and PowerApps. There are some good tutorials on YouTube.

  6. Nela*

    If someone isn’t already using Office365 / SharePoint, Airtable is a good database option. Very easy to use because it was designed “for dummies”, but it can accept imported data as well.
    The only challenge is how to get a CSV export from the current website without involving Fergus.

    But if there’s a way to show an entire data table on one page (for however many tables there are), just saving the HTML page is a sort of a backup.
    From there it can be copy-pasted into any spreadsheet, like Google Sheet or Excel. And from there it can be exported into CSV which Airtable and other database tools accept.

    But even if the data can’t be shown on a single page, seems to me like this situation warrants desperate measires6, even if it means copying dozens of pages into spreadsheets by hand.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        As long as it’s not worse, it will be better: it will be built with tools other people can understand, and LW1 won’t be required to have the problem volunteer maintain it.

  7. ContractTimeOff*

    OP2, the idea of getting any paid time off as a contractor is so foreign as to be incomprehensible in the American system, so I’d not have blinked an eye about that.

    My state put in mandatory paid sick leave a while ago and it didn’t occur to me it applied to w-2 contractors because the idea of paid time off in that paradigm was so weird. I left some paid sick leave on the table at the contract I was at when the law went into effect. I was able to take 7 hours of paid sick time at my next contract, though, thanks to a really on the ball recruiter who made sure everyone she hired knew about the new benefit. You had to jump through a lot of really high hoops to use it, but it was a start.

    Most contracts I’ve had not only had no paid time off, but an expectation of no time off, period.

  8. LMC*

    LW #3 – good for you for seeking counseling. I was in the same boat, anxiety held me back for a long, loooong time because even the thought of having to do an interview made me so anxious it put me off from even applying. But I also sought counseling this year, and that combined with anxiety medication really, really helped and I was able to land a new job. It didn’t happen overnight (actually, it took around 10 months) and I’m not a master at being interviewed and I still got nervous, but I was able to get through it in a way I never thought I could before. I hope you keep at it, and that you land the job you deserve soon!

  9. Ticotac*

    LW1, I get your frustration so much. That is the sort of stuff that makes it clear to me I can never be a manager. You say “oh wow there’s a Problem here” and people go “oh my god it’s true there’s such a Problem” and we all complain about the Problem and then you talk about fixing the Problem and suddenly everybody is hemming and hawing. You say “we should do X” and they go “oh i don’t know”. Endless conversations going, “I looked up Y and it could fix the problem” “ah, that sounds interesting” “yeah, so, are we doing Y?” “well maybe we should discuss it with everybody” “okay when?” *crickets*.

    I’m all for opennes and dialogue until I’m put in charge of one of these situations, at which point all I want to do is do X myself and then turn to the other people with a, “I fixed the Problem, it’s $xx, venmo that amount to me by Sunday.”

    This sort of situation sucks when you’re not in charge either, of course, but I find knowing that there’s nothing I can do better than knowing I could potentially do something but I can’t because everybody else is too avoidant to live. At least if I’m just a normal worker, the conversation becomes,

    Me: “Hey, we got Problem, we should probably look into X to fix it”
    People in Charge: “We do have a Problem, we really hate the Problem too, but we’re not doing anything about it because it’s scary :C”
    Me: “Oh, okay. I mean, I assumed you wanted to look good in front of the public, but hey, if it makes you happy keep on living like this, I get paid anyway.”

  10. Elbe*

    Regarding LW1, I suspect that the problem may not be as large as the LW thinks that it is.

    Even if Fergus coded the website in a custom language, I VERY much doubt that he created his own database software or method. I would bet money that, under the hood, it’s SQL or XML files or some other standard form of storing data.

    And that means that, as long as you have access to the underlying data, pretty much any other volunteer with website development experience could a) access the data for your immediate business needs and b) build a new UI on top of it for your customers.

    If Fergus refuses to share access credentials with anyone else, that’s a huge problem. But you can request access for a lot of different reasons that wouldn’t tip Fergus off that he’s no longer welcome. Most people wouldn’t push back on, say, a last-resort emergency plan.

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