I’m trying to leave a board but can’t escape, asking a coworker not to bring her baby in, and more

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

1. I’m trying to leave a board but can’t escape

About 10 years ago, I agreed to serve on the board of a small nonprofit organization. The executive director, Sarah, is friendly and gregarious, and because we work in similar industries, we have developed a genuine friendship in the past decade.

I have known I was ready to leave the board for two years, but a couple of years ago Sarah was diagnosed with cancer. This made her job more difficult, diminished productivity, and generally resulted in more hands-on assistance and oversight from board members. I was happy to stay on and help since I care about the organization and consider Sarah my friend.

Her cancer went into remission and things became more stable at the organization. One year ago, after being named the board chair, I met with Sarah and let her know that 2023 would be my last year on the board, with an end date of December 31. Before I had a chance to share this with the rest of the board, another board member also announced she’d be leaving – with an end date three months earlier than my planned exit. As a group, we worked to recruit replacements and I spent a lot of time meeting with prospective board members, helping Sarah prepare for onboarding, etc. Two new board members agreed to come on and have begun attending meetings. In the meantime, the member who said she was leaving in the fall was convinced to stay on through the end of the year but has reiterated that she is out and would like the next board meeting to be her last. None of us have wanted to leave Sarah or the organization in the lurch.

In January, Sarah contacted me to schedule 2024 board meetings. I let her know that I would be able to attend one more meeting and we need to elect a new chair ASAP. She said she doesn’t know who the new chair will be because other longtime members may also be wanting to exit. I reiterated that I am no longer available to serve this organization. She countered by suggesting that I would need to recruit another new board member. In the interest of moving the organization forward, I scheduled the next board meeting and ended the conversation. I also reached out to a contact who I believe would be a good addition.

At the meeting, we did some regular business but ran out of time (I suspect by design) to talk about the chair position. As a result, I have now scheduled the NEXT board meeting as well, and I am certain I am expected not only to attend, but to act as chair.

I am burnt out and exhausted. I feel like a hostage. I believe Sarah is manipulating me to stay on the board because she sees me as an ally and a friend and is not taking my resignation seriously. How do I handle this? Can I simply stop attending meetings and remind her that I gave notice 12 months ago? Do I need to stay on for six more months for a “smooth transition?” Do I need to submit my resignation in writing and refuse all communication after the next meeting? What is my obligation to this organization and executive director when my boundaries are not being respected?

You are not a hostage! You do not need to stay for six more months, or even one more month. You can reiterate that your resignation was supposed to be effective last December, you attended one additional board meeting to help out, but you gave a full year’s notice and are no longer available to continue working. Or, if you’re willing to attend one final meeting, you can let Sarah know that this will be your final meeting, regardless of whether time is included to talk about the chair position and so you suggest that be a key item on the agenda — but either way you’re letting the org know you won’t be available after that. I recommend cc’ing the full board on this message so everyone has the same info.

You can’t be ordered to remain until you find a replacement (unless that was a condition you agreed to when you signed on and even then you could still leave sooner, although you’d want to finesse the language a little more — but it doesn’t sound like it was). If Sarah tries that, you can say, “I’ve already extended my timeline by over a month and I’m really not available after X. I gave so much notice specifically to avoid this, and I do need to stick to it.”

2. Should I tell a student worker the real reason we’re ending her job?

I recently started a new position at a small public university, one of the main responsibilities of which is supervising our department’s team of undergraduate student workers. It’s worth mentioning that this is my first full-time professional job, and I’m not substantially older than the students I supervise.

All of the students need to be occasionally redirected from their phone or reminded to show up to work on time, but none of them compare to one student, Ciara. I have to constantly hound Ciara to not do homework on the clock, her work when she does do it is sloppy, and she’s called off on short notice a couple of times in the past month. I was warned about her disciplinary issues by my predecessor, who said that they’d had to issue written warnings to her a couple of times. Ciara hasn’t done anything truly inexcusable, but it’s obvious that she doesn’t care about working here apart from the paycheck.

In our department, students get a finite amount of funding for the year to work, which they can then petition to extend. Ciara is now a few weeks away from exhausting her funding. This actually happened with all the other students too and they were all able to secure further funding, but for some reason having to do with her overall financial aid package, Ciara wasn’t.

This presents an easy out for me to let go of a less-than-stellar employee. Ciara was told a while ago that it was likely she’d have to leave soon, and all I need to do is sit down with her to make it official. She knows about the funding situation, and she’s aware that her request was denied because of matters outside of her control. Although honestly, I could’ve fought harder for Ciara’s funding to be increased (I did so for the others), but I just didn’t have a lot of motivation to do so.

When I tell Ciara she’s being let go, do I have a responsibility to let her know it’s partly due to her poor performance as an employee? On one hand, I’m very much someone who hates conflict. I’d been feeling incredibly anxious about the prospect of formally firing Ciara, and was intensely relieved that this “easy out” presented itself. On the other though, I do genuinely like Ciara despite her shortcomings as a worker, and I’d feel bad not telling her the whole truth. This could also present an opportunity for her to grow and perform better at her next job, maybe.

Yeah, part of the deal with student workers is that you should expect to have to guide them more than you would otherwise — and that includes giving feedback that will help them in future jobs. If Ciara weren’t a student worker, I’d say that you wouldn’t have any particular obligation to spell out the situation for her — you could if you wanted to, but it would also be reasonable to figure that she should put it together herself, given the written warnings and criticism she’d been receiving. But since she’s a student worker, you do owe her a bit more.

I’d say it this way: “I know you had some talks with (predecessor) about her concerns with your work — things like XYZ— and those are concerns I talked with you about too. I want to be transparent with you that those issues were a factor in our decision: we can’t go to bat to try to keep someone on when they’re not performing at the level we need. I’m not saying this to berate you, but because it’s something that’s likely to come up at future jobs too, and I want to see you set yourself up to do well in the next one.”

Don’t think of this as “conflict.” Think of it as helping Ciara — of giving her guidance that should help her get better outcomes for herself in the future. Whether or not she sees it as a favor in the moment (and she may not!), it really is one.

how can I stop softening the message in tough conversations with my staff?

3. Can I ask a coworker not to bring her baby into our office?

I’m hoping you can help me decide if I am being reasonable or not. I started a new teaching job in January 2023. In February, I found out I was pregnant with my second child. I announced at work around the 13-week mark. A few weeks later, another teacher in my department announced she was also pregnant, and her due date was the same as mine, in October. This teacher spends most of her time in another department, so I didn’t really get to know her at all.

Unfortunately, I lost my child at 30 weeks, in August. I stopped working, and our country allows you to take paid leave even with a stillborn, so I have only just gone back to work. My colleague had a healthy baby in October.

I was back at work this week, doing some prep work before the students come back, and she turns up at our office with her baby. I started crying, and took myself off to the bathroom. My boss allowed me to go home as it was almost the end of the day.

Is it reasonable to ask for her not to bring her baby into our department office? The office is right next to my classroom, and if I’m teaching I can’t just take myself off, remove myself as I would in a social situation. As I said before, she does spend more time in another department that has an office far away from ours. Can I ask that she just go there? I need to work, and this baby is a really strong trigger for me. She is also on leave until 2025, so there isn’t a real need for her to come in.

I’m so sorry, what a hard situation. For what it’s worth, it’s unlikely that she’s going to keep bringing her baby in; it’s likely that was a one-time (or maybe two-time) thing. But in case it does happen again … you can’t really make an official request that she not bring her baby into your department, but you could certainly have a discreet conversation with your boss (or another mutual contact who you trust to handle it well), explain that it’s difficult for you, and ask if she could kindly and discreetly explain what’s going on to your colleague. That’s very likely to take care of it.

4. Am I being quietly fired?

A few months ago, my position was realigned. My new supervisor was relatively new to the organization and new to our industry. Instead of hitting the ground running, I’ve spent a lot of time educating and training my new supervisor on my work and our industry, and it’s been exhausting.

In recent weeks, I’ve been pushing for greater clarity around role expectations. A more senior member of our team asked if they could help and, after meeting with my supervisor, suggested I draft a detailed description of the projects I’m working on and how I do them. The request is to provide a list of current projects and tasks, explain what goes into completing them, and how long they take to accomplish. Then, share that information with my supervisor to help them better understand the demands of my role. But I can’t help but wonder, am I really managing up or being quiet-fired? Seems like writing a detailed list with instructions on how I accomplish my job would make it awfully easy for them to terminate me. And why not? I prepared them a complete list of all my projects and gifted them the knowledge of my years of experience about how to get them done successfully. So am I really managing up and helping my supervisor and organization be more successful? Or am I preparing instructions for how to carry on my job when I’m terminated?

There’s no way that kind of list could transfer your years worth of knowledge and expertise — and it doesn’t sound like that’s what your colleague is trying for. They’re suggesting that you fill in your manager on the basics — “here’s what I’m responsible for, here’s what portion of my time each takes up, and here are some key details on each so you have a better understanding of what I’m doing.” After all, this came in response from you trying to get better clarity on your role (or to help your boss get better clarity on it), and this is a very straightforward way of doing that. This is basic info on your job that your manager should have.

Nothing here indicates this is in preparation to fire you … but if that were happening behind the scenes, a list like this wouldn’t help them do your job. At most it could help them ensure they know what tasks would need to be covered, but that’s something most managers will be aware of anyway; it’s not info you need to (or even can) safeguard.

5. Is our supplier invoicing me personally?

I work in accounting for an S-Corp. I am not an officer. One of our suppliers recently had a billing software update, and now my personal name is appearing above the company name on the “bill to” on the invoice. I’ve pointed it out, and the supplier indicated it’s one of several issues their IT department will be correcting, but resolution is not a priority. Should I be concerned about this? Could it be problematic for me in any event?

No. It’s understood they’re billing your company and you’re just the point of contact.

{ 324 comments… read them below }

  1. Jennie*

    #1 I am so sorry you’re having to deal with issues around stepping down from a board. I went through something similar and tried to be nice and help them through a “difficult spot” that never seemed to have an end date. It got to a point where I finally had to say my last day was X, and I turned in my paperwork that day, said goodbye and left. I literally couldn’t handle any more and it took me months to stop feeling like I was the unreasonable one for setting a boundary. Don’t be like me. There is never a good time to leave, and yet somehow once you do they always seem to manage.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Absolutely this. The board chair is typically the highest ranking person in an organization, and Sarah reports to you and the rest of the board. Tell Sarah you are creating the agenda in collaboration with her, and you can add your resignation as a topic. You and Sarah can discuss which of you will send it in advance to everyone attending the meeting, so they will all have notice when they receive the agenda and it won’t be a surprise.

      1. Ashley*

        And put your leaving at the top of the agenda. They can run late on other business if it is really needed.

      2. Margaret Cavendish*

        I think Sarah is the board chair, not the OP. But that doesn’t change the rest of the advice – OP can still leave whenever they want, and they’ve given more than enough notice. I like the idea of OP crafting the agenda with Sarah’s help, and sending it to everyone ahead of time.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          No, Sarah is the executive director and OP#1 is the board chair. OP#1 said

          The executive director, Sarah, is friendly and gregarious….One year ago, after being named the board chair, I met with Sarah….

      3. Strict Extension*

        This is technically true, but at most small nonprofits that I’ve been involved with, attitudinally, the entire board is deferring to the staff leader (in my case, the title is usually Artistic Director), and it would be more likely for the entire board to resign than for the director to be removed as the organization is internally and externally perceived as “theirs.”

        In fact, I was part of one of those mass resignations once. Almost the entire board left along with most of the contractors who performed most of the work, eventually leaving just the Founding Artistic Director holding a dormant company’s paperwork. He let the state registrations lapse (as far as I know), moved to a new state, and started an organization with a regional variation on the original’s name. That’s how proprietary these things are perceived to be.

        1. I’m a victim of a board*

          Oh boy, I was on a “fun” board and then all these HUGE problems came to light. It turns out the board absolutely can fire an executive Director and they don’t “own” the nonprofit. It’s brutal though, and multiple boards before ours resigned en masse.

    2. 'Enry 'Iggins 'Ead*

      A friend had an issue like this where she was chairman of our Village Hall. Most of the rest of the committee was your basic bunch of Karens, Moaners, and BusyBodies who would often dramatically resign over issues like the wrong font being used. We were saying to her to for years to leave it but she would say how everyone needed her and she felt guilty. Cut a long story short she finally stepped down after several years and the difference it made to her was amazing, she said she was sleeping better, less anxiety, more able to enjoy her time off etc etc.
      Best thing she ever did. If you aren’t enjoying it you have to leave now and I mean now, like right now. Imagine how you will feel the day you let it all go – that’s how much you need to go now.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        After several years apart due to COVID restrictions, my retired parents flew halfway across the US to see me, and the minute they arrived at my apartment my dad connected to my wireless network and joined a several-hour zoom meeting about budgets for some committee.

        OP, take a moment to visualize how it’s going to feel to set all this down and walk away, then do it.

    3. T.*

      Bring cookies, wine, whatever is appropriate to the mtg, interrupt the agenda at the beginning and give a nice “I’ve loved working with all of you and how you will direct the cmte without me so let’s appoint a new chair now. I brought these treats to celebrate the work we’ve done together”

      1. Enai*

        Excellent suggestion! Just steamroll them with refreshments and a goodbye!

        Though you really, really shouldn’t have to do that. You resigned in December. Their denial is their problem.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          It sounds like Sarah is setting the agenda and possibly intentionally not putting that first. How the chair doesn’t control the agenda, I don’t know..

          1. Artemesia*

            Don’t ask. Do. Set an agenda and send it to everyone. Let them know that you indicated you were done in December a year ago and so it is time to select a new chair. Pre-empt any maneuvers by Sarah to set a different agenda.

            Then make it your last meeting. I have been in a similar situation and people don’t step up and get this done until you stop agreeing to extend your time. If possible schedule a little vacation at the time of the next meeting. Go to Paris — or go visit a friend in another city — or close the blinds and stop answering the phone. But make yourself unavailable. They will deal.

            And refuse to discuss the organization with Sarah after this — ‘it is just to stressful for me to keep focusing on the ORG — let’s talk about something else.’ The friendship may or may not survive.

        2. Tammy 2*

          Yes, this! As the chair, the agenda is under your control. Handle the replacement first–if you can pass the gavel to a vice-chair or another officer for the rest of the meeting, all the better.

          Although really, you’ve given more than fair notice and are well within your rights to be unavailable for any further meetings.

    4. ursula*

      As a nonprofit ED, it is not normal for Board members to be “responsible” for recruiting their own replacements. That’s just not how it works! Board development is a shared responsibility between the Board as a whole and the ED (and at the end of the day, I would say it’s the ED’s job to keep on top of it, because they’re the one whose life gets harder when they have a poorly composed Board). I have had Board members resign by email, effective immediately, after long terms, and I’ve had members give me a year’s notice. It’s just part of the deal with nonprofits – you have to bring on new Board members now and then. You have given a lot of time and love to this organization; the ED should say thank you and let you leave graciously.

      1. Blue Pen*

        Not every nonprofit organization has an ED, though. The board I served on was a real and true working board without one—meaning, the org’s vast majority of admin work (fundraising, recordkeeping, communications, etc.) was done by board members.

        1. MsM*

          Even in a working board, though, it’s not supposed to be one person’s job to handle recruitment. And you certainly can’t set it as a condition that “you’re not allowed to leave until everyone else agrees that’s okay.” Emergencies come up. People burn out. An organization that isn’t equipped to handle turnover isn’t in a stable enough place to be worth sacrificing the rest of your life to keep it going.

          1. Blue Pen*

            Oh, I totally agree! I’m just speaking from my own personal experience. I did burn out on the working board I was part of—one that didn’t have an ED.

          1. Lexie*

            The executive director handles the day to day running of the organization but they report to the board. The board chair should be setting the agenda and running the meetings. I’m wondering if Sarah is the original founder, if so that could be why the board is giving her so much power over them.

      2. Gal Friday*

        Every non-profit I’ve worked with has had board sub-committee focused on nominations and succession planning where the ED fully participates. Who is the vice chair on this board? That’s the typical successor to the chair and he or she knows what they are committing to.

        I agree, the ED is not focusing enough on board development and that’s when you have these situations.

        1. Birdie*

          I’m going to take a guess that the Board OP1 is on is a “friends and family” Board, and that Sarah is the founding ED. So much of the work I do now is with these sorts of organizations, and sometimes they REALLY hate my recommendations because that means adhering to (or even implementing for the first time) Board terms, establishing officer positions beyond Chair, creating committees including a nominating committee, etc. Board leadership should be working WITH staff leadership to set meeting agendas, but the Chair must be the one leading the actual meeting. Bringing on Board members that don’t have a personal connection to the founder and/or ED is crucial.

          But I see these sorts of things every single day. I ask organizations for their bylaws to see what the Board term limits are. If they’re listed, I ask if they’re being followed. If there are not term limits, I strongly recommend enacting them. I ask how many Board members are “independent” meaning no relationship to Chair, founder, or ED. I ask who is chair of the nominating committee, and what is the process for nominating and voting new members. Same with voting new officers.

