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Please help me with this difficult work relationship!

(158 Posts)
enid Tue 17-Aug-04 13:30:37

Would really appreciate any advice on this situation! I've only been back at work since March and feel totally out of my depth with this thorny personnel issue...basically I work for an arts charity. There are only two paid members of staff, me and the administrator. She is an older lady (in her 60's) who has had a difficult couple of years (her husband died last year). Basically, she is a hopeless administrator (forgets things, doesn't remember how to do things she has been repeatedly shown how to do), but I have always tried to accommodate her. She ran the place for a couple of months before they hired me and its in a right mess! Anyway, she's a nice old lady and we got on pretty well. But recently she has been so defensive, rude and difficult that it is really getting me down. I literally can't ask her to do anything without her flying off the handle or sulking. Today it all came to a head when I tried to pin down her hours - she is supposed to work 15 hours a week and moans constantly about having to do more. She basically comes in when she feels like it and leaves when she feels like it. That is a pain for me as I have to work very 'set' hours (childcare!). So I want to set her hours as Monday, Tues am and Thurs am. She is absolutely adamant that she won't be 'pushed into' this arrangement and that one of the best things about this job is the 'flexibility'. I couldnt face having this discussion today as I was up all night with dd2 (raging chicken pox, poor lamb ). So I have said we will discuss it tomorrow. Help! She gets quite personal whenever we try and discuss anything (today when talking about the hours she just blurted out 'Look, Enid, do you just want me to leave so you can hire someone else?' - what do you say to that?). Also she quite likes to undermine me - recently I was late to open up the art gallery for a workshop. I apologised to the artist and explained to x the administrator what had happened. Thought it was all behind us then found a letter that x was writing to the artist saying that 'so sorry, I still didn't know what happened to Enid or why she was late' - which was a lie and why on earth would she lie like that?

Apologies, long and possibly very boring, but its really getting me down and I love my job and don't want to leave!!!

bran Tue 17-Aug-04 13:44:39

Do you have someone that you report to? It sounds to me as though she thinks she should be in charge, which is why she's being difficult all the time. Perhaps you could have a word with whoever it is who pays the wages/controls the funds, and then that person could ask for a meeting with both you and x and make appear that the request for regular hours comes from higher up.

Perhaps she's aware that she's not as good at her job as she should be, so maybe you could reassure her by telling her what a star she is everytime she sorts something out, or that most people wouldn't handle a particular task or situation as well as she does.

Hope there are some other Mumsnetters with better suggestions than me.

motherinferior Tue 17-Aug-04 13:46:33

Oh god. Been in similar situation myself years ago, and I wish I could be more constructive.

Is the most workable solution to assume she's just not there, in terms of workforce? Or will she get even arsier if you do?

motherinferior Tue 17-Aug-04 13:49:50

She also sounds - v familiar, this - as if she's coming to the job from the old-style voluntary sector approach of 'charity', whereas you have the contemporary approach of 'this is a job, I do it to the best of my considerable and professional ability'. Hmmm. Wonder if it's worth checking out the NCVO website or suchlike (I'm currently writing an article for the NCVO mag, which is why it occurs to me, and I've worked all round the sodding sector in the past). There are one or other MNers who also work quite specifically in the arts sector, who might be worth consulting. Email me if you want to talk it over off-board. Hmmm...perhaps I should pitch an article on this, would it be helpful to you?

Blu Tue 17-Aug-04 13:57:08

Are you her boss, and do you know how much support she has from the Board / Trustees? It sounds a bit as if she has been there for years and no-one has grasped the nettle of ensuring that she keeps up with training etc, or admitting that she isn't up to the job.
Things in small organisations - and particularly the arts / voluntary sector often become very informal - would it help to have a joint mini-planning meeting with her every week to go through working hours and any specific jobs that you each take on - and make v short note style minutes?
And start to make reference to administrative difficulties in your reports to the Board - ways of improving efficiency by introducing new software, or whatever - or a training and development plan which includes training for her and someprofessional development for her. Then she can be monitored by the Board in updates.
She probably feels immensley territorial and possessive of the organisation, and resents your intrusion - but you are doing your job, and I think she has to be firmly encouraged to do hers. If she doesn't improve soon, I'd get rid of her. Really I would - and I work in a regd charity arts organisation, too!

Gingerbear Tue 17-Aug-04 14:00:23

Do you supervise her or are you on equal terms?

Try to get to the bottom of why she has started behaving like this.

Sorry, it is a really tricky situation, but I don't have much advice I am afraid, just sympathy!

enid Tue 17-Aug-04 14:20:02

Thank you, thank you, such brilliant advice here.

