board member’s husband should not attend an event for children, boss calls people names, and more


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

1. Our board member’s husband should not attend an event for children

I work for an advocacy nonprofit and we are in a delicate situation with the spouse of a board member and organization co-founder, Beth.

A few months ago, Beth’s husband, Tom, was arrested on possession of child pornography charges. In the statement released by law enforcement, they stated that there were currently no accusations or evidence to suggest that Tom had physically abused children. At the time, we received an anonymous message about the charges through our contact page, so we removed some incidental photographs of Tom from our website, but no further action was taken because he is otherwise uninvolved with the organization.

Now we are in the process of planning our annual family conference and reached out to board members to see who was planning to attend. All our board members or their children are members of the interest group we serve, so they and their families are highly encouraged to attend the conference. However, we were surprised that Beth’s RSVP included her husband, given his current legal situation. Our conference is explicitly aimed at family participation and includes a large number of children. Most of us feel uncomfortable having him attend but are unsure what our legal and ethical responsibilities are regarding someone who has not yet been convicted of a crime. Our main priority is to protect families and their trust in our organization, but Beth is a valued member of our organization and we don’t want to alienate her and her children during a difficult time any more than necessary. There is no point that Tom would be alone or unsupervised with children other than his own and his attendance would be as a participant, not as a leader or organization representative, but his attendance doesn’t sit well with me. Our team is very small and inexperienced at nonprofit management and we don’t have an HR or legal department. What are our responsibilities in this situation and how do we best guide this conversation with Beth?

Beth is putting the organization she co-founded in a position she shouldn’t be putting it in! You’re right to think this is a huge problem.

However, this shouldn’t be your problem to solve because this is very much a board thing to handle. Talk to whichever member of the board you most trust to handle this well, explain your concerns, and ask them to intervene. This is very much board stuff, they’re the ones who have standing to address it, and the other board members should hopefully realize that their responsibilities as stewards of the organization mean they cannot knowingly allow someone who is currently facing charges for child pornography to attend a conference of families and children. They are the ones best positioned to talk to Beth about it, and the staff should ask them to.

2. Can I ask coworkers not to stare over my shoulder when I’m fixing their computer?

I’m a teacher, as well as the unofficial “tech guy” for my school. The official tech people are in another building, so people tend to ask me for help with computer issues before submitting a work order. I love this role, and I can confidently say I can solve just about any basic computer issue, which really takes the pressure off the official IT guys (my first year here a teacher demanded they stop installing a computer lab in another school so they could look at her desktop, which turned out not to be plugged in).

The problem is that teachers often feel they have to stand right there with me, staring over my shoulder as I work. This makes me nervous, as I feel like I’m performing for an audience. I’ve had no actual technical training so a lot of what I do is trial and error and googling, and I feel like I appear incompetent when I can’t find the solution in five minutes. I’ve tried things like “feel free to work on something else” or “this may take a while, I’ll let you know when I’m done,” but that doesn’t always work. They stand there behind me. Staring. Is there a polite way to tell someone to buzz off while I figure out why their electronic whiteboard won’t connect to their laptop?

Yes! A few options, depending on what works for you:

* “I can never work with someone standing right there — give me some space and I’ll see what I can do!”
* “I can’t work with an audience, but I’ll let you know when I’m done.”
* “I have a pretty big personal space bubble! Can I move you over there?”
* “Having you standing over me makes me nervous! Go get a coffee or something and I’ll let you know when it’s fixed.”
* “This is going to be trial and error and I’ll be self-conscious with you standing there! Give me about X minutes on my own here and then come back and I should have it fixed.”

3. How to get feedback as a manager

I’m a manager with a couple of years of supervisory experience. My team generally seems to like my supervision and were very excited to have me back after a recent maternity leave; and my supervisor has told me I’m exactly the right support for a couple of my team members. One of my employees tells me regularly that he appreciates my feedback and I always am insightful about what he needs to work on.

I regularly ask my team for feedback about my supervision and do my best to integrate that feedback into my interactions, but I also know that due to power dynamics it is uncommon for people to give their bosses really hard feedback. I’m sure there are things about me as a supervisor that my team would like to change because that’s true of just about everyone, even when they really like their boss! How do I get real feedback from my team?

The biggest thing is to create a culture where people will feel safe delivering messages that might be hard to hear, or even unpleasant to hear. You do that by demonstrating repeatedly over a sustained period of time that you genuinely welcome and even encourage dissent, you don’t shoot the messenger, you own your mistakes and you acknowledge when you’re wrong, course-correct when needed, and don’t favor the people who rarely criticize you or your ideas. (Here’s more on that.)

Once you have that culture — and it takes a while to build — you can try explicitly drawing people out with questions that are more targeted than just “how am I doing?” For example: “What’s one change I could make that would improve your quality of life or make your job easier?” … “What’s one thing you’d like me to keep doing and one thing you’d like me to experiment with changing?” … “What are some ways I can make you feel more appreciated/supported/empowered in your job?”

Even so, though, there will be some people who will still never give you truly candid feedback, no matter what you do. As a manager, you’ve got to assume there’s stuff you’re not hearing — and make sure you’re also doing your own reflections on how things are going.

4. My manager yells and calls people names

My manager yells at employees with the door open, using profanity to get his point across. It always seems to happen when things don’t go his way. He also talks with various managers again with his door open or in their adjoining hallway about politics, and call those who don’t view his politics the same, stupid or just idiots. This even trickles into meetings we have as a team. I just need to know if this is harassment?

It’s not harassment in the legal sense of the word. To be illegal, harassment needs to be based on your race, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, or gender identity), religion, national origin, age if you’re 40 and up, disability, or genetic information (including family medical history).

However, it’s certainly harassment in the colloquial, non-legal sense of the word. Your boss sounds abusive. Any chance there’s someone above him would would care if it’s brought to their attention?

my boss yells and is abusive

5. Do recruiters and/or hiring managers have read receipts on their emails?

It recently occurred to me that applicant tracking systems probably collect analytics, and that might include whether someone has opened an email. Are recruiters looking at whether someone has opened their emails? What about hiring managers?

No sane recruiter or hiring manager is paying attention to whether someone has opened an email (because of the amount of time it would take, because those trackers aren’t reliably accurate and some mail programs block that tracking, and because it’s just not a priority with everything else that matters in hiring).

should you use return receipts on emails to hiring managers?

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