          So many people don’t realize nonprofits are businesses. Yes, they’re supposed to do good and not enrich people the way for-profit businesses do, but they are still businesses. As a result, so many nonprofits get started because someone has a passion (yay!) but they are poorly run and wholly unprepared to follow even the most basic best practices (nay!). They either fail, or they get 5-10 years down the road, hire a consultant so they can “take the next step” only to get very mad at the consultant for recommending significant changes. People can be very possessive of “their” nonprofit and sometimes feel like they’re being attacked or pushed aside when I say things like “You really need to stick to the board terms outlined in your bylaws, so let’s figure out how to give gracefully exits to Ed, Sally, and Jane.”

    5. No Yelling on the Bus*

      Nobody seems to be commenting on what seems obvious to me…. board terms???? I know plenty of boards have unspecified tenures, but plenty ALSO have specific terms. Some officers on a 1 year rotation, others on 2, or 3. The objective is to ensure that they’re not rolling off at the same time, and it’s not per person, it’s per office, e.g.: treasurer on 3 year term, legal on 1 year, secretary on 1 year, etc.. People can renew, of course, but this way there’s always an end to the term and a plan for what happens after that, and you control which functions/officers have overlap. If that’s not in the bylaws, write it in! You’re the Chair!

      1. Cat and dog fosterer*

        This has a very strong flavor of many board members staying on longer to help through Sarah’s illness, and they are now burnt out and all want to leave at the same time because they can’t keep going. While board terms would be a good idea in future, they wouldn’t have helped resolve this situation. Terms less than 3 years often cause too much turnover, unless board members tend to renew.

        The illness-related mass burnout is what happened to me a couple years ago, when animal rescues were already having to do a lot more work because of covid and then a rescue’s founder got ill and asked myself and another volunteer to do a lot of her work. After a year we burnt out and left (I didn’t leave completely, rather I continued to volunteer but only with adoptions because I wanted to assist animals in leaving the rescue).

        I also saw a lot of retirements at work last year, because people were staying around to help through the crisis and then as soon as it was over they needed to take their retirement.

        1. Cat and dog fosterer*

          To add for LW:
          Stepping away from that volunteer work was one of the best things that I ever did for myself, because I didn’t realize how miserable I’d become with the stress and extra work. I was So.Much.Happier and found joy again when I had time and energy for both chores and hobbies. Unlike others I doubt that your friend is doing this because she’s manipulative in a bad way, rather she’s likely passionate about the work and potentially physically and mentally tired from her illness, so she wants the charity to continue in a way that is manageable for her. As I just mentioned, I suspect other board members also stuck around like you did, and are now burnt out and also wanting to leave, so she’s struggling with how to cope. She may not have a lot of time and energy to recruit and train new board members, but that situation isn’t your problem to solve.

          Set your boundaries, maybe offer to do something small as a bridge (for example offer to spend an hour with a new board member once they’ve officially joined, but don’t offer to help with recruitment as that can be stressful), and then enjoy your new freedom.

      2. Jaydee*

        I’m on a fairly small, working board of an organization (the only paid position is the part-time ED). Terms of office are 2 years, with about half the positions being elected in even-numbered years and the others in odd-numbered years. We had one position that was vacant for a couple of years (other board members covered the duties unofficially until we found someone to fill the position officially).

        We also had a couple of board members leave mid-term recently due to personal or work situations, and they did not give 12 months of notice. It was either notice that they were stepping down immediately or notice that the next board meeting would be their last one. We made it work. There were tasks that had to be reassigned, and certainly we miss them and their contributions. But if there is one person whose presence or absence can make or break a board’s success, that board isn’t actually functional.

      3. Miss Muffett*

        I ran a board once where we chose the officers every year (often the pres served multiple years bc no one wanted to take the lead) but we had overall term limits so that helped provide a clean break.
        Secretaries – taking the notes for the meeting – was always remarkably hard to fill. Best rule I ever implemented was that if anyone ever criticized the meeting minutes for anything non-substantive (grammar or spelling that didn’t impact the meaning) they got to be secretary that meeting. I’m a grammar and spelling FREAK and cringe at a misplaced apostrophe, but would never want to feel like someone doing this as a volunteer would have to be self-conscious about minor stuff like that! Of course I had to institute that rule after one person had repeated minor corrections. Ugh.

      4. Governance Matters!*

        I was coming to say this, so yes! Term limits are very important for the long term health of the nonprofit as well. New board members with new goals, energy, and expertise are critical.

        I served on a nonprofit board for 7 years, chair for 6, and we helped the ED with operational issues that were not day to day, plus strategic guidance. It helped that we tried to get board members who could cover specific topics, like law, HR, accounting, tech, etc. If anything tripped over into a daily issue, then the ED would either need to contract with a professional or hire someone. Getting board member help more than two to three times in a month was not acceptable.

        Yes, it is difficult that the ED had health issues, but for the organization’s health, (1) OP should be thanked for their years of service and not feel pressured to continue, and (2) ED/the board should find appropriate assistance while the ED cannot fulfill all her job responsibilities. What OP needs to do for themselves coincides with what’s good for the organization.

    6. el l*

      Yes. OP, this is simple:

      Set a boundary – this will be my last board meeting, my resignation is the top item – and then stick to it.

      At the end of the day, the only person who can dictate how long you stay on this board is you – and it’s pushing midnight. You’ve been more than sensitive and helpful and have done everything you could. Time to go.

      1. allathian*

        I’m so sorry for your loss and I hope you can get the help you need to “weave the thread of your grief into the fabric of your life” as my friend who lost her child at about 30 weeks said a few years later.

        My friend couldn’t stand seeing pregnant people or babies for a couple of years after her loss, and seeing pregnant coworkers was particularly difficult for her. She went on to have two more kids who are now adults, but the child she lost has remained an important part of her life. Her grief is a part of her that doesn’t stop her from living a good and mostly happy life.

        She’s also a teacher (junior high, so 12-15(16) year olds here), and she’s said that the hardest time for her once the intense feelings of loss had passed was when the kids she taught were about the same age as her daughter would’ve been if she’d lived.

        1. Falling Diphthong*

          A metaphor that resonated with me was the boulder of grief. For a time the large rock is right in front of you and that’s all you can see. Over time it doesn’t diminish in size, but it becomes more part of the landscape around you.

          I’m sorry for your loss OP; this is incredibly hard, and I liked the advice to speak to your boss about speaking to her.

        2. TeaCoziesRUs*

          Your friend has a beautiful turn of phrase, and I’m writing it down both as a reminder and as a novice sewist. Thank her for her wisdom, and thank you for your generosity.

      2. Moo*

        I lost my final baby at 19 weeks in September and know this would also trigger me greatly. I am so sorry for your loss and hoping that the situation gets resolved easily without you having to do much, since the anxiety and overwhelming-ness of having to do something to “fix” it is nearly impossible to navigate alone.

      3. Jules the 3rd*

        I am so sorry for your loss. Your anxiety is not ‘Too Much’, I think you’ve been through pretty much the worst thing that can happen to a person, and your anxiety, and the rest of your reaction, is reasonable.

      4. Stinky Socks*

        Ok, but anxiety or not, you are legit **allowed** to have very strong, distressing feelings for a long time. I’m sure others here have awesome advice for you, I just wanted to share my deepest sympathies.

      5. iglwif*

        I can imagine it must be!

        I think Alison’s solution is a good one — unless your boss and the new mum are both total jerks, they will want to be kind to you in this situation.

        1. allathian*

          Absolutely! It’s completely normal and absolutely okay to feel strong feelings about the loss of your child.

          Typically anxiety symptoms often get worse if you “give in” to them and do what your anxiety tells you to do, and often the advice is to resist the anxiety as much as you can. But when you’ve suffered a traumatic loss, it’s absolutely okay to protect yourself (especially at work where the expectation is that you remain professional at all times) by avoiding the trigger as much as you can, in this case the coworker’s baby who’s the same age as the LW’s baby would’ve been.

  2. Gretta Swathmore*

    I had a coworker who was asked by our boss (many, many times!) to cross train a few of us on his duties. He had a unique role on the team and he was very protective of it. He figured out how to refuse every request, I think because he thought our boss wanted to get rid of him. I’m pretty sure she did want to, he was not a great worker and we suspect he was either sleeping, watching TV, or working a second job in his closed door office. He never did cross train anyone, and I’m pretty sure he was the one responsible for getting our boss fired (she also was a bad worker and was essentially taking off two days per week, relying on us to cover for her). He was the most manipulative person I ever worked with – ask him to do something he didn’t want to do (which was most things) and even if you were persistent, you could never get him to do it, he could always figure out a way not to.

    1. Chanel No. Pi (formerly Satan’s Panties)*

      Sounds very much like Wally, in Dilbert, who was based on a real person.

    2. AngryOctopus*

      I’m intrigued by the boss wanting to fire him while herself expecting her reports to cover for her being gone so much. Not that he did any work, apparently, but she wanted fewer people to take on her stuff?

      1. Lexie*

        Probably figured that if she replaced him with someone new they would be more willing to cover for her.

  3. WS*

    I’ve spent a lot of time educating and training my new supervisor on my work and our industry, and it’s been exhausting.

    Is there any reason to think that the new request is anything other than the supervisor recognising this and wanting to avoid it in the future? It seems like an acknowledgement of your efforts to me!

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Excellent point, WS! I’m the only person in my small org who does what I do and who comprehensively knows the system we use to record a lot of our information. I have had to train two new coworkers in how to do the data entry that I do so that they can cover for me when I’m out, and since I’ve trained them one has left and the other has transferred to another dept and no longer does those tasks. We have yet another new person starting (last week, actually) and I’m about to be training her in all that data entry…a third person in as many years…and yes, OP, it is absolutely exhausting, I 100% agree with you on that.

      That said, documenting exactly what you do and how you do it is going to make any future training for any other new colleagues you might have a TON easier. I set about documenting everything I do before I trained the second new employee, and it was great to be able to say, “Here’s how you do it, I’ll show you now and a couple more times after this, we’ll do it a few times together, and then after that whenever you are doing it on your own here’s the SOP for how it’s done.” She has said that the SOPs I created are very helpful, and when my boss, who also sometimes does those tasks when I’m out, came back from her FMLA last year she also found the SOPs helpful, as we’d just changed to a new system before she went out on leave and a lot of things had changed while she was out.

      OP, if written documentation is not your thing, could you create instructional videos instead? I personally prefer written instructions because I can read faster than most videos explain things, but I know a lot of people actually like videos because they can follow along and see what to do instead of just reading about it (though I include a lot of screenshots in my written instructions so I hope that clarifies things as well as a video might).

      Think of it this way, OP: if you write out the instructions now, that’ll make your life easier both when you a) have another new colleague you’ll have to train in what you do and b) decide you want to leave this job and have to train someone else in what you do before you leave. Or even if you don’t do a comprehensive training before you go, you’ll at least leave behind for the next person really great onboarding documentation. And a great legacy too; I have had a couple of jobs where the previous person left some great documentation behind for me and I am always grateful for their hard work.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        If you do decide to do instructional videos, *please* split them up into short videos/chapters. In my workplace, one of our critical systems has only one instructional video, and it is a 5-hour unedited clusterfudge.

        Don’t leave that as your legacy!

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Yes, I have several very specialized roles on my team, and at least two of them are not replaceable from the general population (we’ve tried, and there are fewer than 10 people in the US that are qualified for those positions – it’s a really weird situation). The incumbent has expressed to me that they are burning out and need help, but it’s not a type of help we can just hire for (and the incumbent is so busy they do not have time to train – we end up sending in shadows to take notes on the process while they do them). I have to hire people who have the ability to learn the subject matter and can work with the SME to document the processes they are doing, since my predecessor never bothered to do this in their nearly two decade tenure and we’re playing catchup. There is no way I can replace the person in the current role, I want to hire someone to help them and make sure we understand the process in case they retire and/or win the lottery.

      1. not nice, don't care*

        I’m stuck in this role. Too specialized for anyone to pick up even the basics fast. Too busy to train/document, not to mention certain aspects change regularly and require new documentation. Then add turnover, so the few folks I have been able to adequately train as emergency back ups are now gone.
        My boss is supportive, to a point, but not able to pull anyone off their jobs enough to train with me. I’m planning to pull back from some committee work this spring so I can work on documentation, but if I get hit by the lotto bus first, I will shed no tears at walking away with no one to take my place.

      2. I Have RBF*

        I’ve been the SME, documented the hell out of stuff, then a new manager got rid of me. The person who replaced me didn’t bother to pay attention during training or read the docs (I think because I appeared female, and they were male), and when they naturally screwed it up, blamed me!

        That group was a dumpster fire under that manager – 180% turn over in a year.

        1. Rainy*

          >100% turnover always sounds to me like people you didn’t even hire are walking in off the street to flip a table and then walk away while the papers are still flying around the room.

    3. ferrina*

      Unfortunately, I had a new supervisor come in and immediately want me to start documenting everything I worked on. At first it made sense- the organization was pretty chaotic, and she wanted to understand what was going on and bring some structure to it. But she stopped assigning other work to me. I would ask about future plans and she’d redirect to “just work on those SOPs, don’t worry about anything else”.

      She fired me. She wanted to restructure the team and I didn’t have the qualifications she wanted. She tried to claim I was being fired because I had made 2 typos in 3 months (one of which had even gone through the editorial department without being caught), but HR changed it to a lay off since my position was being eliminated.
      The thing that sucked even more was that I had helped her get that job, and I was really looking forward to working with her.

      1. Artemesia*

        Any time your spidey sense indicates you might be fired take it seriously and start gearing up for a search. I stupidly didn’t realize that when people come to your office and start putting little numbers on all the equipment for ‘inventory’ that this is a very bad sign. The merger wiped out several departments of which I alas was in one.

  4. learnedthehardway*

    OP#4 – it doesn’t sound like this is a ploy to get you to divulge how to do your job so that you can be replaced. It sounds, instead, like your coworker feels like your manager doesn’t understand what goes into doing your job, and feels you need to educate your manager about what your role entails – if anything, this should protect your job and ensure that your manager knows how to accurately evaluate how you’re performing.

    That said, you don’t need to go into micro-detail about what you do. You could break things down to a level that illustrates the complexity and time your job entails, but doesn’t give step by step instructions. Eg. Llama Grooming might entail things like set up llama grooming station (30 min in the morning), corral llamas (10-45 minutes, depending on llama cooperation), groom llama (25 minutes x 15 llamas), health check of llamas (10 min per llama, unless problem discovered, then 30 min) = Whatever the math equals.

    Doing this lets your manager know the overall work effort and time your job takes, but it doesn’t give details anyone could actually use to (say) outsource your job or replace you.

    1. münchner kindl*

      Yes – a list of job duties and rough percentage of how much time they take is standard, and a good way for both yourself and your (new) boss to get a good picture.

      So it would be TPS reports, 10%, once a week, lama grooming, 40%, every second day, with one line each “requires access to software, requires lama grooming certificate”.

      A detailed instruction manual, is quite different, but should also be standard in a well organized workplace in case the lottery bus meets you. If you can’t be replaced, you also can’t be promoted, or reduce your hours or …

      A manual would be “to produce TPS reports, log into software DATA with login provided by manager, click on button 1, enter date, ….”
      “to groom lamas, follow the standard training that all certified lama groomers know; brushes are in the closet in the southwest corner; special cases are lama Grouch who spits”.

      That still doesn’t replace you under good management; and bad management will fire people even without any manuals at all (we’ve had many stories of people being fired despite several people telling new boss that this role / person was very important).

    2. Sloanicota*

      This letter was interesting to me. On one hand, if OP is having to do this much work to explain her role to her boss, perhaps she should be concerned that she’s not valued – most bosses prioritize roles that are obviously necessary. But the list thing has nothing to do with it, from my perspective. It wouldn’t hurt OP to casually start looking around, if only because it sounds like their job has become less enjoyable since this new boss came in.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        The list thing has nothing to do with it.
        I think this is the key. If OP has correctly sussed out the vibe and they are gearing up to lay OP off, then the eventual appearance of a list of tasks isn’t going to be the key hurdle that allows them to finally do that. (And if anything, in that context I would think the advice to make a list was intended as a way to explain to management the many unseen parts of her role, and improve her odds of being retained.)

      2. Jaydee*

        I don’t think it necessarily follows that OP or her job aren’t valued. It could just be that what OP does is different enough from other functions in the same department or from other things the supervisor has previously done that she just doesn’t understand them.

        When we had some leadership changes in my organization a couple years ago, my new supervisor (formerly a peer, but he was part of the big llama programs team and I was the only person working on the alpaca program) came to me and said “I don’t really know much about alpacas. So help me understand what you do.” He genuinely wanted to know about my work so he could understand my program, advocate for it with upper management, and help me solve problems I was dealing with. My program had different funding, different regulations, different vendors, and different partners (some overlap on the partners) so he couldn’t just assume it worked the same as the llama programs.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, my understanding is that a new manager not knowing the specifics of your role is pretty common.

          Though to be honest, I’ve mostly worked in organizations where managers used to be in my role. That had its own set of problems: often they were good individual contributors and hated managing!