She reports to me. I report to the Chairman of the charity (who is useless and spends most of his time on wine trips to France). I have voiced concerns to him but I think he sees it as my fight - also he knows x personally which makes it difficult.

motherinferior, I think you have hit the nail on the head. I have a very professional approach to my job, learnt from years with big marketing/advertising companies. She didn't work for years (certainly not when her children are small, she would 'never have missed out on staying at home with them' - err thanks!) and fell into this job a few years ago. I KNOW I am professional - I know this scares her. But HOW do we discuss this?

There is another organisation based in the art gallery who are mainly volunteers/occasionally funded. They are brilliant, energetic, helpful and unbelievably encouraging. Unfortunately none of them are paid so I can't go and work for them .They have also noticed x's most irritating trait - namely taking on lots of extra work, doing lots of stuff that isnt actually her job, then moaning and moaning about it! Drives me demented!

Blu -thanks (great advice on Coat thread too! ). I think she will spontaneously combust if I ask to have a mini-meeting with her! She told me today she was fed up with being spoken to like a 17 year old. I have done as you suggested about the systems - all the committee agree with me and are very supportive, but when x fails to do them they blame me for not directing her better.

Tinker Tue 17-Aug-04 14:24:20

Will she retire soon?

I'd start keeping defensive records, writing down what you've told her to do, when you've told her just so that you have a record should your "lack" of direction be challenged.

Tricky though, she's obviously quite threatened by you. If she's not got long left could you grit your teeth for a bit?

Tinker Tue 17-Aug-04 14:25:56

Could you chat to her informally, take her out for lunch? A formal appraisal type of chat may scare the pants off her. Let her see you're not a threat?

enid Tue 17-Aug-04 14:30:02

Tinker, your post has made me realise that I want her to leave! She is 62 so I've got three L O N G years before she goes.

I am dreading tomorrow. I really don't know how to handle it. I don't want to start giving examples of her difficult behaviour, she will probably walk out. I know part of being a boss is to handle this (arrgh, thats reminded me, she calls me 'boss' all the time, I think she thinks its friendly but it just irritates me, I feel that there is an edge to it) but I feel adrift...

If only I could send her to her room for 10 minutes or take a sticker off her star chart

enid Tue 17-Aug-04 14:32:21

I have had informal, friendly chats to her before. They ended with her being very nice and saying 'yes, point taken, its been very difficult around here for a couple of years' and me saying 'honestly x, you do a great job, we'll get through it' etc etc. I formally thanked her at our AGM. But lately she's just being bloody rude!

Tinker Tue 17-Aug-04 14:33:53

Ah! Hmm, will think more.

Blu Tue 17-Aug-04 14:36:45

Oh, shivers down my spine - this all sounds SO familiar!
Get some folk of your own on the Board, if you can - recommend someone who can bring brilliant contacts, benefits etc, and who you know will suport you and anything you want to do.
I think you have to decide whether you wish to humour her and benefit from any strengths she has - ask her about how the organisation has developed etc, and gain her trust - or just keep pushing her until she can't take it, and does indeed leave.
Are you funded by the Arts Council or Local Authority? In which case can you invoke some of their condidions of grant aid / good practice, and insist on written policies / business plans / tight admin systems that they require? And report all that to the Board, e.g 'we have to present cash flows, quarterly accts or whatever, would you like x to present them to you the Board before they are submitted' so that the Board see how useless she is?

jimmychoos Tue 17-Aug-04 14:38:15

Enid - hmmm - trickyone. I'd be inclined to take the honest approach. Say you know you have very different working styles but you need to be able to work together. Does she have a jd? Do you set targets for her? I think it's impossible to manage someone effectively without these things. If she doesn't have a jd maybe you could start by working one out together. Work out what she enjoys about the job and start to play to those strengths (if she has any!). Find out her weaknesses and try and address them either thorugh support and training or by extra admin help if you can secure it. Ask her how she likes to be managed and tell her how you like to work too.

If you do want to get rid of her you'll need evidence she is under-performing and this needs to be as compared with her targets and jd. You'll also probably need to be able to show you tried to resolve the situation and offered her the appropriate support to bring her up to the level you needed her to operate at.

motherinferior Tue 17-Aug-04 14:38:28

I worked with several people a few years ago now, in a BIG charity. One was actually a few years younger than me, and a total flake, and reported to me...I have to confess I was just as confused as you about how the hell to handle her (fortunately I got the opportunity to create a couple of jobs which sidelined her, but you don't have that). A colleague of mine had direct responsiblity for a couple of older dead-weights who'd been at the charity for years and were frankly utterly hopeless. She didn't have the option of ditching them, so worked around them. It was unbelievably frustrating because she appeared to have a quite large department, whereas in reality she only had a couple of staff.

can you give her something very small to do that even she won't mess up?

