Coping with a boss who doesn't care about the business any more.
November 25, 2009 8:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm in a sticky situation at work, as, I am sure most of us are these days. Please read my LONG story about my boss and tell me what you would do and what crap you put up with at work.

So I've worked in an art gallery for four years now. The gallery has been in business for over thirty years and has an outstanding reputation in my community and is even recognized internationally. I have accumulated more and more responsibilities during my time there and have managed to streamline operations and save the business lots of money.
For instance, I have eliminated the need for outside tech support contracts by becoming the systems administrator. I have eliminated the need for an outside graphic designer by producing all the marketing and media assets in-house. I have eliminated the need for (blah-blah-blah, on and on, etc.).
I wear probably ten different hats working for this outfit, and although I am not necessarily busy all the time I work very effectively so that I can manage all the aspects of my job. We are a skeleton crew... my associate does nothing but sales and manage the careers of the gallery's artists. I do everything else.

Our employer, however, is at retirement age, and exhibits very little interest in the success of the business.
I had a recent epiphany that the gallery exists only as her club-house, so that she has somewhere to go. She is much-loved and is addicted to attention and accolades. For instance, she directs all of our advertising towards politics and intellectual cleverness that will garnish compliments rather than expecting money spent advertising to return any investment in sales. She Facebooks and fantasizes about travel and politics all day long. She directs the business only towards any potential limelight that she may bask in.
She carries close to $40,000 in company credit card debt which she has racked up all on her own. She has neglected to pay the artists for sales for the last six months (more debt). Many of the gallery's accounts are several months past due (more debt). She also practices tax evasion. She and the business have no savings or assets to float through on. Operation is month to month with our fingers crossed for luck.

Nobody is spending any money to buy art these days. The prospect of the gallery actually earning any money anytime soon is a mere fantasy.

With all this in mind, we hear that she may be considering pay cuts and reduced hours for us employees.
Although I understand her point of view as the business owner, I am insulted. I have done everything I can for her and her business and she has dug a hole that gets deeper and deeper by continuing to spend money she doesn't have on frivolities, rather than keep anything for a rainy day.

So, do play hard ball with her and insist that she retain my salary?
Do I try to intervene and tell her to shape up? Do I put up with it and be happy I am, in fact, employed? Do I dive off the sinking ship?

What would YOU do and what similar challenges do you face at your job.?
posted by Oireachtac to Work & Money (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Flee a sinking ship.

The woman sounds dysfunctional and overwhelmed. You are doing yourself no favor by staying there.
posted by dfriedman at 8:32 AM on November 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

It's her business ... she's free to run it as she likes, and you are free to leave if you don't like the way she runs it. It's that simple.

But you don't ever tell a boss to "shape up."
posted by jayder at 8:32 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fight for your salary, sure, but get your résumé up-to-date and start reaching out for a new job. Confronting her about bad habits will only make you look bad in the future. Sorry that this is ridiculous, but it's true.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:35 AM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's easier to find a job when you already have one. So start looking NOW, because this gallery sounds like it's barely treading water, and will very shortly go under.
posted by Windigo at 8:40 AM on November 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

It's not your gallery. If the owner wants to run it into the ground, sucks to be her. If she wants to cut your salary i'd look for new work.
posted by chunking express at 8:40 AM on November 25, 2009

Agreed with above. If her ship is sinking, playing hard ball isn't going to get you anywhere. You can't get blood from a stone. (Yay, mixed metaphors.)

All those hats you wear should make for a very good résumé. I'd start working on it ASAP.
posted by JoanArkham at 8:42 AM on November 25, 2009

Get that resume in shape and look for another job. Keep working (as long as she's still paying you), whatever hours she has available. Any paycheck, even if smaller than normal, is better than no paycheck. It's always easier to get a job while you are still employed. Once you've got a new job lined up, then you can jump ship.