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      A frequent observation here is that people who are not managing don’t know all the tasks going into managing–on being promoted into their boss’s role they discover that supervising themselves was a very small part of the overall duties. This request is the flip of that–the new boss from a different department doesn’t know much about what the person they are supervising is actually doing.

      OP, another frequent observation here is that people have made far more detailed documents after giving their notice, and yet months later they are being called and asked to explain where things are and how to do tasks.

    4. OPReplying*

      I’m being asked to go into detail about how I accomplish tasks. It feels like the kind of thing you do when you resign and you want to help the next person get off to a good start. I’m not eager to contribute to my own demise.

      1. Artemesia*

        I think you are smart to be concerned and should be ready to go and already starting a search. Can’t hurt, but will help you land on your feet if this happens.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        I hope that’s not the case. Unfortunately, if they’ve decided to get rid of your position, I don’t think that dragging your feet on this will help, and it might tank your reference.

        If you are laid off, it probably isn’t a personal decision, and your company doesn’t owe you loyalty. On the other hand, you don’t owe your company loyalty and should find a job where you feel valued.

      3. Observer*

        I’m not eager to contribute to my own demise.

        It doesn’t mean you get to refuse.

        However, think about it this way. It is absolutely to your benefit to comply. Because refusing will give them an excuse to fire you for cause (which means no unemployment insurance and a formal bad reference), and you can be sure that it’s not going to keep them from firing you if that’s what they are after.

        On the other hand, whatever their reasons for asking for this, you come of well by just doing it, and doing it reasonably well.

        At the same time, it sounds like you should be looking for a new job regardless. When you start feeling like your company wants to push you out, it’s probably time to leave, even if it turns out that that’s what they are trying to do. And leaving on your own terms is always miles better than being pushed out.

      4. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        I’m not sure why you suspect they would fire you, and then replace you with someone else doing your exact same job. That would usually be a waste of time and money for a company. It can happen, but there’s usually other clues you haven’t indicated that they personally have it in for YOU. A well-written job description and justification can be a benefit to you. So many times, we just keep doing something because it’s always been done, rather than analyze what we’re doing and what benefit it has.

        In my experience it works out better in the long-run to cooperate with requests like this. I’ve had 2 colleagues who couldn’t (or wouldn’t) explain in this kind of detail what they do. Both were put on a PIP and then let go. Turns out, they tended to spend most of their time making excuses as to why they couldn’t do any of the work they were asked to do and redirecting tasks to others.

        My other coworkers and I were also asked to write up what we do and how long each project takes, and turns out job creep had made our job descriptions absurdly wrong. Most of us got pay and title changes that accurately reflected our jobs, while also highlighting that a few of our projects were just time-wasters — a lot of work without much benefit to the org. Our boss then was able to present this to the higher-level and have some of the ridiculous job creep removed from our plate, while also recognizing all of the beneficial work we do that was sometimes being credited to other departments.

        1. OPReplying*

          After my position was realigned, my supervisor and HR refused to review my job description, so at the moment it’s wildly inaccurate. My position was created before my supervisor’s role was created, so it encompasses my role plus my supervisor’s. So maybe this request makes more sense if I think it from that perspective.

  5. Observer*

    #1 – Want to leave the Board.

    You are not Sara’s employee, and in general the relationship between a Board and it’s members is totally different from the relationship of any organization and its employees.

    You have zero obligation to recruit a new Board member, much less find a replacement Board. Technically, you don’t even have to attend the next meeting. I would not go that far, though.

    If your board normally gets the agenda with the meeting schedule / reminder, make sure that your resignation is at the top of the agenda. In any case, explicitly put it as the first item on the agenda. Then you announce your resignation. And state that this is your last Board meeting. Discuss the status of any work that you are involved in and let people know where any documentation is. Depending on how it goes, you can put forth any suggestions you have, but you don’t have to have any suggestions either.

    If Sarah somehow manages to keep you from officially announcing your resignation, just send all the members of the Board an email stating that this was your last meeting, and you are sorry that it was not properly announced. It’s not going to make Sarah look good, but if (or when) people ask you what happened, you should be honest that you told her a year ago that you were leaving that you reiterated at the end of 2023 that you were done, and only agreed to attend this last meeting to tie things up, but you had expected to actually announce your resignation at the meeting.

    Your obligation is to not be a chaos agent. The problem is that in refusing to work with you, Sarah has turned herself into a chaos agent. And that’s all the more reason to walk away.

    1. allathian*

      Yes, indeed.

      LW, stop worrying about being a good friend to Sarah because she’s using your friendship to try to manipulate you into staying. She’s not being a good friend to you, so you owe her absolutely nothing. Step away! If all else fails, resign by email to the whole board.

      When you finally do, the relief you will undoubtedly feel will confirm to you that it was the right decision.

      I strongly suspect, however, that your friendship with Sarah won’t survive your resignation. Sarah’s willingness to manipulate you to staying on the board shows that while she’s friendly and gregarious, she’ll most probably only remain your friend for as long as it suits her purposes. A true friend would’ve let you resign without trying to guilt you into staying.

      1. bamcheeks*

        I think it’s possible that Sarah is trying to manipulate LW, but from the described actions it also possible that she’s just not prioritising replacing LW or proactively wrapping up LW’s role and pushing her out in a way that makes it easy for LW. I think in voluntary roles it’s completely normal to say, “It would be really helpful if you could just…” and you rely on people saying, “I really can’t, I’ll finish on the 31st!” just the way the other board member presumably did.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I think I’d be a bit puzzled why OP accepted the Board Chair position if she was actually planning to leave imminently, which would make me think perhaps she wasn’t so serious about going. But as someone who manages a Board, I can tell you people do often quit while leaving you in the lurch, and there’s rarely a perfect time in a developing organization. Also keep in mind that term limits are best practice for a reason!

          1. My Useless 2 Cents*

            She accepted the Board Chair a full year before leaving. That is not an imminent departure. If the board is left in the lurch it isn’t by anything the OP is/has/will do, but solely because Sarah has refused to acknowledge or properly deal with OP’s resignation.

          2. fhqwhgads*

            I thought she accepted the position for her last year, ie a one year term. But who knows what’s normal this place.

      2. Just Thinkin' Here*

        This exactly – Sarah has already pressed her luck by guilting people into staying longer.

    2. DJ Abbott*

      I don’t know anything about the way boards work, but I think it’s important to let everyone know that you gave notice a year ago, so they won’t think you’re resigning without notice.
      I wouldn’t worry about if it makes Sarah look bad. She’s not concerned with you.

    3. Sarah, but not the one from the letter*

      It sort of sounds like OP has only communicated with Sarah, but she should let the entire Board know her end date, etc. and ask if anyone would step up to be Chair. In an email. Today. Or yesterday.

      This is one of the many reasons why Boards should have term limits. No one should ever feel trapped on a Board.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        Even with term limits, a lot of smaller organizations tend to waive those because they can’t find replacements. I was on the board of a small religious institution for awhile and people were constantly exceeding their term limit because nobody else wanted to be VP of whatever. All it took was a specific vote at the congregation meeting (separate from the vote to approve nominated slate) to say yes let’s keep them on again and in my time there it was always unanimous to do so.

        1. SpaceySteph*

          Also, I moved to a different state before my term limit was up, but I did recruit my replacement. It’s hard to tell from the letter, but non profits and boards run the gamut from functional to very, very dysfunctional.

          1. Sarah, but not the one from the letter*

            I am a nonprofit consultant and that’s so true! Nonprofits are the wild west.

  6. ENFP in Texas*

    #1 – In addition to writing Sarah and CCing the other Board members that the next one will be your final meeting. since you are chairing the meeting can you dictate the agenda and put “Identifying a New Chairperson” as New Business Item #1?

    I know you don’t want to feel like you are leaving Sarah in the lurch, but as you pointed out, you gave her more than ample notice in order for her to prepare. You are not leaving her in the lurch, she has left HERSELF in the lurch.

    1. Observer*

      since you are chairing the meeting can you dictate the agenda and put “Identifying a New Chairperson” as New Business Item #1?

      You should absolutely do this.

      1. Bagpuss*

        even if OP is not able to dictate the agenda, if she is chair, she can start the meeting by saying something like “Before we start on the agenda items, so some of you probably know, I gave notice several months ago that I am stepping down the board, so this is my final meeting .In light of that, you may wish to identify a new or interim chair before we proceed with the rest of the agenda, or make arrangements to meet separately in the near future”

        1. JSPA*

          Yes! The letter writer is certainly not the only person who can follow the rudiments of Robert’s Rules of Order and bang a gavel.

          If the organization is not already essentially in freefall (noting that organizations are not immortal, and also that if one goes other, and the work is worth doing, another org doing substantially similar work generally pops up) they will get along with the business of selecting an acting chair, and doing a chair search.

          The letter writer has given far more than reasonable notice.

          Having trouble finding replacements willing to stay? It may be because people have gotten wiser to the problems inherent in, “if you were really a good person / really my friend / really invested in our mission, you would staaaaaaay,” and can smell this “leadership by guilt-trip” stench emanating from the director.

          In that case the best possible thing for both the director and the board is to have the board recruit people who are NOT personal friends, so that they have the working parts to run a healthy board with more reasonable interpersonal boundaries.

    2. AnonInCanada*

      You are not leaving her in the lurch, she has left HERSELF in the lurch.

      Exactly this. Sarah’s been using OP#1’s friendship as a way to not have to deal with chairing or running this board. She’s stalled OP#1 long enough. A little tough love is in order.

  7. Observer*

    #2 – Problematic student worker.

    PLEASE tell her the truth. The truth is that the funding issue was real. But that had she been good at her job, you would have gone to bat for her. But you are not going to expend either effort or relational capital (with the funder) to go to bat for someone who does not pull their weight. And you are telling her this because what you are describing is totally normal – and is generally considered appropriate management.

    The issue is not that she was not “passionate” about the work. But that she was not putting in the work she was supposed to and what she was doing was of poor quality. That’s generally a recipe for not getting retained at good jobs.

    1. English Rose*

      Yes exactly. I get being concerned about difficult conversations, but this student worker needs to hear the unvarnished truth about the basics future employers will expect of them – being on time, doing high quality work and the rest of it. The message hasn’t got through yet.

      1. AngryOctopus*

        Yep. She may not have wanted this particular job as a student worker. Maybe it didn’t align with her program, but it was all the work-study had to offer. But it’s a kindness to tell her that she still has to put in the effort and do a good job at her duties. She may hate a couple of job duties in her first real post-college job, but she’s still going to have to do them and do them to the satisfaction of her employer. Let’s be honest, that’s something you do have to learn in a job! You can have to take a class you hate to graduate, but a C is still passing so you don’t have to put the effort in if you don’t want to. You can’t half-ass a job duty and hope that nobody cares.

      2. Metadata Janktress*

        This. I see part of my responsibility as someone who manages students is to model what is appropriate for the workplace. That means I give direct feedback about staying on task/not pretending to work, showing up for shifts, etc. and hold them accountable for not doing these things–I have gone as far as to fire students who did nothing and pretended that they were working for multiple shifts in a row. This doesn’t mean I have to be unfeeling or not take circumstances into account. If they have a ton of papers or it’s finals week, I’m fine taking last minute call outs and during the pandemic lockdowns, I got much more lenient because come on, no one is going to be at their best. But they need to know appropriate expectations. It’s not fun feeling like “the bad guy,” but clarity is kindness.

    2. JSPA*

      I think I would incorporate something that can’t even remotely be twisted to mean, “we didn’t bother to advocate for you. ”


      “to advocate for people whose funding is being denied, we need to be able to point to something particularly excellent, or at least rock-solid, in their performance. Your job performance here didn’t give us something like that to work with.”

      True, you didn’t advocate for her. And that feels like a punitive choice. But that’s the wrong framing.

      You didn’t do it for her because you could not honestly do it for her, on the facts of her performance.

      The people you did it for, you could honestly and effectively advocate for them, so you did it.

      Remember, you’re not required to try to sweep back the tide with the broom, just because you swept the front stoop with a broom.

      1. Smithy*

        Yes….I have to admit, I’m a bit torn about telling her that the department didn’t go to bat for her due to her performance as a siloed reason.

        When I was a student employee – work study was how I had any money as a student. And that’s the money that paid for my laundry, toiletries, and essentially everything else not covered in basic “room and board” fees. In the same way that a student job gives more grace on some pieces, the fact that none of the corrective guidance included the reality that if she didn’t drastically change her performance that a university employee wouldn’t advocate for her to keep work study sounds incredibly punitive. Particularly if this is an undergrad institution where getting a non-work study position is harder (i.e. a campus more remotely located – where I went to undergrad, if you didn’t have a car and didn’t have a work study job, the other options were super limited).

        And while the OP’s feedback may be true and delivered kindly, depending on if this student complains – I could see a situation where the decision to advocate for continued work-study becomes mandatory because of how punitive that choice can be perceived. Especially when it might be possible that even if staff did advocate, it doesn’t guarantee that exceptions would be made.

        Personally, I think that if when this student leaves, the OP shared that they understand this was just a job to collect work study funds – but that the OP won’t be available to provide a professional reference (beyond dates of employment) due to issues discussed, that would still send the message. It would focus on the lackluster work performance, and doesn’t put the OP in a position to be challenged for perhaps not engaging more strongly on the reality of work study that does include advocating for students.

        1. Observer*

          Personally, I think that if when this student leaves, the OP shared that they understand this was just a job to collect work study funds – but that the OP won’t be available to provide a professional reference (beyond dates of employment) due to issues discussed, that would still send the message.

          No, it does not send the message clearly enough. Because it simply does not matter that this is a job “to collect funds”. That is what *most* people have jobs for! But they still have to show up, call out timely when stuff comes up, and *do their job* when they are at work.

          and doesn’t put the OP in a position to be challenged for perhaps not engaging more strongly on the reality of work study that does include advocating for students.

          That’s a two way street. You advocate for students who hold up their end of the bargain. This student did not.

          1. Smithy*

            How someone chooses to treat students is their business – but to assume this is a situation where the student is that familiar with their work study financial aid, why it might go away, and what they’d need to do to retain support I disagree with.

            Work study financial aid doesn’t always coincide with someone’s parents moving into a significantly better position. And from what it sounds like to me, had this work study grant remained, Ciara would have remained employed. So the only reason for this loss of employment is due to where the funding would come from – not her performance.

            Fair enough, that’s a distinction that certainly happens in the real world – people funded 100% under one project will keep their job as long as that project funding is available. But if that project funding goes away or is reduced, they’ll only be kept on if they’re performing at a top level. But if that information is never shared or discussed with students, I do think it’s unnecessarily cruel to share that now.

            1. Observer*

              they’ll only be kept on if they’re performing at a top level. But if that information is never shared or discussed with students, I do think it’s unnecessarily cruel to share that now

              On the contrary, it’s crucial information. Because this is almost certainly not the last time this is going to be a potential issue for the student, and she *needs* to know that this kind of stuff happens. And not just in work study jobs. I’ve seen it more than once.

        2. Starbuck*

          It sounds like Ciara was pretty aware of the position she was in though; I don’t see where it’s reasonable for her to have expected differently? If she has an emotional reaction to LW saying “I could have done more but didn’t” that’s fair, but I don’t think it’s a problem that’s really LW’s responsibility to manage. They didn’t even say they did nothing – just that they didn’t fight as hard as they did for other students. So I don’t see how your imagined reactionary rule would change anything either.

      2. Future*

        I don’t think this phrasing will do her any favours. It wasn’t excellence she was lacking; the bar was far lower than that. She wasn’t kept on because she didn’t meet basic criteria. If she’s told she doesn’t demonstrate excellence she could easily just shrug and assume she did ok but not, well, excellent, and not necessarily make any changes.

      1. ElenaH*

        Did #2 at any point express a desire to continue doing the job beyond where the funding ends? That’s the only thing holding me up with respect to this answer. If she did, explaining why you didn’t fight for it is a kindness to an employee just starting out. But if she doesn’t actually want to continue in the job she’s kind of been acting as you would expect from a kid just punching a clock for their work study or whatever.

        1. Jackalope*

          It’s still important for her to know that her behavior will get her fired at many workplaces. As Alison said, with student workers you have to give them a bit more info because they have little to no work experience most of the time. At some point she will need to learn this lesson, and when she’s getting let go because of loss of funding that could have been reversed is a good time for that.

        2. Shift Work*

          I was thinking along that line too and wondering about OP’s expectations. It sounds like they were describing a “work study job”. Expecting a student to be invested beyond collecting a check is kind of a reach. The cell phone thing might bother me, but studying? I guess it depends on the job. Even when I was lifeguarding for my work study, we always had school stuff with us because if there was no one on the pool deck we were welcome to study.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Still, OP is comparing this employee directly to other student workers and finding her wanting, which suggests she’s not setting the bar too high. I could imagine an employer comparing a student worker to their new FT hire might need to be reminded of the bar.

          2. kbeers0su*

            I came here to comment about the whole idea of work-study jobs and the common misconception about them (similar to Shift Work’s comment). Because they are labeled as “work study” there is this idea that these jobs are cake jobs that can and SHOULD allow the students to study/do homework while they work. I can remember going to college 20 years ago and someone telling me exactly that- work study jobs are cake and you can expect to get all your homework done while you’re on the clock.

