One reader writes:
I quit my job three months ago and keep meeting the board members who hired me. I lied about why I quit because it was such a crazy reason I didn’t know what to do. My friend says I should have been honest but I don’t know where to start.
I was laid off during the pandemic and was finally able to find a part-time job at a community arts center run by a local nonprofit arts organization. It was only 20 hours a week but it was a great opportunity in an area I would like to help bring some fun and joy. I was so excited.
It went wrong here. I met with “Amy”, the woman who should train me and be my colleague. It was raining on my first day and there was a couple of rumblings of thunder in the distance. Amy (whom I had never seen before) greets me at the locked office door and asks me through the letter slot: “Did a plane crash into the building?!?”
No. It was thunder.
From then on it was all downhill. Amy and I were the only people there and my training only lasted four hours. I came home and had to lie down immediately. Being with Amy for four hours was a real torture. She didn’t show me how to do anything or talk about the job, it was just The Amy Show: I’m now privy to her entire medical history, which included three incredibly personal and traumatizing situations that she vividly described. I know too much about their sex life, reproductive health, childhood, marriage, and more. After a few attempts to get her on the right track with work-related issues, I gave up.
As she lost steam in her personal life, she cataloged every perceived insult, minor, and personal argument she had had with the nonprofit that ran the gallery, every guest artist and teacher she hated, and why. And that was literally only the first hour. When she finally started training me, she showed me how to turn on the lights – just normal labeled switches – for 45 minutes.
She spent another hour telling me how hard it was to use the POS software that didn’t look difficult to use at all when I finally looked at it. When she interacted with the only customer we had that day, she was so terrible and exaggerated that the customer and I both got another idea, this time about why Amy’s son is in jail. The customer went very confused and I died of embarrassment.
I decided to hold out and go to workout the next day with a plan to keep Amy on track and stave off her over-sharing.
Reader, it didn’t work. I’m not good at sharing too much and I get overwhelmed with emotional work very quickly. I didn’t think Amy could beat what she told me the day before, but holy crap. I had to call my roommate to get me because I had panic attacks at the end of my shift. When I got home, I made an emergency appointment with a therapist for the first time in over a year. After talking to my therapist, partner, and friends, I emailed the board of directors and resigned, making up a story about a family emergency.
That was again in June. In my new job, I keep meeting members of the non-profit board (yay!) Because two of their spouses work in my department. The board members are not at all professionally connected to my new job, I just happen to work with their spouses. It’s a small town. They were really cute but keep asking me details about why I left, one of them even asked specific questions about how I got along with Amy. Should I have been honest that working with Amy was so uncomfortable and annoying that I couldn’t even finish my first week? I want to have compassion for her, but it was like a hostage.
Oh my god please tell them.
It is very likely that you already sense that Amy is in trouble; So one of them will ask you these specific questions. Also, they need to know that there are problems, if they ever had to interact with her.
Why they didn’t do anything about her is another question – but this is a small nonprofit and its board members likely have a ton of other things to divert their attention and whether Amy was more or less keeping things going (and before especially if this is the first time they try to hire someone to work with her) they may not realize the extent of the problem.
You have had incredibly bad experiences with your employee. If that were the minor quirks – just a little oversharing or a little Incompetence – that would be different. But that put customers off, so they sought emergency therapy and turned on a normal light switch for 45 minutes. It also sounds like it’s constant; it wasn’t “um, I had to spend 15 minutes with a difficult person” but your entire experience there.
The board members – who are either directly or indirectly Amy’s boss – ask you what went wrong. Tell them.
I suspect you’re hesitant because it feels rude to explain how problematic Amy is. But they want to know, and if you don’t tell them they’ll hire someone else who has the same experience. And, in a small nonprofit organization, an out-of-control employee can have an oversized impact, so that Amy could cause significant and permanent damage to the organization and its mission.
Get in touch with the board member who asked you the specific questions and say, “I didn’t mean to be critical of my experience, but I’ve thought about it and would be happy to answer your questions about why I left if you’re still interested “And then put what you’ve laid out here without glossing over or beating it (toning it down there is always a risk of overlooking the real intensity of the problem). Damn it, you could unite the board Send a link to this letter which explains the situation quite convincingly.