But the minute that paycheck bounces, don't waste your time any longer.
posted by cgg at 8:43 AM on November 25, 2009

Keep your mouth shut, and start looking for another job.
posted by paulg at 8:48 AM on November 25, 2009

Oireachtac, jump ship!

In Portland, OR one third of the art galleries have closed. ONE THIRD. The handwriting is on the wall. If your boss is not paying the artists, you have to realize that the end is very near.

Typically, you have put energy into your work you expect to be acknowledged and compensated for this. At this stage, however, you are likely as disillusioned as your employer about whether or not you have made a fair trade for your energies. Even though your boss is grandiose..let's not forget that once she likely did make a difference to her community and now she is hanging on to the last vestiges of the good old days. Cut her some slack for what you view as mis-management and just get out.

The world needs and wants art--but there are far more people interested in making art than there are people who want to purchase it. That have always been the case..and these are the worst times for your profession. It is a great time to evaluate how you can take your experience and talent and move forward. Consider becoming a graphic designer. Get the training you need, however. Because, as with all aspects of visual arts....competition is high...there is a graphic designer on every corner. If you get adequate training, however, you'd be head and shoulders above others in the same game. It's a good profession, however, and you would probably excel there and be able to count on a steady income.

Good luck to you. I am sorry that your art gallery will undoubtedly bite the dust. You're young, however..move FORWARD and don't look back.
posted by naplesyellow at 8:51 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

Nthing flee. It's her business to run/ruin. I have worked in a broadly analogous situation in which the business owner had made his cash and was looking to retire gracefully in the warm glow of adulation from their associates and with the padding of a corporate expense account. In my situation, the business owner had an inflated view of his worth to the business - I encountered him when his business had been bought and he was on his earn out and the business worked more profitably once he stepped back from things. Like your person, his goal had moved from running the business to milking it for kudos.

If you think that you and your colleague basically run the business and could do better, consider striking it alone. Your boss will hate you, obviously, but I'm afraid that's business and the artists may well be favorable to working with people whose goals are better aligned with their own. She pays and treats you as she does because she is fully aware that it's business: she owns and controls the business and you are a humble employee for as long as you take her paycheck.

Obviously business ain't great at the moment, but good businesses and good new businesses can and do thrive in recessions. People, property and services are cheaper now than they are during boom times and if you aren't making money then neither are artists, so your negotiating position may well be better now. One to consider, anyway.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:56 AM on November 25, 2009

Adding to the above, you will be more attractive to other employers in the local (or regional, or...) art community while your present employer appears solvent than you will be after the hole she has been digging inevitably hits bottom. At that point, aspersions may be cast as to who's responsible for the downfall of such a longstanding and internationally respected institution.
posted by onshi at 8:56 AM on November 25, 2009

I'm sorry you are in such a difficult position. Unfortunately, a bad art market + a disinterested owner are a disaster in the making. (When times were good, people could get away with pretty much not caring, and still pay the rent.)

Plus, if you really believe she is about to go under - while owing the artists a significant amount of money, it might be in your interest to be long gone by the time that happens - especially if you want to continue in the art business.

I know it sounds crazy, but what if you started your own part time bare bones art gallery? Even if it means working for money somewhere outside of the art world. It would be the perfect excuse to leave... and hey, there are lots of empty store fronts out there.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:04 AM on November 25, 2009

Oh ... and this is a great resource: How to Start and Run a Commercial Art Gallery by Ed Winkleman.
posted by R. Mutt at 9:09 AM on November 25, 2009

Jump - now.

And be preapred to issue proceedings quickly for unpaid wages as when it all goes tits up there's going to be a long list of creditors. Employees, who are unsecured creditors in my jursidiction - don't know about yours, usually end up at the back of the queue.
posted by dmt at 9:15 AM on November 25, 2009

It's her business ... she's free to run it as she likes, and you are free to leave if you don't like the way she runs it. It's that simple.