            AND THEN…I started working FT at a university (and have since) and I realize that this old idea/misconception that we’re still spreading around is hurting students in exactly this way. So, OP, I might add something to your talk with Ciara to help clarify that a “work study” job is not a job where you get paid to study. The “work study” title simply refers to the specific way it is funded (i.e. the employing department only pays a portion of the hourly wage, and the rest comes from federal funds). If she’s currently getting work study funding as part of her aid package, she probably will continue to get it, and she needs to be better prepared going into any future work study jobs understanding that it’s a job first and foremost, that her work should always be her priority, and IF she happens to have downtime and happens to be able to get homework done while on the clock…that’s the icing.

          3. Cyborg Llama Horde*

            While some work study jobs are things that you can just sit and do your homework, others have work that needs to be done, and sometimes no downtime at all. Based on LW’s description and the part about the funding situation, I’m guessing that this is something more like a student worker in a lab than the person who monitors the card reader in the dining hall.

          4. Falling Diphthong*

            There are a lot of work-study jobs where you are welcome to study if there are no swimmers/patrons/etc asking you to do anything. (So long as the student is good at disengaging and appearing ready to interact should one show up, which is a skill in itself–I once observed it being modeled at my local farmstand.) But plenty of jobs are not “sit and wait until someone asks you to do something.”

            And where that’s part of the role, defining the job down to that, while your coworkers are capable of turning to those other tasks without needing to be explicitly directed to do them each time, gets exasperating. I have supervised some students for volunteer things, and some of them I would trust to run the whole thing, and some of them have to be told that if they have completed items A and B on the list, now they should start item C.

          5. Observer*

            Expecting a student to be invested beyond collecting a check is kind of a reach.

            When that “investment” amounts to the basics of doing your job, it’s not a reach at all.

            The OP is pretty clear about the problems and that Ciara was doing her homework *instead* of the work she was being paid to do.

          6. Metadata Janktress*

            Definitely depends on the job. I’m an academic librarian that manages or have managed student workers who do tasks that may not require serious intellectual effort, like data entry and assisting with materials, and they cannot be studying while doing those jobs.

          7. Sara without an H*

            I’m a retired academic librarian. We hired work-study students for a lot of jobs. Our expectation was always made clear that they were free to study AFTER their assigned work was done. We also made it clear that, if they did a good job with routine work, they’d be considered for more interesting/challenging projects.

            My student supervisor had an onboarding speech worked out that included the phrase, “Yes, this is a real job and we expect you to take it seriously.”

          8. Ellis Bell*

            I agree with you that caring beyond the paycheck is an unreasonable expectation of a student job, but as for studying at work, it depends on the job. I got a lot of studying done at one of my student jobs, because it was taking late night bets over the phone for high rollers. As long as I was on form when the phone rang, I was free to read as much as I liked in the down time. I’d been promoted to the high rollers team because of my customer service skills, and since most of us on that team were students willing to work nights, management were very clear about our performance being good, and that studying was allowed. However, if OP genuinely needed the workers to look/be available 100pc of the time; well, some jobs are just like that. I would never have studied at my retail jobs. I think at student jobs you may only be there to get paid, but you should at least be earning the payment, and listening if your boss feels you’re short changing them. When OP speaks to Ciara, she should leave our any mention of passion or caring, and should instead focus on the work and reliability; if it had been better, there would have been more to say in her defense.

          9. Dust Bunny*

            When I was in college we were absolutely not allowed to do homework while working, no matter what the job. You were there to work.

    3. Marzipan Shepherdess*

      And please be prepared with specific examples of what she did wrong and what she should have done (and should do in the future) instead; being vague in the attempt to be nice will only result in her becoming frustrated (and probably convinced that she’s being let go because you just don’t like her as a person.)

      Learning to give constructive criticism is essential for you, LW2; nobody except a sadist ENJOYS telling an employee that they have done (or are doing) a poor job, but this goes with the territory of being a supervisor. And learning to accept and learn from constructive criticism in a gracious and professional manner is essential for ALL workers of every age and position! Presenting this student employee with the truth will benefit both of you.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        Your last paragraph. OP, you manage these students. That means you have to have difficult conversations sometimes. If you are not willing to, you aren’t doing your job. All you have to do is look back at all the letters from employees who are frustrated with situations because their conflict avoidant bosses won’t actually manage. It never helps, it just makes things worse.

        So besides having this conversation with the student, you need to have a conversation with yourself about job expectations.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        This. Even if you don’t consider yourself a manager; even if you never wanted to be a manager; you are managing these students, so this is part of the job.

        If you think you’re going to soften the message too much, Alison has lots of good advice about practicing saying the specific words (i.e. “you would have been let go regardless” instead of “serious issue”) that get across how important the issues are.

    4. Falling Diphthong*

      Student is at a great life point for getting walloped with a consequence, thinking “OH,” and maturing into different behavior the next time around. This could become an anecdote at which 30-year-old her shakes her head at 20-year-old her’s decisions.

      If everything can be explained as coincidental outside circumstance, it’s easy to drift along with that comforting explanation.

      1. Lisa*

        And it’s much much better to get that life experience now, as a student, than in their first post-graduation job. The stakes are lower.

    5. Coffee Protein Drink*

      Yes, this, please. Transparency is important. LW2 isn’t doing Ciara any favors by keeping this to yourself.

      As Allison said, if you take on a student, part of that obligation is for them to learn how to function well in a business culture like an office.

    6. Butterfly Counter*

      Right, exactly your last point.

      I read, “She only cares about the paycheck,” and winced. Yes, it’s a temporary job. Generally, a paycheck is all people care about with a temporary job. It’s not about her finding her calling being a student worker, but fulfilling the duties of the job in a professional manner. Focus on her lack of professionalism, not her lack of passion even if you think the latter is the reason for the former.

    7. Anonymous Koala*

      OP, when you talk to Ciara I’d also suggest that you avoid phrasing like “doesn’t care about work here apart from the paycheck.” I understand that you’re comparing Ciara to other workers at her level and I think it’s totally reasonable to expect a certain level of enthusiasm and engagement from all employees. But in today’s social climate (at least in the US) phrasing like that might make it seem like you expect an inappropriate level of emotional investment from Ciara (which I don’t think you do!). I’d stick to the facts of Ciara’s performance instead, and mention specific incidents that you addressed with her in the past, when you explain why you couldn’t go to bat for her with the funding.

    8. OP #2*

      Hi! I can clarify a couple things:

      – If it matters, this is in an academic special collections library. The students staff a reference desk about half the time, and then work on a project for the department the other half of the time. A lot of the students are doing really advanced work (processing archival collections, etc.); Ciara’s project is essentially data entry. A part of the problem might just be that she’s bored, but she hasn’t shown any motivation to work on a more challenging project and her work is pretty consistently sloppy.
      – Ciara did express an explicit wish in keeping her job past the end of her funding (which came up sooner than expected).
      – The students are allowed to do homework when they’re on the desk, but the problem is Ciara does homework while she’s supposed to be working on her project. (FWIW this is a work-study job, and I think kbeers0su brought up a really good point about clarifying expectations about what the “study” part of work-study means).
      – I said this in my post, but I’m in my mid-20’s and this is all very new to me. Thanks for your comments– they’re really helpful!

      1. Jaydee*

        Those are exactly the clear, specific, actionable things you should raise when talking to Ciara
        – It is okay to work on homework when at the reference desk IF there aren’t patrons needing assistance. It is not okay to work on homework when you’re supposed to be doing the data entry part of your job. This persisted even after you/former supervisor talked to her about it.
        – There were frequent errors in the data entry work that she did. Those caused X problems and/or required Y additional work to review and correct the errors. These errors persisted even after you/former supervisor talked to her about them.
        – Departments have some ability to advocate for extending funding for work-study employees, but generally they will only do that for employees who are consistently excellent at their jobs, not the ones who make repeated mistakes and have to be reminded not to do their homework when they’re supposed to be doing work.
        – That doesn’t mean Ciara is a bad person, bad employee, etc. It means this particular job probably wasn’t a good fit for her. Hopefully she’s able to find something else that is a better fit and can learn from this experience to have more success in that job.

      2. Gray Lady*

        As long as you’re here, would you mind clarifying something?

        A lot of people reacted to your comment “all she cares about is the paycheck.” I understand why — emotional investment and commitment to the mission are a bit much to ask for with a work-study job.

        But I initially read that not as your expecting a high level of personal investment, just that she should care about things like doing her assigned duties well, presenting herself as a responsible worker, etc. IOW, she should care about *doing her job*, not just hope that the paychecks kept rolling in regardless of how she spent her time at work. Is that what you meant?

        1. OP #2*

          Yes, I probably should’ve framed that better, and you’re exactly right! Many of the other students -do- have a high emotional investment in the work (i.e. taking initiative in their projects beyond just what we’ve asked of them, talking about continuing in this field after graduation, etc.), but I wouldn’t expect that of everyone. It’s just that, as you said,she doesn’t give any external indication of caring about doing her job well.

        2. LCH*

          i interpreted it as she wanted the paycheck, but did not want to do the work. like, she saw it as a way to get paid while doing her homework. there are definitely student jobs like this where is it perfectly fine because you just have to staff a desk without other duties. this wasn’t one of them (i also supervise undergrads in a library special collections).

    9. Arthenonyma*

      I really disagree with this and with Alison’s advice, and honestly I’m surprised by Alison’s take! What happened to “the day you fire someone should not be the first time they hear about the problems with their work”? The time to address Ciara’s performance issues was much earlier when she had a chance to correct them, not the day she leaves – and especially not in the context of “oh by the way we COULD have tried to get you more funding but we didn’t”. What is she supposed to do with that information except feel miserably humiliated that everyone just sat back and let her be bad at her job without ever saying anything?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        She’s been talked to! From the letter: “I have to constantly hound Ciara to not do homework on the clock, her work when she does do it is sloppy, and she’s called off on short notice a couple of times in the past month. I was warned about her disciplinary issues by my predecessor, who said that they’d had to issue written warnings to her a couple of times.”

    10. JJJJ*

      I tell my student workers (university library) that this job is partly to help them prepare for the real working word after graduation. So it will be a kindness to convey to her that the documented issues (calling out short-notice, poor work quality, etc) will hamper her in “real” jobs too.

      Talking to myself because I could have done a better job explaining that to a student this fall. They’d worked for me last year and did a so-so job in terms of productivity/attendance (I didn’t push discipline because other students helped get the project finished ahead of schedule). But those issues certainly factored in when this student asked to come back again this year. I was able to decline by saying that workload had decreased and we’d already rehired our (rockstar) students and were now fully staffed for this year. (And I know I’m more understanding if either of these students call out short-notice because their work quality/quantity is incredible.)

      Beyond that, you might take a look at your student positions/workload. Is it a situation where students *could* do homework if work tasks were already completed? I recalibrated my expectations toward the end of last school year and now let my students study for part of their shift if they’ve already completed certain other tasks for me first. It’s a win-win for us

      1. JJJJ*

        And I get what I deserve for not reading all comments (including OP’s follow-ups) before posting my own: it is a job where they can study *if* work tasks are done. And that’s the key point: Ciara isn’t getting those tasks done at all, much less done well.

        I did have something similar with a different student last year: they were doing rote work scanning books for inventory and a student had very low productivity. I normally let them listen to music/podcasts as a way to occupy their minds a bit, but had to tell this student not to. I, and other staff, also tried to do more walk-by’s to check if this student was working or just sitting. I was going to have a conversation with them about the lack of productivity, but they self-selected out of continuing to work so the issue resolved itself.

        1. Penny Parker*

          I also work in an academic library, and we hire tons of student workers, some on work study, and some paid through other funds. Since work study is given out on financial need, when our students run out of work study money, we continue to employ the student, but we pay them out of other funds. Not all campus departments have the budget to do this. We see that policy as a part of our commitment to support our students. Running out of work study funding in March is no joke to students who are dependent on this money for food, etc. That being said, we also view our student jobs as training for the “real” world after college. So, the expectations are that they will show up on time, do the job(s) they are assigned. It is ok that the student is just there for the pay (s0 are many employees) but that does not mean they don’t have to meet the expectations of the job. Ciara is apparently aware of her performance issues (she’s been given written warnings about her performance.) What she might not have been told (directly) that unless her performance improves, her job was in jeopardy of ending, and not being renewed. I would not tell her that we did not go to bat for her job to receive alternative funding, but let her know her funding for work study has been exhausted. I would also let her that in her next role, she can do things to improve her performance (outline the suggestions again) in order to meet (and maybe exceed) the job expectations.

    11. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yes, OP leave out anything about her being “only in it for the paycheck.” That is very normal and reasonable! Most people only do their jobs for the paycheck! If her work wasn’t good enough, then it wasn’t good enough and that’s all that matters.

    12. Tiger Snake*

      If nothing else, Ciara is going to want to use this as a reference when applying for future jobs. She needs to know if it’s not going to be a good reference.

  8. Anon for this*

    #3 I’m terribly sorry for your loss. I unfortunately can relate. I also lost a pregnancy late term. It was 7 years ago, and it was definitely the worst and hardest thing I’ve had to deal with in my life. I remember how painful it was to see friends and colleagues have successful pregnancies and healthy babies. Even two years later, a colleague of mine got pregnant, and I knew I should be happy for her – but it was really painful for me, still.

    I found comfort in people who had been through similar experiences – there are support groups, and your OB can likely direct you to resources. I recommend a therapist or counselor as well.

    Unfortunately, you can’t avoid babies or pregnant people. That’s not possible. I think you are going about this from the wrong direction. I don’t think you should tell the coworker (even indirectly) not to bring in her baby. I think you should work with a therapist on how to handle and process these feelings.

    I’m sorry again.

    1. Observer*

      Unfortunately, you can’t avoid babies or pregnant people. That’s not possible. I think you are going about this from the wrong direction. I don’t think you should tell the coworker (even indirectly) not to bring in her baby.

      Unfortunately, I think that this is true. I’ve had some traumatic losses of my own, so I get how hard this can be. But what happens when a student pulls out a picture of a sibling / nibling / other relative that’s the same age your child would be? What happens if a parent comes in to your area with an infant? etc.

      We tend to think of work as totally separate from the rest of our lives and in hard times, it can something of a refuge. And while that’s true, the reality is that there is some seeping through the boundaries even, perhaps especially, in a healthy workplace where people are not just interchangeable robots. Because while it’s healthy for people to have “worksonas” that don’t include every detail of a person’s personality, quirks and personal (outside of the workplace) dramas, it’s also healthy for people to actually be people at their jobs, with histories, relationships and even kids that make some appearance at work. And in a school there is the added layer of how much more of themselves kids bring to school. Assuming that this is K-12 not college, parents are yet a whole other layer.

      All of which is a long way of saying that it’s not surprising that you were taken aback by this person showing up with her baby. Also that it put you in a bad place. But this kind of thing is likely to happen again, and you need to figure out some way to cope with that. Therapy can be helpful in that regard.

    2. allathian*

      I’m so sorry for your and the LW’s losses.

      I don’t think that the LW should ask (not tell) the coworker not to bring her baby to work at all, but I do think that it’s entirely acceptable to ask her not to bring the baby to the LW’s department, especially not when she’s teaching a class right next door and can’t leave.

      That said, I’m in an area with similarly long maternity (for the parent who’s given birth) and parental (for both parents) leaves. Unless it’s “bring your child to work day,” parents generally don’t bring their babies in more than once or twice. I never brought my son to work as a baby because I wanted to keep my role as an employee completely separate from my role as a parent. At the time I had a very poor relationship with both my then-manager and the coworker who had the same job description as I did, and I had horrible anxiety whenever I went in to work. I didn’t want to expose my son to that side of my personality. When I returned to work when my son was two years old, my coworker quit within six months, and about a year later there was a reorg and I got a much more sympathetic boss and had no anxiety at work.

      That said, I agree with your suggestion to contact a support group and/or a therapist, because you can’t really avoid seeing pregnant people and babies out in the world.

      1. OP #3*

        Thank you for the thoughts and advice. I’ve definitely been getting some support.

        Mostly babies don’t bother me, I’m just so worried about melting down at work.

        1. Lilo*

          I absolutely understand not wanting to, but I seriously doubt anyone at your work will hold it against you. If I was your boss, I would be prepared for you to need some extra help and breaks. I did that for a trainee of mine who’d recently lost her mom.

          1. Fierce Jindo*

            It’s incredibly reasonable to not want to break down at work even if your coworkers won’t be jerks about it.

            OP3, I’m so sorry for your loss.

      2. Helvetica*

        I also struggle a bit with why the baby was in the office at all. Was it a one-time thing or will she be bringing the baby in constantly? And isn’t it reasonable, even without your feelings about it, that babies should not be in the office constantly? I understand the difficulty of childcare in the US but I don’t think this should be a regular situation on the whole.

        1. metadata minion*

          It’s not uncommon in my experience for new parents to bring their baby in for a visit at some point; it doesn’t mean they’re going to do it regularly.