Blu Tue 17-Aug-04 14:41:25

Sorry - was cross-posting. In all honesty, I think you are right to want her to leave. Propose a re-structure of the co with a different sort of post and make her redundant (would need to proceed carefully with Board on that one). Insist that she let you know what she's doing and when - put a calendat=r up, with your own meetings , and when you are in/out of the office and ask her to do the same? Create jobs that you know she hatses?

I am sure she is making her self 'invaluable' with all her extra busybodying jobs - it's classic!

soapbox Tue 17-Aug-04 14:42:41

I think you should tread wuite carefully. The fact is that her contract (through performance) has been set in such a way that she has flexible arrangements with regard to her working hours. The fact that it suits you to have her work fixed hours is fine, but for her this would amount to a change in contractual terms. She does not need to accept the proposed changes. In this regard you are where you are because no one before you ever addressed this issue with her. As such her normal working arragements have been established.

She should of course be doing her 15 hours per week.

She should be competent at what she does and she should not be rude! I think you will have an uphill job to get her to change - can the charity afford to pay her off?

Sorry if rushed but I am at work!

Blu Tue 17-Aug-04 14:42:52

Bet she doesn't spend all day on MN, tho' - like me

enid Tue 17-Aug-04 14:43:22

Blu - you really have been there and done it! It is a complete relief 'talking' to people who understand.

We are core-funded by the Local Authority - this has been invaluable as the Arts Officer at the District Council is totally supportive of my professional way of doing things. I have finally got a business plan done (although x forgot AGAIN to send it to our board members so we couldn't discuss it in our recent meeting ), have dug out all our best practice guidelines and am setting targets. But to meet them I have to work extra hard as I can't rely on her to do any of the admin stuff that goes with them.

Meeting is tomorrow - at the moment I am vacillating between fudging it and playing hardball. Also, after I have spent all night dabbing calamine lotion onto dd2 I am worried that I won't be in the best frame of mind...

enid Tue 17-Aug-04 14:48:47

soapbox, just checked her contract and it says that she is to work '15 hours a week, hours to be agreed with the Director' (that's me). So doesn't that mean that I can ask her to work fixed hours if I want to? Also, we are open to the public for workshops in the mornings, so because I don't work on a Monday or a Thursday morning, she HAS to be here then (which she resents). I don't mind her occasionally changing her days if she's got something to do, but I feel that she needs to sort it out with me first.

soapbox Tue 17-Aug-04 14:55:50

Enid - I think that the way in which the contract has been performed rather than what it actually says will dictate what is reasonable.

If it is essential for the performance of her job to be there at certain times, then yes I think you could enforce that. Irrespective of what times she works she should keep you informed of her movements - so yes she shoudl tell you if she is changing her days etc.

iota Tue 17-Aug-04 14:59:58

You have my symapthy - I was in a horrible work situation once, in charge of some old biddies who were very slow,not very capable, very rigid etc etc, with the added pleasure of them being vicious gossips, upsetting other staff and generally being not very nice to work with.

Getting rid of her or leaving yourself is the only solution - I managed to get rid of one before I moved on to another job.

enid Tue 17-Aug-04 15:10:29

so I don't understand...does this mean that she can just come and go as she pleases (as long as she does her 15 hours)?

soapbox Tue 17-Aug-04 15:18:22

No - I think if she needs to be in the office at certain times then you can enforce that, as otherwise she cannot 'perform' her duties. Has she established no pattern at all to her comings and goings - if she has then I think you are entitled to expect that she keeps to these hours. I think that suddenly laying down the law about when she should or shouldn't be at work, when she has habitually set her own working practices, would be a change to her agreed working arrangements.

How would you feel if tomorrow your boss said that he now expects you to be in the office on your mornings off - would you just accept that?

I'm not saying you are wrong to want her hours regularised I;m saying that it may be more of a struggle than you think and that she could claim for constructive dismissal if you change her working arrangements without her agreement.

enid Tue 17-Aug-04 15:29:33

soapbox, no I wouldnt accept it - but I agreed my days and hours when I signed my contract.

The days I would like her to work are the days that she traditionally HAS worked - all day on Monday, Tuesday morning and Thursday morning. She has to be here on Monday and Thursday as I am not. Tuesday is 'our' day together. But for example, this morning she said 'Is it alright if I come in tomorrow (Wednesday)'. If she does come in on Wed, she will have done her 15 hours then won't be obliged to come in on Thursday (when I am not here) - so the office will be closed. When I pointed this out, she hit the roof. If she works Wednesday as an extra day, the contractual agreement is that if you do extra hours you can take them in lieu by arrangement with me. I don't want her to be in a position to turn round in two weeks and say 'well, I worked that extra Wednesday so I'm taking Monday off'.


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