She doesn't have the right to evade taxes or skip out on paying artists for sales that have gone through.
posted by delmoi at 9:19 AM on November 25, 2009

Alternatively, you could notice (out loud) that she has real acumen for fundraising, networking, and building up the gallery's reputation. The gallery could really use those talents. She should be finding a way to shine by going on a speaking tour, reaching out to politicians, organizing major donor fundraisers, and so forth.

To make that possible, you'd be happy to free her up from all the pesky budgeting, accounts payable, answering creditors' phone calls, and other day-to-day operations. You'll just get a basic accounting system set up, and of course, you will actively consult her about the questions that only someone with her visionary leadership can answer.
posted by salvia at 9:36 AM on November 25, 2009

Nthing jump ship. It will likely be impossible to find a salaried job at another gallery right now. So you may want to be working on a business plan for your own gallery. As the economy turns up again, people will start buying art. You may be able to find a bank willing to front some money to do it.

You could also ask her if she wants to sell out to you, but that doesn't sound like a good idea given what you know about the finances of the gallery.
posted by musofire at 9:39 AM on November 25, 2009

No, she doesn't have the right to do those things (not pay taxes or artists). There's no excuse for that.

But she does have the right to do all those other things that are killing the business. And the only thing Oireachtac can do at this point is get another job. It's pretty hard for an employee to "fix" their boss, especially one that is as obviously committed to killing their own business as this one sounds.

The biggest question: what incredibly compelling and likely scenario would be worth sticking around for? We can dream of good outcomes, where somehow an employee can turn everything around. But most likely there's nothing to be done. It's sad.
posted by jumpfroggy at 9:42 AM on November 25, 2009

Start looking for a new job. Don't fight or criticize your boss on this- a good recommendation from her will help you in your job search, and it sounds like the ship is going to sink at some point soon enough, so you probably want to get out before the bitter end.
posted by emd3737 at 9:50 AM on November 25, 2009

Do you have a good relationship with the company's accountant? Does that person share your impressions of the gallery's dysfunction? How long does he/she think the gallery can survive? I'd try to have a confidential conversation with the accountant before deciding to jump ship.

But it sounds like you should just plan on quietly making your exit soon. And don't "play hardball" -- that will only make you look silly.
posted by ldenneau at 9:54 AM on November 25, 2009

Yeah, it's time for you to leave. If the money isn't there, you can't insist on retaining a salary that she can't afford, even if it's her own fault that she can't afford it. Other people aren't getting paid at all, so I can't see what good playing hardball will do anybody. If she's as bad at this as it sounds like she is, then things are only going to get worse, and what'll you do then? Find another job before you don't have any choice.
posted by katillathehun at 9:59 AM on November 25, 2009

So far, each and every one of you is either right or have posted a possibility I have already explored. A stoic, Amish-fellow nod of approval goes to ldenneau, salvia, R. Mutt, and naplesyellow in particular. I could reply to almost every posting with even more details of the drama-rama ding-dong my job puts me through.
Great thread so far.
posted by Oireachtac at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2009

She doesn't have the right to evade taxes or skip out on paying artists for sales that have gone through.

She totally does. They are illegal and immoral actions, but everyone has the right to ignore morals and laws if they so choose. The use of 'right' in that context is inappropriate, though, in my opinion. However, all those elements are, unfortunately, none of the OP's business, no matter how galling it must be to see something they have worked so hard to build be treated so badly.

OP: Yes, you need to get out. You should have built up a very valuable set of skills by now that are not just of art gallery relevance. If your boss is highly regarded (unjustly or not), having a highly regarded reference before everything crashes around their ears will be valuable to you. Do NOT wait until it collapses, and do not in any way feel responsible for someone else's business - you aren't. Not even a little bit.

Look after you, leave with the appropriate amount of notice if possible and do so with dignity. There is no value for you in staying any longer.
posted by Brockles at 10:02 AM on November 25, 2009

Leave immediately and walk directly for the lifeboats. With a little bit of luck you'll transition smoothly to a new job without even getting your feet wet.