          1. UKDancer*

            Agreed. One of my team had a baby last year and is on maternity leave. She brought the baby in for a team lunch once so we could meet the baby and say appropriately complimentary things. Doesn’t mean she brings him in all the time and it wouldn’t be appropriate if she did. Our workplace isn’t really designed for babies or children so we expect people not to bring them in regularly.

            1. londonedit*

              That’s my (UK) experience, too – people on maternity leave are entitled to a certain number of ‘keeping in touch’ (KIT) days during their leave period, and often people will use one of those to bring the baby in, have an informal ‘keeping in touch’ meeting with their manager, maybe go out for a coffee or lunch with colleagues. It’s definitely framed as a one-off or a special thing rather than a regular occurrence, and I’ve never worked anywhere where people brought their babies/children to the office on a regular basis. Maybe occasionally in the school holidays (along the lines of ‘Dad is bringing the kids into London for the afternoon so they pop into the office to pick Mum up for lunch).

              1. Sloanicota*

                I do think it would be possible to hint that perhaps the X department where they don’t even work and where someone suffered a recent loss might not be the ideal location to show off little Archie, how about the art room or the break room or any other location in the school …

          2. Helvetica*

            No, that was my point exactly – it seems more likely to me like the baby would be a one-time thing, not a regular happening. Their question, however, seemed to imply that they think it will happen again, and I’m not sure why that should be the case.
            To be clear, I am sorry you had to go through such an emotional thing at work but I would hope that it doesn’t continue happening and you won’t be having to spend your time around the baby, since it brings up such painful feelings for you.

        2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

          Yes, I was wondering this as well. I understand that sometimes when people have a baby they bring the baby in so the team can ‘meet’ them (although it’s hard to see what either the team or the baby gain from that meeting!), but it is so inconsiderate of OP’s co-worker to blithely do this and management should have had a word already. Yes, OP won’t be able to avoid babies everywhere they go. No, that doesn’t mean co-workers can just blithely upset her.

          1. Olive*

            The OP said that she and the coworker barely know each other. It seems highly likely that the coworker didn’t know about OP’s loss.

          2. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

            I think this is a really harsh read of LW3’s coworker. Everywhere I’ve worked it’s been fairly common to have a new baby meet and greet of sorts. What people “get” out of it is that, in my experience, coworkers want to gush over a cute baby for 5 minutes as a work distraction, the mom gets some adult conversation and engagement, and the baby gets a change of scenery / used to going places that aren’t just in their home.

            LW3 is going through a rough time, and she has my deepest sympathy, but I’d hardly consider what her coworker did an attempt to “blithely upset her”. After all, she didn’t bring the baby in AT her.

            1. UKDancer*

              Yes, I mean I’m not wild about babies and could live without them being brought into the office but people like a chance to see a baby and admire the cuteness and it’s nice for someone on maternity leave to have a chance to reconnect with colleagues.

              I think as a one off it’s fine to bring a baby in.

            2. amoeba*

              Yup. Also, I know a lot of women/mothers who at that stage don’t really spend a lot of time away from the baby at all (because of exclusive breastfeeding, because the partner is already back at work and there’s no childcare, because they prefer to…), so that’s basically the only way they get to come in to work and visit/hang out with/keep in touch with their colleagues. Pretty sure in most cases the baby couldn’t care less whether they’re going to the office or just having a walk in the park, but it makes it possible for the parent to socialise.
              And as for the coworkers – a lot of people are genuinely enthusiastic and excited to meet their coworker’s/work friend’s new baby!

              All that said, I’m sure most reasonable people would be horrified if they learned their visit was causing anguish to a coworker and more than happy to avoid that in the future! So yeah, Alison’s advice is great – ask somebody to discretely let them know, I’m pretty sure it won’t be an issue after. That is, if it’s a repeat occurrence, which I also don’t think is very likely.

              1. ad astra per aspera*

                This is a really unkind framing for a variety of reasons.
                1- This baby specifically was due at the same time as theirs, which they explicitly know. That’s recipe for stronger emotions than “random baby at a grocery store.”
                2- You can turn around and walk down another aisle at the grocery with ZERO repercussions. It’s much harder to maintain that kind of distance during an unexpected encounter at work.
                3- Politely asking to have the coworker not bring the baby to the office next door is not the same as “running crying.” It’s making an effort to minimize her risk of having a strong emotional response in a place where that would have negative consequences and where they wouldn’t be able to regroup easily—I can imagine few less-soothing places than facing a classroom.
                4. They are less than six months out from a tragic loss—I think they’re allowed to make their grief & emotional state about themself.

        3. doreen*

          The letter says the co-worker is on leave until 2025 , so I’m wondering if it’s not just a matter of bringing the baby in to meet everyone but instead a matter of the co-worker needing to do something in person at the office and not wanting to hire a babysitter so she can go to the office and pick up her plants or turn in her keys or whatever. Which is something that could happen again but still wouldn’t be constant.

          1. Princess Pumpkin Spice*

            It could absolutely be this. I remember when I was on mat leave and I needed to have my work phone updated before my first day. It was easier and convenient to just bring my baby with me for the 15 minutes I was there then to get a sitter for her, run to the office, run back to the sitter… it was just extra steps that weren’t worth it.

        4. iglwif*

          I’m in Canada, where we have more leave than in the US.

          While on maternity/parental leave, many people drop by the office once or twice to say hello and let everyone who wants to (which isn’t everyone!) meet the baby. Usually that’s because you like (at least some of) your coworkers and want to say hello and they like you and want to meet your baby. Sometimes it’s also to remind your team that you exist and will be back in a few months. In an office environment, it’s almost never because you are actually working and don’t have childcare.

          That said … when my kiddo was a baby, 20+ years ago, I dropped by my own office for visits a couple of times, took the baby down to my spouse’s office for lunch a few times, but also — on one extremely memorable occasion — came in to help interview someone while my staff babysat. That last thing was a 0/10 experience, do not recommend.

        5. Mae*

          I live in a place (Canada) with year long mat leaves, and its pretty standard to bring your baby in once during your leave to say hi to your coworkers and let them meet the baby. Definitely not something everyone does, but not weird.

    3. coffee*

      My heart goes out to you and the LW. I think your suggestion to seek additional support is a good one. I’d also suggest preparing some intermediary strategies.

      LW, you can’t leave the classroom, but can you close the door and position yourself in a place where you’re not seeing the baby? Can you have some kind of quick activity for the class while you regroup, like a “stretch break” for the kids, or an activity sheet? Can you play some music to drown out any background baby noise? Can you pause for a quick drink break? Perhaps your boss, your fellow teachers or some teachers in the comments here would have some suggestions.

      1. OP #3*

        Thank you. I appreciate the advice. I have spoken o my boss and he had a quick word with her and asked her to give a heads up if she is going to come in.

        1. Boof*

          Op you’re going through a lot and really showing an amazing amount of wisdom. I was going to suggest something like this; not making any requests/ hints to people with babies directly, but asking someone trustworthy who works closely with you to be able to give you a heads up and let you find some privacy / dodge the interaction

        2. sending love*

          I’m glad you did that OP. I think it’s a totally reasonable request and everyone will be understanding. I have a friend that lost a baby at 37 weeks and was due around the same time as another mutual friend who had a healthy baby. She didn’t meet that baby and kept her distance for a long time (9-12 months maybe?), and the other mom was very understanding. you’ve gone through something unimaginable and I think you can ask for some extra care, especially since the traumatic event was relatively recent. I know the first OP meant well in that you can’t avoid pregnant people or babies, but I think most of us (especially fellow moms) really want to know what we can do to best support people who’ve been through such a devastating loss and are willing to do what we can to make navigating your grief a teensy bit easier. sending you and your precious little one so much love and light.

        3. myfanwy*

          I think you’re handling this really well and I absolutely understand not wanting to break down at work. Being suddenly confronted with this specific baby while trying to be professional is not at all like passing a baby/pregnant stranger in the street. I’m glad your boss is understanding and I hope the other staff member is as well – I know I would be horrified to have made things any harder for a bereaved parent. Very best wishes to you.

    4. Viette*

      Yes, I think this is a challenging one because it’s very understandable why this is so intensely distressing to the letter writer, but as Alison says I don’t think the LW can ask the coworker to not ever bring her baby in.

      I would suggest that the LW might recruit a trusted coworker to help her not to change the coworker’s behavior to protect herself, but to change her own. Perhaps the LW could get a discreet heads-up if the (or any) baby appears in the office, in order to avoid it herself as she works through this? Awful as the experience was, going home was the right move for her, and if she had been able to do it before she was surprised by the baby, it might have been less awful. Even just knowing it was going to happen could have helped.

      It’s delicate. You don’t want to make your colleagues police the world for you, or make it appear that you can’t handle yourself — but in this moment you could use some help, and that might be help you can get.

      1. Op #3*

        Thank you. I appreciate your advice and empathy. It’s definitely a good idea and I think I have someone who would fit the bill.

    5. OP #3*

      I’m so sorry. Thank you for the kind words and advice. I’ve been okay with other babies, it really just seems to be this specific baby, because she is the same age my baby would be.

      I have been seeing a therapist as well, and we’ve worked through quite a lot. I think it’s still just very fresh. Mostly I’m okay, and then sometimes I’m not.

      1. Meat Oatmeal*

        Hi, there, OP3. I have no advice, I just want to honor your loss and your grief. A million hugs.

      2. allathian*

        That’s very understandable and most people would understand, probably including your coworker. Anyone who’s ever grieved the loss of a loved one should be able to understand the “mostly I’m okay, and then sometimes I’m not” stage of grief.

        About 10 years ago I lost an unplanned pregnancy in the first trimester. I was 42 years old at the time and I had very ambivalent feelings towards another pregnancy because I felt I was too old to have another baby, so I wasn’t particularly devastated by the loss and I went back to work as soon as I was physically able to, but the “what-ifs” did haunt me for a while. I hadn’t told anyone at work about my pregnancy so I didn’t tell anyone about the miscarriage, either.

        I absolutely don’t want to compare my situation to yours, but the weird thing was that when my coworker announced her pregnancy a few months later, it really threw me for a loop because I could barely congratulate her on her pregnancy before I had to excuse myself to go cry in the bathroom. I’m very glad that her announcement was the last item on our meeting agenda, in the “anything else” section. Her due date was the same week as mine would’ve been. When I got myself together, I sent the coworker a 2-sentence email to explain and apologize for my reaction, she replied with understanding and her condolences for my loss. We were able to work together without any issues until she went on maternity leave.

        Just before my coworker went on maternity leave, another coworker announced her pregnancy and I was able to congratulate her in a heartfelt way. The difference was astonishing, but I did make sure to wish the first coworker well when she went on maternity leave. I’m sure some of my emotional state after the miscarriage was caused by hormones, but the main difference was the timing, the second coworker’s pregnancy was just another pregnancy to me.

        I wish you well as you deal with your loss, LW.

      3. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

        “Mostly I’m okay, and then sometimes I’m not” is how grief works. The mostly will get more, and the sometimes will get less often. I’m so sorry for your loss.

      4. JTP*

        Hi OP, I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my pregnancy at 19 weeks, and it was really traumatic for me. I had to hide a close friend from social media because she was pregnant at the same time as me and had a healthy boy (I was also expecting a boy).

        I think it’s completely reasonable for your boss to ask your coworker not to bring the baby into your department — maybe email when she’s coming in, and your coworkers can go to the other department to see the baby.

      5. Observer*

        Mostly I’m okay, and then sometimes I’m not.

        That is SO normal. Now that you are back at work and having a melt down is (understandably!) not something you want to have happen, talk to your therapist about in the moment strategies for dealing with unexpected triggers. Because it’s really common that something unexpected will hit you. Either something you would not have expected to happen at work, or something you would not have expected to trigger you. It’s an issue for a lot of people dealing with deep grief. So I’m sure that your therapist should have some good ideas for you.

      6. Anon for this*

        “Mostly I’m okay, and then sometimes I’m not.”
        This really captures it, doesn’t it? I’m glad it sounds like you are getting the support you need and dealing with this in a healthy way. I initially did not – I thought, well, I’ll just be OK, time heals all wounds, blah blah. But then I realized I really wasn’t OK. It was actually the event in my life that made me realize that I’m not actually the best judge in the moment of whether I’m doing OK, or not, and I actually didn’t realize I had the capacity to lie to myself quite the way that I was, and that it’s okay to seek help even if you think you are OK.

      7. ENFP in Texas*

        “Mostly I’m okay, and then sometimes I’m not.”

        That is definitely how grief goes, and I hope you aren’t hard on yourself for it happening. It’s totally normal for that to happen. And sometimes even the most innocuous or mundane thing can trigger those “not okay” moments. =(

      8. iglwif*

        Completely, completely understand the specific painfulness of this baby.

        “Mostly I’m okay, and then sometimes I’m not” is a pretty perfect encapsulation of the grieving process IMO. It’s been like that for me every time I’ve lost someone.

    6. Laura*

      LW3, I am so sorry for your loss. I had a similar experience (loss at 22 weeks, the coworker I sat next to every day and worked most closely with was due a month after me) and having that point of comparison made it so much more difficult to go through the experience. Nearly 13 years on I can’t say I’m “healed” but time has very much blunted the wounds. I found the more I talked about it the better I felt but of course everyone is different.

      FWIW, I think it’s totally fair to speak to a boss or colleague and try to either get a heads up if she is planning to stop by or for your colleague to be sensitive about bringing her child in when you are in a space where you can’t just stop what you are doing to deal with it. There were definitely moments that I had to just get up and walk away when my coworker was complaining about stuff like lack of sleep from her newborn because I would have given anything to be the one in her position.

    7. Ellis Bell*

      I think people are forgetting that OP isn’t concerned about running into babies, it’s about running into them *while teaching*. If you’re actively teaching, it’s like being on stage. I know teachers get depicted all the time on screen as being able to walk off away from their class, but that’s not real life. OP can deal with and process difficult feelings if she’s just doing work at her computer, but I do think it’s unreasonable she be expected to do so while teaching.

      1. E*

        + I honestly was surprised by Alison’s answer. OP, so sorry you had to go through the loss and then this painful reminder. It seems to me your right to have a workplace free of this grief stressor should trump your coworker being able to bring her baby in especially when she’s on leave…

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Oh I think Alison was on the money in saying that a word with the colleague/boss would solve it. They are also both teachers and there’s no way they’re going to expect her to just power through serious grief WHILE they’re expecting her to teach. It’s also kind of understood when you work in a school that you bring in a visiting baby to the staff working area, and avoid disrupting kids/classes. The layout here must just be a bit unlucky in that way, but there’s another office! I don’t think what OP is asking for is unreasonable at all.

  9. Sleve*

    Sorry to read about your loss, #3. Any miscarriage is difficult, 30 weeks particularly so. Best wishes during this hard time.

    1. Angelinha*

      I’m sure you didn’t mean anything by this, but a stillbirth is not a miscarriage. It’s its own category of pregnancy loss for losses that occur after 20 weeks. A miscarriage is only those prior to 20 weeks. I mention this because calling it a miscarriage can sometimes come across as downplaying it, even though, as you note, a loss at any time can be absolutely devastating.

      1. allathian*

        Absolutely this. The cutoff used to be at 24 weeks, but the youngest preemie so far to be discharged from RNICU and to be declared healthy on his first birthday was 21 weeks + 1 day at birth (Curtis Zy-Keith Means).

  10. Two Fish*

    OP1 it sounds like your co-board members both set and stuck to their reasonable exit dates, but instead of taking this as a model and doing the same, you took it as further pressure to stay. You’ve done your due diligence, now say a gentle but firm goodbye.

    1. Firefighter (Metaphorical)*

      Yes! Take their leaving as an example for you to follow, not as pressure for you to stay. Good luck!

    2. Viette*

      And OP#1 can see that the board did not fly into a million pieces when they went ahead and left — not that it’s her fault if it does, but still, it’s an encouraging sign that actually things will work out somehow without her.

      1. Pastor Petty Labelle*

        And if the board does fall apart because the chair leaves, well, the organization wasn’t that viable anyway.

        OP, this is not your responsibility to keep the organization viable. WHILE you were on the board, yes. But now that you are not resigning, no.

    3. allathian*

      This, and the friendship with Sarah no doubt also complicated things. It’s often harder to say no when a friend asks/demands you to do something you really don’t want to do. Especially in cases like this, where the LW as the chairperson is clearly senior to Sarah.

    4. Sloanicota*

      Yes, it sounds like there’s been low turnover across the whole board for a long time due to the unexpected difficulties, so it’s really not very surprising that everyone wants to leave at once; don’t take that as a sign you can’t leave. it’s not bad for Sarah to remember that change is normal and healthy in a board, particularly as they’re all volunteer! A fresh new cohort of board members is not a bad thing, no matter what she’s thinking now. She gets to assist in recruiting new talent and fresh energy!

    5. Ellis Bell*

      It sounds like OP is waiting for a replacement and agreement that they’re okay to leave and I think that while this was understandable, they just need to not do that. Just leave.

  11. Fierce Jindo*

    Re the student worker, #2

    One thing that’s different about student workers is they need (and deserve) more guidance than people farther along in their careers. But another thing that’s different about student workers in a university/college setting is that after they’re fired, they’re still part of the organization. Maybe even part of the same department (if they were working for their major department, for example). So having an embittered former employee hanging around is a bigger deal.

    For this reason, I’d follow Alison’s advise *except* that I’d also emphasize that most of this decision was totally out of your hands. Walk the line between giving her the feedback that the problems with her work mattered and not making her think you definitely made a choice to let her funding run out. Maybe that’s cowardly, but it’s what I would do with a student who’ll still be around in my colleagues’ classes and so forth.

    1. Observer*

      Maybe that’s cowardly, but it’s what I would do with a student who’ll still be around in my colleagues’ classes and so forth.

      The problem is not that it’s “cowardly.” But that it’s incorrect and unfair to everyone. Especially as a long term strategy, this level of self censorship is going to make effective management far more difficult – and some of the people who will suffer will be other student workers.

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I don’t know if I’d use the “go to bat” wording Alison suggested. It sounds like Ciara is on work-study, so she knew from the beginning how much work-study funding she would have, and she’d know that extensions are never guaranteed.

      The LW should give Ciara some feedback, though, under the umbrella of advice to help Ciara get another job and be able to succeed. It doesn’t have to be punitive at all, just coaching.

  12. Viette*

    OP# 1 to paraphrase Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother: How can you stop doing this job?
    Step 1: You stop doing this job.
    There is no step 2.

    Initially you stayed on because factors outside of Sara’s control prevented her from preparing for your departure, and you were gracious and she was your friend. Now, you have to accept that it is within her control to prepare for your departure, and she hasn’t done that. There’s only one way she’ll let you leave, and that’s if you leave.

    I’ve been there, and it’s an extremely unpleasant-feeling thing to do, but your only other option is to keep doing the work, and you want that even less. Tell her once more that you’re going to leave, and then when you’ve got your hand on the door and she says she’s not ready, tell her you’re sincerely sorry and leave anyway.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Also if you don’t, there will probably be some other real crisis and then you’ll be helming the whole ship through it, already burned out. That’s not ideal. Consider it to be giving the gift of getting fresh energy to face whatever upcoming problems are ahead (maybe I’m biased by the fact that my small nonprofit kind of lurches from crisis to crisis haha).

    2. Random Dice*

      You can’t be a better friend to Sara than she is to you. Loyalty goes both ways, and she hasn’t been showing it.

  13. Brain the Brian*

    LW1: You are the chair. In any organizational structure I’ve ever heard of, you are senior to Sarah, and you get to decide the meeting agendas. (If Sarah or someone else has been doing that in practice, you can still overrule them and send out a new one.) Make “Chair Transition” the first item on the agenda at your next meeting, and refuse to consider any motion to move to the next topic until you have identified the new chair and determined a timeframe and plan to hand over your work.

    If Sarah balks, you can tell her privately that your work on the board is stressing you out to the point that you’re worried it will damage your friendship with her, and the value that you place on your friendship has made you realize you need to leave the board ASAP. It sounds like that has the benefit of being true.

    Good luck. Chair transitions are not easy even in the best of circumstances. This commentariat will be glad to provide more advice on specifics if you need, I’m sure.

  14. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

    OP4 (am I being quietly fired) – no, I don’t think you are being quietly fired. What I do think is this supervisor seems to be contributing very little and I’m not surprised you are exhausted after having to teach her your industry, etc. I appreciate that managers often need training on specific details and that they are bringing the “management skills” rather than specific subject matter skills, but she doesn’t seem to be bringing those either. And then when she does issue some management instruction (document your projects and what goes into them) it is communicated via your senior colleague (who is senior to OP but also reports to this supervisor, right?). Obviously you do not allow any contempt to come through in the interactions you have with her, but in your position I would have (and continually be reinforcing) a fairly low opinion of her. Contrary to being “quietly fired” I think you will be relied on more than ever, as the supervisor doesn’t seem to really understand the team’s work. I have to wonder about the history that brought the org structure to this point.

  15. münchner kindl*

    LW #1, the board – to me it sounds as if the organisation is half on fire. More than one board member quit, and there is a problem trying to find new board members sounds like several red flags. And Sarah not using ample time to find replacements, but manipulating you and the other board member to stay on longer?

    This is to me not the sign of a well run organisation, but one where Sarah manipulates people, and word is spreading so new members are reluctant.

    Just leave. If the organisation can’t survive that, it was already straining before and won’t survive long-term even if you stay; since you can’t do a complete restructure in a few months to save it.

    1. Uk girl*

      I second this comment. If your recent meeting was an AGM, election of chair should have been very near to the top of the agenda. For example: 1 apologies for absence 2 opening remarks 3 annual reports 4 election of Chair. Is there a Vice as is normally the practice? if so they take over as acting Chair until the next AGM. If you were to move out of the area they would have to carry on without you. The fact that so many other board members are departing does suggest there is something not quite right going on. I will add that people often will step up if needed while you carry on, they won’t do that.

    2. bamcheeks*

      It’s also perfectly normal for smaller organisations to function for months at a time without a full board. Sometimes it’s a sign of implosion, and sometimes it’s a pretty normal and functional state of being!

    3. tg33*

      It didn’t occur to me that it was the sign of an organisation on fire, instead I assumed that people started around the same time, and it was natural turnover .

      1. bamcheeks*

        Or just the natural exodus after several people have stayed a year or so longer than they originally planned to maintain stability through Sarah’s illness.

        1. Jackalope*

          Yes, this seems likely to me. Sarah may be pushing the OP to stay more than the others because of their friendship, and it’s possible she’s freaking out a bit because multiple people are leaving at the same time (more or less). That’s totally understandable, even though not the OP’s problem. But boards can be a lot of work and it’s normal for people to have other commitments come up, etc.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        I also think it’s likely OP was not the only person who wanted to resign but then decided they should stick around longer because of Sarah’s diagnosis. In that context I think it’s not only not surprising but probably expected that someone else gave their notice. I’m almost surprised it isn’t more people.

        It sounds like they already brought in two new people though so I don’t even understand what the issue is at this point honestly. Seems like if OP leaves they would be back at the same number of board members? I’m not sure why OP agreed to be the chair if they were already on their way out, but at this point they just need to set the agenda themselves and ensure that choosing an interim board member is the top priority of the next meeting and then leave it all behind them.

  16. Kella*

    OP#1 I just want to point out, if your reluctance to leave the board without all loose ends tied is in part motivated by a desire to maintain your friendship with Sarah, that is admirable but it’s worth noting that Sarah is not currently being a good friend to *you*. Repeatedly ignoring someone’s clearly stating boundaries, avoiding addressing the change in an attempt to stop it, and placing responsibility on you for everything, are not things good friends do. That doesn’t mean this friendship has to be over but it does mean that if you have a falling out, your withdrawing from the board just as you said you would more than a year ago, will not be the instigator of that fall-out.

  17. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    #2 A manager who chickens out of difficult conversations, whether out of conflict-aversion or trying too hard to be kind, is not doing her job as a manager and is being very unfair to her employee.

    If an employee risks being fired, or not receiving a bonus or grade increase, then the manager should have been telling her this clearly well in advance and also state the metrics to perform to the required standard.

    Such feedback is a a particularly important part of managing a student employee who will lack experience of job norms, but an employee of any age / level should be warned in time if their performance risks them losing their livelihood.

    1. Starbuck*

      I don’t know, it sounds like Ciara’s gotten a lot of feedback about how she’s been doing and what the issues are with her work! It would probably be a kindness if LW made it even clearer that these issues were not fireable in this limited position but would be at any other job. But some people aren’t going to really hear that message until they’ve actually lost the job; sadly Ciara might be one of them.

      “I have to constantly hound Ciara to not do homework on the clock, her work when she does do it is sloppy, and she’s called off on short notice a couple of times in the past month. I was warned about her disciplinary issues by my predecessor, who said that they’d had to issue written warnings to her a couple of times”

    2. iglwif*

      From LW’s description, it sounds like Ciara has gotten lots of feedback. It’s just not changing her behaviour in any meaningful way.

      Yes, as a student worker learning workplace norms she deserves extra understanding and feedback from her manager. But a student worker still needs to be making an effort to do the work they are being paid to do.

  18. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

    Ciara has been warned about her work multiple times, but has it been clearly stated that her contract/grant will not be renewed unless her performance reaches the defined metrics?
    As a busy student, she may have just ignored feedback about needing to work more if she does not realise there will be consequences

    1. Pinky*

      The letter is pretty clear the renewal of the grant was not related to her performance. OP might have influenced the decision but there is no guarantee it would have worked and Ciara might have had to leave no matter what OP did, so OP could just let her go without saying anything and her none the wiser. The issue OP has is whether it would be a kindness to inform her about the performance issue as a learning moment, or if they can let it go.
      Ciara has had several written warnings, I find it unlikely she did not understand those have potential consequences unless she is exceptionally obtuse.

      1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        The title is “Should I tell a student worker the real reason we’re ending her job?”
        “When I tell Ciara she’s being let go, do I have a responsibility to let her know it’s partly due to her poor performance as an employee? ”

        Reads to me like the OP thinks there would have been at least some chance of a grant renewal if she had fought for it as she did for the other students.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        As a student, Ciara may be lacking understanding of job norms that would be thought “obtuse” in someone experienced.

        Even non-students may have an exaggerated idea of how good their work is, or assume noone would get fired for e.g. repeating the same mistakes, or tardiness

        A manager should always explicitly warn if low performance may put a job at risk, not wait until it is a sure thing.

        1. Pinky*

          Sorry, but students are adults not toddlers, and adults of reasonable intelligence to boot. Actions had consequences in school, actions had consequences in kindergarten.
          I work in a uni of applied sciences, and this attitude is pretty insulting to all the students that are perfectly capable of doing a good job in work and their studies without someone spelling out to them that being *written up several times* is not good actually.

          1. bamcheeks*

            I don’t think this is a student thing. There’s a letter every month from a manager who says when pushed that they haven’t used the words, “If this doesn’t improve, I will terminate your employment”, and every six months from someone who was on a formal PIP and didn’t realise that not meeting the metric would lead to their job being terminated.

          2. Jackalope*

            The difference is that students (as opposed to people who’ve been in the workforce longer) have little experience at work and don’t have a way to have learned work norms yet. Things that can result in you losing your job might not be a big deal elsewhere, and things that can cause problems in a classroom might not even matter at a job. So it’s important to teach them the ins and outs of being a good employee, more so than with people who’ve had more work experience specifically.

          3. Esmae*

            Tbh it doesn’t sound like actions HAVE had consequences in this case. Being written up several times doesn’t seem to have affected her employment, her duties, or anything else about her work experience. As far as she knows, losing the position isn’t related to her performance at all. She deserves to know that her performance issues are a part of why she’s being let go.

          4. kiki*

            So something I’ve seen is that “written up” and “issued a written warning” might not look what Ciara expected and the consequences may not be as clear as the manager thinks they are. The manager understands that they are issuing a written warning of an issue to this person and building a case to fire this person. What Ciara might have received is an email basically saying, “Ciara, you are on your phone too much. Please be on your phone less,” with nothing defining how serious a written warning and that it’s a precursor to someone firing them.

            That being said, a conscientious person should understand that their boss telling them to be on their phone less means they need to be on their phone less, regardless of how close to being fired they are in that very moment. But it’s possible that the gravity of all these warnings Ciara has received is unclear to her. Especially if she assumes everyone gets these warnings once in a while or she’s received a lot of them with no action taken.

        2. The Other Dawn*

          “As a student, Ciara may be lacking understanding of job norms that would be thought “obtuse” in someone experienced.”

          I agree. Three times per year we take on one to two paid interns in my department. Some don’t need to be taught job norms, while others need certain things explained to them because they either haven’t held a job before, or the job expectations were very different.

          We recently promoted a team member, Mary, who will take charge of manging and training our department interns. She commented on an intern who has been with our company for a while; however, the person was in another department in a different location. Jane was apparently know in her former department as being kind of lazy, mainly because she’d spend a ton of time on her phone or walking around the office while she should be working. Or she’d show up late and not tell anyone she’ll be late. Things like that. After Jane had to be chased down when she didn’t reply to multiple messages from Mary asking what her schedule would be for the following week, Jane said she was taking vacation with family for the holiday and won’t be back for two weeks. There was no mention of this vacation at any point and there were multiple tasks of hers that were due while she would be out. Mary’s comment was along the lines of, “Shouldn’t Jane know better? Doesn’t she want to be conscientious?” I sat down with Mary and explained that while it’s obvious to us as people who have been in the workforce for 20+ years, it’s not always obvious to people who haven’t, or who have held previous jobs where the expectations may have been much different, or maybe they had a manager who just didn’t manage. I explained that part of us hiring interns is teaching them how work, works. Mary needs to tell Jane that notice is required when she wants time off, that she isn’t to be on her phone all day long when she has deadlines, and that she needs to not show up in her workout clothes. She doesn’t need a suit or a dress, but at least wear decent pants and shirt. Mary sat down with Jane and laid it all out, and there hasn’t been an issue since.

      3. Lilo*

        Having been a Work/Study student, if that’s what this is, she has an income cap that’s subsidized and then after if the employer would then have to pay her full salary. But the work/study employer could apply for a variance (at my work study job, as we got promoted our organization always went to financial aid and requested a variance because the more experienced workers hit their cap quickly). But after that, they just ended up paying our full pay.

        1. Lilo*

          Sorry, wage, not salary. We were all hourly.

          Again, if this is work/study, it is more normalized to be able to study on the clock, so if their organization is unusual from a campus perspective LW needs to communicate that clearly as well. and accept that some students will go those jobs with downtome.

        2. Smithy*

          This entirely makes sense – but I do wonder for students who hit their cap or fall out of work-study qualifications, I think the OP would benefit from thinking about how much of this they want to explain to all students. Because if this explanation was told to me after I’d been kicked out, I’d feel like I didn’t have access to information that would have been highly relevant.

          If this is a level of detail the OP has never explained or doesn’t want to explain more evenly to all work study participants – I do think just sharing that they can’t provide a professional reference beyond dates worked effectively communicates this reality and reflects Ciara’s performance. But going into how work study is funded and she just wasn’t worth advocating for….I find it far more punitive to share all this now and not earlier.

          I will never forget asking a professor for a reference, and getting a no that included a lot of detail around “if you want a reference, you should have done XYZ”. I knew it was a large school and professors had a lot of students – but this wasn’t an entry level class and if that’s what she wanted from her students, I would have loved to know that before the class started.

  19. N C Kiddle*

    LW 4, it seems a very odd conclusion to jump to that they might be trying to get rid of you just because they’re asking you to document what you do, especially since you said you’ve been pushing for clarity and it could easily be their first step to addressing that. Is there some other context that makes it seem more likely? Have you seen people pushed out in similar ways in the past?

    1. The Other Dawn*

      I’m wondering the same thing. I’m not sure why someone would jump to this conclusion unless there’s a reason, like having experienced something similar in the past.

      I’m a manager and when I started at my current company, I did the same thing. I sat with each team member and asked them about what they do within the department, among other things. I then sat with each person for a couple hours and had them show me how they do specific tasks. Not because I wanted to replace them, but because I wanted to see how it differed from my previous company (same subject matter and same applications) and to see if there were ways to streamline (something I was primarily charged with as part of the job). Although I explained all this upfront, I still had someone who was utterly convinced I was hired to replace her, which made no sense since I was a department manager and she wasn’t. She basically rage quit one day after taking something out of context and not bothering to ask me for clarification.

    2. ABC*

      I’ve seen some very bad advice on various social media/content outlets that was basically, “Don’t document or tell anyone what you do at work. That way, they’ll never be able to fire you because no one will know how to replace you.”

      I wonder if this LW has bought into that advice. Don’t fall for it, LW! It’s nonsense!

      1. kiki*

        It’s also something that technically can work– I do know some people who have really great job security because they’ve created a niche that nobody else understands or could really come to understand without taking quite a bit of time and effort.

        But it also makes those companies terrible to work at! Companies where lots of people operate like this tend to become rats’ nests of issues. It can also end up tying the person to a role or duties they don’t want anymore. Becoming “the only guy who can take care of X” might buy you some job security now, but it will become a tremendous pain if you get promoted and are still the go-to for a lot of your old duties.

        1. I Have RBF*

          Yep, I’ve been “the only person who knows how to do X, other than my grandboss”. I couldn’t take even a weeklong vacation. When I ended up in the hospital, then out on disability, they had to find someone else.

          The “bus factor” of that particular task was “1”. This is not a good thing. My current job has a bus factor of 2, barely.

      2. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

        Yeah, usually if the boss/company can’t figure out what you do, they just eliminate the position and THEN figure out whether or not your work will be missed. The colleagues I’ve seen follow this — who refuse or are incapable of describing what they do — are usually not missed when it turns out their “work” largely consisted of making excuses on why they couldn’t do a task and/or redirecting a task to someone else.