Beats floundering in the drink and if you do nothing, that's your future.

I was in a similar situation: gave notice, boss begged me to stay on, did so, went to work one day and found that the building had been stripped over the weekend and my job was gone.
posted by codswallop at 10:06 AM on November 25, 2009

Nthing everybody who says start looking for other opportunities.

However, in the meantime while you are still there I disagree that there is nothing you can do.

I'm curious where you heard she is considering cutting pay and hours for starters. If it came directly from her and you feel comfortable discussing it, maybe put together a solid marketing plan (probably focused on grass-roots efforts) and present it. Its possible she racked up this debt without realizing what a hold she dug herself into and is just now getting a clue and might be looking for anything that could save her business.

If you have another opportunity lined up in advance, you can be a bit more firm and say that while you really love working here and have become an integral part of the business, you simply can't stay if things don't change, but HEY! here are some great ideas on how they could change!

That sort of approach might work as well. As someone who was in a position and doing great at their job and got laid off because of the stupidity and lack of performance of others I feel your pain and wish you the best.
posted by Elminster24 at 10:12 AM on November 25, 2009

i also used to work as a gallery director for a sinking ship and a crazy man who also practiced tax evasion and carried a huge amount of debt on the company credit card. i too did everything for the gallery, from systems admin to graphic design to even managing the gallery owner's small side business. i did what was best for me at the time; i left. get out before it goes under. it'll be better for your resume and future chances, trust me. the good thing is you've picked up a lot of skills in your time there. however, you are not beholden to the gallery owner. start looking for a new job ASAP.
posted by raw sugar at 10:22 AM on November 25, 2009

Shape up, or what? She's dysfunctional and tired, and it's her business to run well, or not. Make her a proposal. List the things you do, your expertise, and your ability to assist her in keeping the gallery afloat. You can propose anything you want, up to and including buying her out. Meanwhile, your anger at her is doing you no good. She probably has and uses more expertise and connections than you credit her for. Having a crappy attitude at work makes work crappy. learn all you can from her, while you either take over the joint, or find a new job.

I've been in really a crappy job with an abusive boss, and didn't walk until I had a new job. In fact, was unsure whether to take the offer, but abusive boss made it clear that he would sabotage me, so taking the offer was the obvious choice. In another job, I kind of took over from within to make things more functional, and ended up with a promotion.
posted by theora55 at 10:23 AM on November 25, 2009

With all this in mind, we hear that she may be considering pay cuts and reduced hours for us employees.

She gets into over $40k debt on her credit card, and her answer to her financial "troubles" (read: misbehaviour) is to cut other people's salaries and reduce their hours?

Why are you even considering staying? Do you like giving away money to her so she can be irresponsible with it? Because that's what you'll be doing until the gallery closes.
posted by splice at 10:42 AM on November 25, 2009

If I am reading her personality type right, she may blame you if the ship sinks after you leave. She may be unable to see herself as responsible. If so, she might make it her project to keep you from getting another job elsewhere. If this is the case, you should be sure to communicate to her (very respectfully) what you think is going on, now. Lay out your cards, and try to pave the path for a graceful departure.

Have you been involved in filing payroll tax information? Is there any way that you could be personally held responsible for any of the tax evasion, if only because you signed a filing slip?
posted by Midnight Skulker at 11:33 AM on November 25, 2009

You could buy her out (for cheap), and then you would be boss of the art gallery that you've worked so hard to keep afloat.
posted by Houstonian at 11:41 AM on November 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Get out. Get out now.

She doesn't pay the artists? What makes you think she's not going to start handing out rubber paychecks.

Get your resume in order and start looking now. If I were in your place I would also start hoarding money and preparing to be unemployed. This lady doesn't sound like she's going to be stable for very long.
posted by TooFewShoes at 3:40 PM on November 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

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