  20. bamcheeks*

    At the meeting, we did some regular business but ran out of time (I suspect by design) to talk about the chair position

    I’m confused by this if you’re the chair, LW! If you do attend another meeting, you can ensure that electing a new chair is the first thing on the agenda, or move it to the top of the agenda if it isn’t. That’s the chair’s perogative! You aren’t at any else’s mercy here.

    I don’t think anything you’ve said here is clear evidence that Sarah is deliberately dismissing your resignation or manipulating you, versus her verbalising that it’s going to be difficult when you leave, and you not simply saying, “Yes, I sympathise! But my last meeting will be the January one. I wish the organisation good luck, of course!” Just like the OTHER board member did.

    Yes, of course it would make her life easier if you stayed. But you will almost never be in a voluntary role where that is NOT the case. Part of being a successful volunteer or board members is being able to set those boundaries for yourself and to hear “we’d much prefer it if you didn’t leave!”, smile, wish everyone luck, and leave anyway!

  21. Cabbagepants*

    #1 oh dear, I had my own stint as president of a small volunteer organization at university. My fellow volunteers were all nice people and cared about the cause, and didn’t want to see it wither, but no one wanted the time commitment or responsibility of being president. People didn’t want me to step down because it meant a hard decision for them! No one was a bad actor and no one gave me a hard time once I made it clear that my decision was final. Hopefully Sara will be kind, but if not, then that’s her problem, not yours.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, I’m glad that I’ve ever only volunteered for stuff with a natural end point. As a college student, I volunteered with a student organization to tutor foreign exchange students who came to my college. This ended when I had to focus on writing my thesis and passing my final exams in my last year. I enjoyed it a lot, the students and other tutors were great, and volunteering gave me a couple more points for going on exchange myself, although I continued as a tutor even after the exchange.

      When my son was in daycare/kindergarten, I served on the PTA board and volunteered at our fundraising events. I aged out of this when my son started preschool.

      Because I have the means, I contribute financially to a few charities. I don’t really have the energy to volunteer my time these days.

      1. Blue Pen*

        Your last point is a good one, and I totally agree. I, too, happily donate to a few organizations with missions I believe strongly in. And while I’ve volunteered quite a bit in the past, I’m at an age and stage in my life where my time is now at a premium. It’s not something I’m willing to give away for free anymore. I’m not saying I’ll never volunteer again, but I will be more careful to make sure those assignments are short-term assignments and ones with clear, defined end points.

  22. Irish Teacher.*

    LW4, it doesn’t sound like they would have any reason to fire you. I know there are places where employment is at will and people can be fired for no special reason, even if they are doing a good job, but even there, just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean it’s likely and in this case, it sounds like firing you would be an incredibly stupid thing to do. Your new supervisor is currently depending on you for help doing her job. That sounds like she finds you a good asset.

    Also, the reason they are giving makes perfect sense in this context. Everything indicates that your boss wants information from you to help her do her job and nothing indicates that you are underperforming or behaving poorly or that your boss does not trust you or anything else that would make being fired a possibility.

    If you said that your boss was having to support you a lot or was micromanaging you and seemed impatient with you and then asked for a list of your duties, then I could see something to worry about but in this case, there is nothing to suggest you are at any risk of being fired.

    1. el l*

      Agree. FWIW, besides underperformacne where I’d say there’d be more cause for concern is if LW had actually fixed some long-running organization problems, rather than just set up processes to manage them. Then it’d be “What do we need you for anymore?”

      If anything, writing out all the things you take care of should strengthen your hand in salary negotiations and in general perception of worth. Even at a dysfunctional former employer when I had to do what LW did, people said “Wow” rather than “OK, now fire them.”

  23. I should really pick a name*


    It sounds like you addressed specific things that Ciara was doing as they happened, but did you ever address the pattern to her? “This has happened multiple times, I’ve told you not to do it and it’s continuing to happen. What’s going on?”

    If not, this is an important thing to do if you find that you’re having these kind of recurring issues with a student in the future.

  24. Susan*

    Op#3 should ask manager to ask colleague if she can give warning before brings baby again… or ask colleague directly

  25. Bubbles*

    LW 1: what do the board’s rules and bylaws stipulate, if anything, about length of term and replacing departing board members? I also serve on the board of a small nonprofit, and our bylaws very clearly delineate how long a person may serve, when and how they roll off, when elections are held, etc. If your board doesn’t have such rules, you should suggest to Sarah (and the new board chair) that now is the time to develop some so this situation doesn’t happen to someone else in the future. In my state, I believe having rules governing board organization is the law. You may want to look into how it’s treated in your state. Best of luck!

  26. Blue Pen*

    #1 – Having served on a working board, I intimately understand this issue. My situation was never so bad, but it was a shock when I announced that I would be stepping down after my board term finished, and I, too, was asked to stay for additional time. I’m not saying it’s right or excusable, but nonprofits depend heavily on volunteer labor (at every level)—and can only seem to exist/succeed on that foundation that it sends an org into a tailspin when someone decides to leave. The people on my board were all well-meaning, lovely individuals, and I’m glad to know there are people in the world dedicated to fighting so strongly for a cause I believe in, but “respecting boundaries” isn’t always part of the equation.

  27. Antilles*

    For #5, that is extremely standard for business invoices. Your name is in the “bill to” field along with CompanyName because that tells their accounting who to route the invoice to within your company, makes sure your company knows whose project it is, and also helps down the line if there are issues so it’s clear who the point of contact is. Simple routing guidance to make lines of communication easy, nothing more.

    It’s so standard that if anything, I’d be more surprised when I get a vendor invoice that *doesn’t* include my name somewhere on the document.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      This. I write contracts for my company, and the section on invoices requires that each invoice includes a contact name at our company — otherwise things get lost, people don’t know who is responsible, and there’s no one to go to for questions. No need to worry, OP5!

    2. Lily Rowan*

      On the flip side, at least once I’ve received a grant check with mine or a coworker’s name printed on the check! I did not get to deposit into my personal account, haha. It was just that the funder used those self-mailing checks, and it was a good thing they had our name on it, so we could be sure it was processed correctly, but it was very funny to see PAY TO THE ORDER OF: Lily Rowan, $1,000,000 or whatever.

    3. Kuleta*

      Yes. In supersize firms, not having a person’s name on the invoice runs a good chance it won’t get to the right place.

      Then there are people who if they get something they don’t recognize, will just do nothing with it. Don’t know and don’t care.

      1. Fellmama*

        Even if it’s a little teeny company, lots of software/accounting systems require a human name in addition to the “company” field. My name is on most of the invoices for the business I manage.

        (Or speaking of the opposite of a teeny company–if you send mail through USPS Click’n’Ship, even as a business, your personal name will appear on the return address label.)

  28. supervising librarian*

    “My new supervisor was relatively new to the organization and new to our industry.”
    That was me- I was hired to head a department with 20 years experience in an adjacent field.
    I had no idea what my immediate report’s responsibilities and how she did them.
    Even after I was there a few months.
    I knew what I was supposed to do but not the procedures and tasks of her position.
    She WOULD not put anything in writings despite repeated requests and deadlines.
    It turned out that she was resentful having to “train” her supervisor.
    And that I was trying to replace her.
    Nothing could be further from the truth.
    I just needed to know how things worked.

  29. Shouldn’t board members have term limits?*

    Re: #1. Shouldn’t there be bylaws in the organization about board member terms and how they are recruited (who’s responsible)?

    The following won’t help LW1, because they need to leave asap and probably can’t change the way Sarah runs the org. Hopefully it will help others when they are asked to serve as a board member.

    I served on the board of a non-profit that has 3-year terms with option for board member to renew once, so commitments are never more than 6 years. (Board members have also served shorter terms when life gets in the way, and the org doesn’t take that personally.) The replacement cycle is roughly 1/3 every year. Recruitment is by all board members—they are expected to tap into their network and give one name—not a guarantee of someone who will serve, just interested. Then the board development committee follows up and works alongside ED, presenting a slate of new members to the board for a vote. The board size expands and contracts by a few members depending upon how many candidates they get—they’d rather have an extra enthusiastic board member than make that person wait a year. Board president is always taken from current board members after they’ve served at least two years (they commit to another 3 years at that point). Only exception ever was when the president stayed 1 extra year because their term was ending during the height of Covid uncertainty.

    Advantages of this system: less burnout, inactive board members can’t stick around forever, and the non-profit is in the habit of always recruiting. And, it creates a pool of experienced members for the future—some will return for a new term after a 3 or more year hiatus.

    1. Caramel & Cheddar*

      I was curious about this too, especially since really long term commitments like LW’s can often be bad for an organization. Not saying LW’s specific participation for that long was bad, just that I think a lot of governance models are moving towards not having directors sit on boards for more than a decade, for the health of the organization.

    2. No Yelling on the Bus*

      OMG I can’t believe how far I had to scroll to find this. Terms was my first thought too. Why is this even an issue the board is having? Tenure terms should be in the bylaws. It’s also WAY healthier for the organization because it expands reach/the network tremendously.

  30. HonorBox*

    OP1 – I’ve worked for boards and have served on boards, and I understand that exiting can be tricky at times, even when there is a very clear definition of progression. You owe the organization, Sarah, and other board members nothing. You have the high ground here. You told Sarah a year ago that you’d be exiting, and she didn’t do anything with that. You don’t have to recruit your replacement. You don’t have to stay for another meeting because y’all didn’t get to the topic of your departure on the agenda. These are all things that you need to be OK taking zero responsibility for.

    I completely get that board recruitment, retention, terms and progression can be tricky. It sounds like this organization either hasn’t had to think all of this through and lay it out specifically OR they’ve just buried their heads in the sand and hasn’t bothered.

    If I were in your shoes, especially because you sound like a kind and thoughtful person and you and Sarah have a good relationship, I’d put together an agenda for one more board meeting. Warn people in advance that it might be longer than your average meetings, because there are critical things that need to be discussed. The first thing on the agenda is your departure. Then the next things are outlining board terms, board recruitment procedures, and board progression. There isn’t any reason that someone should not be able to walk away when they want to or need to.

    And folks, I’m going to point out the one potential error that the LW made… not to diminish the very wrong that Sarah is, but to point out how we all might walk into a situation like this. If you’re thinking you’re going to be departing within a year or so, DO NOT become chair of the board. Generally, good boards include the immediate past chair on the executive committee, so you’re really signing up for 2 years. And even if that’s not expressly part of the situation, there are so many possible things that could happen while you’re chair that it is hard to make a clean break. So if you’re planning to depart and know the timeline, it would be sensible to say that you can’t do it because you’re planning to depart the board. And then stick to that.

  31. animaniactoo*

    LW1 – If you do agree to one final meeting, I suggest the following tactic that we learned from my aunt:

    “If we are not discussing the chair position, then I am leaving now. This is the only thing that I am here to discuss today.”

    You resigned. You found board members to replace you. You have done everything you need to do. If they are unwilling to carry on with the last item on the agenda that needs any input from you at all… then they will have to figure that out without you. You are not there and will not stick around for anything other than discussing that at this final meeting that you agreed to attend as a courtesy.

  32. CheesePlease*

    OP#3 – I am so sorry for your loss. It must be so hard moving forward from such a tragedy. Your reaction is totally understandable.

    I do think it’s reasonable for your coworker to give warning to your boss / manager if they will bring their baby back to the office (simply because a baby can be a disruption for many reasons) and hopefully your manager can give you fair warning so you can prepare in a way that feels safe.

    Holding you close in my thoughts. May you have peace and find ways to honor your baby.

  33. Mindy P*

    LW #1, I highly, highly recommend if you do anything else with this board, it be to install term limits for board members.

    1. Observer*

      Term limits is a great idea. But I would suggest that the OP not get started with that. It’s not the kind of thing that generally gets done in one meeting, and the OP needs to cut the cord, not start something that will then enable Sarah to try to rope them in again.

  34. kiki*

    LW 4: I’m wondering if there is much or any documentation of your role and projects to begin with? Because a list of your active projects and some general outlines of what goes into maintaining them is pretty normal to maintain for any role (though I know it’s also common not to have, especially if there are bandwidth issues).

    I’m wondering if maybe a lack of written documentation is contributing to some of the role definition issues, difficulty onboarding for your boss, and how exhausting it has been to train them. I’ve experienced this before– I was being onboarded by someone whose style was definitely, “I’m going to talk you through this, demo some stuff, then by the end you’ll have seen a bunch and understand everything.” But what I don’t think the person onboarding understood is that what they were showing me was a lot to take in at once and I had no bigger framework or reference point to go off of. It was really hard to contextualize everything I was seeing without some additional info.

  35. Czhorat*

    For LW#2, I agree with everything Allison said, and that if Ciara had to be written up multiple times it’s perfectly reasonable NOT to fight to get more funding for her.

    That said, this statement did jump out at me a bit:

    “”Ciara hasn’t done anything truly inexcusable, but it’s obvious that she doesn’t care about working here apart from the paycheck.””

    That’s nearly every job nearly every person has. There are some jobs, mostly in the non-profit sector, that are truly about the mission and ones dedication to it. I know a lawyer who works defending tenants against landlords; she’s clearly not in it for the money (and could make a ton more by moving to the other side). Aside from that kind of situation, we work to get paid so we can pay for food, housing, clothing, and the occasional luxury. You should EXPECT everyone to be in it for the paycheck.

    1. MsM*

      I think there’s a difference between “this is not my dream job, but I’m going to at least maintain a professional demeanor and be focused on the tasks I need to accomplish when I need to accomplish them” and “I don’t care that it’s obvious to everyone including external stakeholders that I don’t want to be here, or if my coworkers and supervisors feel like they need to keep an eye on me on top of whatever they should be focused on to make sure the work’s actually getting done.”

      1. Czhorat*

        Fair, but it’s a spectrum.

        On one end is “I’m pouring my heart and soul into this job, neglecting my hobbies, my spouse, and my pets to do so”

        On the other is “I’ll do the bare minimum to not get fired. Maybe less”.

        Everyone will fall somewhere in between; for this kind of job I think we’d expect closer to the latter.

        1. Venus*

          It sounds like she’s doing below minimum though if she isn’t worth the effort to ask for more funding. If she needed to be fired rather than her term expiring then I think OP would be considering it.

  36. Coffee Protein Drink*

    LW4, it may simply be that your new supervisor (new to the job, new to the industry) simply has no idea what you do. This happened to me several years ago.

    A new director was slotted in above my manager and he called us both into his office his first week and asked exactly what our titles meant and what we did.

    Both of us had formal education and certifications in our discipline and the man literally had no idea what it meant.

    I think it’s a bit unreasonable to expect someone to hit the ground running. While your new boss may know how to manage well, they do not necessarily know how to manage well in their new position because there’s still the lay of the land and the political landscape to learn.

    1. JustaTech*

      I think it’s a good thing that LW4’s boss is asking these questions, rather than assuming they know and making decisions based on those assumptions.
      Years ago the company I was working at got bought and the new owners made an assumption about the duties of an entire department and laid them off without asking what they *actually* did. Turns out that department was 100% necessary for the company to function (and make money) and the new owners were forced to hire everyone back at a higher salary.

  37. Just Thinkin' Here*

    OP#1 : “One year ago, after being named the board chair, I met with Sarah and let her know that 2023 would be my last year on the board”

    If you were the Board Chairman, why did you not run the 2024 meeting? The Chair runs the meeting and the first thing should have been to announce your resignation. You’re acting as Chair in name only if you let someone else manage the agenda.

    Do not go to the next meeting. Send a note to the rest of the Board referencing your notice that you had given a year earlier, thank them for their time, and wish them luck.

  38. Salty Caramel*

    Re: baby in the office

    I wish you didn’t need to write this letter and I hope you have an EAP or other support to help you.

    I’m of the (unpopular) opinion that babies don’t belong in a workplace unless the workplace is a day care facility or the like. Unfortunately, some women (I have never seen a man bring their baby to an office) think that this is okay. If co-workers want to meet the baby, they can arrange something offsite.

      1. Salty Caramel*

        Thank you for pointing that out. I wasn’t attempting come across as contemptuous by stating my strong feelings. Noting that it’s women who do this and not men isn’t mysogynistic, it’s my experience of a few decades in the workplace.

        That doesn’t change my mind, though. I don’t think it’s okay to bring a baby to the office.

          1. Salty Caramel*

            I noted it because it was my experience (though I was corrected below) that it was women who did this and I thought people should think about that.

            1. Czhorat*

              I think the point of I should really pick a name’s question is that it being women is entirely irrelevant to your point; were you to say, “it’s usually someone wearing a yellow shirt” it would be an equally irrelevant point.

              By highlighting that it’s only women in your experience you make it feel like a gender issue and at least give the impression of thinking that women have worse judgement than men (I think it’s bad judgement to bring a baby to the office. Only women do this. Therefore….”

        1. Dahlia*

          Why not though? If your coworkers know you’re having a baby, and they want to meet your baby, why can you not bring the baby to visit for half an hour once in its life?

          What is such a big deal about that?

      2. Ana Maus*

        I don’t see contempt here. I see a minority opinion after Salty Caramel said something in support of OP.

        1. Observer*

          I see a minority opinion after Salty Caramel said something in support of OP.


          For one thing, this is not being especially supportive of the OP. It’s not like the OP thinks that children an babies should never be seen at work, just that in *this* particular case, she’s like to not have to deal with it. A very different thing.

          And “this very common thing is something that should NOT happen. And it’s only women who do this very common and very not good thing” is hard to not read as contemptuous.

    1. Jackalope*

      I’ve seen male coworkers bring in their new babies before. In my experience for parents (of any gender) bringing in new babies, it’s just a chance for everyone who’s interested to meet the new baby. Those who are interested come over and say hi and those who don’t just keep working. Most of the time the person is there for 30-60 minutes and then head out.

      1. Billy Preston*

        Yes, my male coworkers have also brought in their new babies. I’m not really a baby person, but I appreciate seeing both partners bring in their babies. They’re both excited so why should it depend on gender?

    2. bamcheeks*

      I have never seen a man bring their baby to an office

      OK, let’s do some brainstorming about why this might be! Is it because men are inherently better people? More responsible? More professional? Or is it because women are overwhelmingly more likely to take up the lion’s share of caring responsibilities and have little if any choice about having to bring the baby if they need to go to work during their parental leave, non-working time or even during their working time? Hm, seems unlikely, must be the former!

      (PS. several of my male colleagues have brought kids or babies into work, but maybe I work in a less arsily macho environment than you!)

      1. Salty Caramel*

        Wow, look at all the words you’re putting in my mouth. How dare I express an opinion of what I think should be standard behavior in the workplace? Especially when something I think is in appropriate causing the OP serious distress.

        I’ve already noted the correction that men do this.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        So, I’ve said down thread that I’ve seen lots of my male (teacher) colleagues with babies, but I have seen more women do the “new baby” introduction than men. This is usually after a lot of weeks or months of maternity leave, the new mum has to come into work for some paperwork stuff, or an informal KIT say, and it’s so much easier for her to bring the baby in (and there are colleagues who would like to meet the baby) than find one day’s childcare. This ‘brand new baby’ intro happens a bit less often with guys, but even when it doesn’t, they usually bring them in with their first year, or if their much shorter paternity leave happens to coincide with term time they might pop in earlier with a newborn. A lot of our end of term get togethers are baby and family friendly and it’s really common to see guys leave to get the kids from their carers, and then come back with them.

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      If co-workers want to meet the baby, they can arrange something offsite.

      If the place of work doesn’t have a problem with it, then no, I don’t think everyone should go out of their way to schedule a time for them to meet the baby. If someone has no interest in meeting the baby, they are welcome to opt out, but plenty of folks (myself included) appreciate the opportunity to meet the new addition to their co-worker’s family. It’s one thing if someone is constantly bringing their baby in, but if this is a one-off “meet the baby” type thing then there is no issue.

      1. Czhorat*

        Like everything else, it’s industry, workplace, and situationally dependent.

        A busy and loud factory floor with lots of dangerous equipment? Probably not baby-friendly.

        A quiet office with little client interaction? Probably fine.

        An office with frequent client visits? Maybe not.

        An office during crunch time with lots of deadlines coming up soon? Probably a bad idea.

        There are also, even within industries, difference in how “buttoned up” one office might be over another. More formal offices will usually be less baby friendly, more casual offices moreso.

        There’s no “right” answer to this, in my view.

        1. Jennifer Strange*

          I agree with you, which is why I clarified that if the place of work doesn’t have a problem with it then there’s no issue.

    4. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m an incredibly vocal childfree woman who really doesn’t like being around kids and I’m saying you’re being a bit strident – and off topic.

      OP is going through an amazingly painful time that I can’t even begin to imagine how bad. Now is not the time to rant about our personal opinions about whether kids can be brought into work.

      I defer to the wiser, more experienced people here who do (sadly) have similar experiences to advise how to handle it.

    5. iglwif*

      It absolutely is okay, and men do it all the time.

      It is not okay for babies to be around the office all day, making work impossible.

      But unless the workplace is actively dangerous (construction site, printing plant, chemical factory…) it is absolutely 100% fine for a new parent to bring their baby round the office once or twice to meet people and say hi for half an hour. That’s a perfectly ordinary thing that people do.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, absolutely. But any visits should also be announced in advance, preferably at least the day before, so that those who for whatever reason don’t want to meet the baby can avoid doing so.

        Whenever anyone’s brought a baby to my office, the visit’s been announced at least a couple days in advance and scheduled on the team calendar as an optional meeting. I’ve never seen anyone get any pushback for declining to attend one of those, or for not wanting to hold the baby. In my department there’s always been at least one person who’s been really enthusiastic about holding the baby and many more who love making funny noises and faces and cooing at them (including me).

  39. Ann O'Nemity*

    #1 – I don’t love that the LW was appointed chair for their last year. Ideally, they should have passed on being chair if they were on their way out, or agreed to chair for one year and then stayed on the board one additional year to help with the transition and provide continuity.

    However, given the LW’s desire to leave asap, the LW should work with Sarah to appoint an interim chair from the existing board. Ideally the vice chair or one of the other officers, if such positions exist. The interim chair can help Sarah find a permanent replacement, or become the official chair themselves. Also, nonprofit’s bylaws really should spell out what happens during transitions like this (board terms, resignations, replacements, etc). No one is going to want to stay on this board if they feel like hostages, good grief.

  40. New in WI*


    It is not clear the extent to which you have communicated your need to leave the board with the rest of the board members. They need to know your plans, too, not just Sarah. And they need to understand that you are done.

    If you haven’t already done so, I would send your resignation to the entire board. I would attend one more meeting as a courtesy to find a new chair and help transition anything urgent and then walk way.

  41. Liz the Snackbrarian*

    LW 2, what does calling out on short notice mean? If she’s calling out because she’s sick, I would have a long hard think about that before bringing it up. Does it mean same day Ciara would call and say “Unfortunately I’m not feeling well and can’t come in today”? If she is legitimately sick then she should take time off to recuperate, doubly so if she’s contagious.

  42. Zarniwoop*

    “I have to constantly hound Ciara to not do homework on the clock, her work when she does do it is sloppy, and she’s called off on short notice a couple of times in the past month… it’s obvious that she doesn’t care about working here apart from the paycheck.”
    Lots of people have jobs where all they care about is the paycheck, and most of them do a lot better than the above.

  43. LHOI*

    I’m going to go a bit against the grain re: LW2. Ciara is a student worker. It’s a work-study job. Unless the job she’s performing is directly in line with her course of study or future goals, it’s perfectly reasonable for her to prioritize her schoolwork over this job. Does it suck to manage? Yes, but also…you are paying a student worker, not an adult. It’s part of the deal.

    If the opportunity presents itself, yes you should mention it–but she probably knows that she hasn’t done a great job, and she might not really care. I spent my undergraduate student jobs hiding in mail rooms and taking the extra-super-long way to run errands and, yes, doing my homework. Did I know I was doing an utterly crap job? Yes. Was I just there to pay for my 2am mozzarella stick habit? 100%. Am I now a fully-functional member of working society? Yes.

    Personally, I’d focus your energy on looking to the future and building a student worker program that is mutually beneficial and built for everyone’s success and let Ciara live her life.

    1. Colette*

      Strong disagree. Part of having a student worker is teaching them how jobs work – i.e. you’re getting paid because you need to do things that wouldn’t be your first choice. Ciara may choose to ignore the feedback – that’s her choice. But the OP still needs to deliver the feedback, because Ciara is missing out on some valuable things (such as extended employment and references) because of the choices she’s making.

      1. LHOI*

        You and everyone else commenting disagrees with me! But personally I hate that college is increasingly treated as just a time to train future Worker Bees, and I think that student jobs should complement school work, not future employment. And I’m not saying that she shouldn’t give the feedback–just that Ciara might not care to receive it. Part of being a student worker is figuring out what your priorities are; her priorities might be doing her physics homework so she can get into her top PhD program, or studying for the MCAT, or keeping her grades up so she doesn’t lose her scholarship that is worth way more than this job, or…literally anything else.

    2. I should really pick a name*

      It sounds like you learned an important skill that Ciara did not: Not getting caught.

      Is it reasonable for Ciara to prioritize her schoolwork over this job? Yes, but it’s also reasonable if they fire her because the way she handles that prioritization means she doesn’t get the work done.

      1. LHOI*

        I’m not saying they shouldn’t fire her, or discipline her, or mentor her, or hold her to standards. Or hire for the next person with those standards in mind.

        Also, I totally got caught, and eventually figured out the jobs that worked with my priorities instead of against them. THAT’s the real skill I learned.

    3. Observer*

      It’s a work-study job. Unless the job she’s performing is directly in line with her course of study or future goals, it’s perfectly reasonable for her to prioritize her schoolwork over this job.

      Nope. This is work that she is being paid for. It’s one thing to not work extra hours or things like that. But to actually prioritize her school work over the work she is being paid for? No. This is not a grant. It’s a *job*.

      1. Elbe*

        Agreed. It seems odd not to do the bare minimum when the bare minimum is already so low. Most work study jobs will be flexible with hours and will schedule someone around their exam dates, so having to choose between work and school isn’t really an issue, most of the time.

        At the very least, a student employee shouldn’t be behaving in a way that makes everyone else’s job more difficult. If doing a crappy job means that someone else has to do the work, or spend time correcting it, or take time to offer guidance, or constantly follow up on why someone is MIA during their shift… then it’s more complicated that “well, this works for me, so I’ll do it.”

    4. Telephone Sanitizer, Third Class*

      I had a library job at college and there just wasn’t enough work to fill the time. I listened to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks while scanning archives and reshelving books, and I never over-logged time for web design work.

      I don’t think that job was anything like any of the real jobs I’ve had.

      As long as you’re not being egregious about it, doing homework during downtime sounds fine, if it’s a job with a set schedule rather than a list of tasks to do in whatever time you can.

      1. NotARealManager*

        Yes. I had work-study jobs in college and we were allowed and expected to do homework when we were done with our tasks on our shift. I don’t know if this is the set-up for Ciara’s job though.

      2. iglwif*

        Yes, this!

        My kiddo is in school and working (not on campus), and she often does homework at work, because the nature of her role allows it — she’s fitting it in around the work, not fitting the work around the homework — and because she’s very good at the work itself.

        There’s nothing wrong with doing homework at work, just a problem with doing homework instead of work!

      3. Lenora Rose*

        I know sometimes, though, students *don’t* do their homework after their work is done, they do their homework at leisure through the work day, then rush at the end of the day to get some actual work in. A good manager should be alert as to which is happening, and treat the student accordingly.

    5. Starbuck*

      And this is fine, if you know what you’re doing and aren’t expecting a work reference from that job. Use professors instead, totally fine. But in that case it’s still not going to hurt Ciara to give her honest feedback about the issues, especially if she’s performing noticeably worse than the rest of the students. She might think she’s just doing the same as everyone else, and that could be a problem for her later.

    6. Elbe*

      Most student workers are also adults.

      I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that if someone is being paid to do a job, they should do it. Work study jobs typically have a decent amount of flexibility and down time, so it seems kind of harsh to not even do the tasks that are being asked.

      I had several work study jobs in college that paid for a lot of necessary expenses for me. Some of my student coworkers seemed to have the same attitude that you did and, frankly, I think it really was terrible for our managers sometimes. I think some of them knowingly took advantage of our office’s reluctance to fire student employees and they abused a system that was put in place to help them. It’s really not a good look. I wouldn’t recommend making someone else’s job harder just because slacking benefits you, personally.

  44. BecauseHigherEd*

    LW 2 – One of the biggest mistakes I see in people who are new to working in higher ed. (and something I am definitely guilty of) is mentally giving students too much power. I think many of us want everything to be smooth sailing and we want to have positive relationships with our students (and student workers), but the truth is that we do them a disservice by not providing honest feedback about ways that they need to improve–or, in some instances, the ways that their mistakes have led to a negative outcome for them. Even when you’re not explicitly a teacher, working in higher ed means that you’re assuming an educator role when you interact with students, and that means giving constructive feedback. That’s very difficult to do (again, we work in higher ed because we like students, after all), but this is some advice my husband once gave me: “These conversations with students may be hard no matter what you do and no matter how kind you are. Sometimes, it’s just because the students resent the fact that you have power and they perceive that they do not. There’s not much you can do about how they feel, so why worry? You are the one with the power and you’re using it for good, and that’s all that matters.”

  45. I have opinions...*

    Regarding being “quiet fired.” It could be the case. However, it is also important to have procedures written down clearly. If they only exist in one person’s head, what happens when that person wins the lottery and bails? Resisting writing it down makes it look like you are holding the information hostage.

    Seeking that clear documentation is just good practice, not necessarily trying to get rid of you. You’d have to consider the other clues and your read on your place in the company to make that determination.

  46. John*

    LW 1: something’s not right here. A nonprofit board chair should be in charge of meeting agendas. Your ED is exerting way too much control. They should have input but you ultimately deem what should be included on each agenda.

    So for the next board meeting, the first topic should be New Board Chair. You will announce your resignation and invite discussion on who should replace you, whether as interim or for a full term (whatever your bylaws dictate) followed by a vote.

  47. Chirpy*

    #4 is exactly how I was fired. I was asked to write up my job duties, and then the organization cut my position completely.

  48. Acey*

    LW #1: Robert’s Rules are your friend. You are the Chair. This means YOU set the agenda. Set the agenda for the next meeting with “discussion of replacement chair” as Item #1.

    If the other board members or the executive director try to change your agenda, then rule them out of order. If they appeal the ruling of the chair, and then vote against you, let them, and then in a lull in conversation (since they first have to vote against your ruling them out of order, and then have to move to change the agenda, it’ll be a while, so there will be a lull at some point), say that you “rise to address a point of personal privilege” and say something like, “I am resigning from my position as chair, effective as of the close of this meeting.” It doesn’t matter whether the current meeting’s materials are complete or not. You get to quit when you want to quit.

    If all that fails, just don’t show for the next meeting. Robert’s Rules also say that Chairs who fail to perform their duty need to be replaced. Let them figure out how to do so on their own.

  49. EA*

    OP3, I’m so sorry for your loss. I had a miscarriage last year and two of my coworkers were due in the same month as I was. It’s still not always easy to hear about their babies or see them on video (we work remotely).

    I don’t really have any advice, but if I were the coworker with the baby, I would want to know. I think most people with any decency would want to be sensitive and not upset another person. I think having your boss quietly tell her about the situation is the best path.

    1. sending love*

      I agree, I think that’s a helpful way to think about it. I think the coworker would want to know. Those of us who are the friends of folks who’ve experienced stillbirths or miscarriages WANT to know how to help someone through a devastating loss.

  50. All het up about it*

    As a person who manages a Board for a government agency, #1 floors me. I have non-profit experience as well, so I know there are differences between the two types, but still I cannot imagine just letting someone who has requested to leave over a year ago hanging like this. Nor, can I imagine any of my Board members who have needed to resign for one reason or the other actually hanging on like this if I had tried to guilt/trick them in this manner.

    I definitely recommend a written resignation. As others have said, if you decide to attend the next meeting, you should make sure the new election is priority. But honestly, you don’t even have to do that. You could just send the resignation letter to Sarah and the rest of the Board and be done. They WILL cope! I promise!!

  51. Coco*

    LW 4: I was in a similar situation circa 2017. I was asked to document all of my processes in detail and cross train my coworker. A week later, I was let go (along with several other people). I suspect that situation is not common. Looking back, it was a bad workplace. In 2021 one of the managers had the audacity to text me out of the blue and ask me to come back. I promptly declined.

  52. NotARealManager*

    LW2, The only thing I wish would’ve been done sooner was communication to Ciara about how her work habits could directly affect her funding to stay in the job. Obviously we don’t have all the info whether that did happen. But if this happens again with another student (and it probably will), make sure to have a chat sooner in the semester, or whatever time frame makes sense, that explicitly says “if we don’t see the following things improve, we will not be advocating for more funding for you next semester and you will not be able to work here again.” Also let them know that the conversation you’re having about it right now is not the final decision, but it is the final warning.

  53. e271828*

    LW 1, is there a reason that writing a short letter announcing your resignation, effective immediately, is not possible?

    You already told them you’re leaving, so you can highlight that and emphasize that you’ve stayed longer than you intended already. I wish you all well, looking forward to seeing what great things Organization does next, Sincerely yours, YourNameHere.

    You are letting Sarah lead you around by the nose. At this point, you’re there because of you, not her.

  54. fhqwhgads*

    I think #2 should explain to the student worker, but should not bother bringing into it the whole “coulda gone to bat but didn’t” aspect. While true, it’s besides the point and has the potential to make it feel overly personal.

    Treat it like a learning experience – which it is intended to be anyway. Yes, her funding didn’t get renewed so the job is ending, but in the spirit of Learning How Work Works, had the funding not been a decision outside of her or your hands, and this were a normal job, she’d have not been asked back due to the performance reasons you previously discussed, like A, B and C. You hope she has a useful takeaway for future jobs that those things matter, and not heeding the feedback about them would likely result in termination in any non-work-study job. That’s not what happened here, because the funding thing happened first. But basically, make it a lesson in workplace norms.

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