My employer wants me to lead a book club...for free
August 13, 2013 11:42 AM   Subscribe

I work at a radio station. One of my managers attended a public radio networking event recently where people were bandying about the idea of book clubs for radio station listeners. Our top-level manager has decided that "we are definitely doing the book club thing." This is now my problem.

My direct boss is as flummoxed as our top-boss about what the details of the book club should be - that will be my job to figure out, if I cave in to the pressure to lead this project and get the monkey off my boss' back for him.

On the one hand: I think I could be a great project manager. I've definitely got the skills and the desire to put something together, to see it through from start to finish. I like books and reading, and for the most part I enjoy interacting with our listeners. Our community events have been few and far between in the years that I've been here. It's a yawning gap, and it makes sense to start trying to bond with our audience in a direct way - especially since we're constantly asking them for money. So at first blush, this is a good idea for lots of reasons.

On the other hand, there's an hours issue. I'm here eight hours a day doing a bunch of stuff already. Management hasn't said they won't pay me for the extra work this project would involve. Instead, they're evading me, saying "It's a gray area."

When my boss said this to me just now, I said, "Right, but it can't remain a gray area. We have to figure out all the gray areas ahead of time, and make sure they're black and white, before we put this in place. I need to be compensated for my time, obviously. We'll have to chat with the union to find out whether they're going to require you pay me for the extra hours. If I'm not getting paid, we still have to work out some other form of compensation, time off, for instance - and it also has to be okay with the union."

So my manager is giving me this glazed look, because he dreads the union and has done some borderline unethical things in terms of our compensation in the past - which I want to put a cap on, now that I have some sort of handle on how these things should work.

The project, to do it right, involves: deciding on the books, taking the time to read them, shaping a program for the listeners, coming up with a title for the club, getting listeners involved, meeting with them for discussions either at the station or other venues, following up on social media, promoting the club, trying to swell membership, partnering with bookstores or libraries, figuring out an on-air campaign, figuring out and implementing a traditional radio promotions roll-out, finding a way of measuring the success of the effort, etc. etc. And it also has to be really really clear, at least in my world, WHY we're doing this thing.

So this is a project that involves not just extra time - but the nature of my job would change. I'd be making decisions, leading a group, and being a manager. Kewl, but I can't do that without some sort of promotion.

Would it make sense to approach them with the request, after writing up a report for them showing what the thing actually involves, that I be given managerial status? Can I do this without it sounding like an ultimatum?

If you've ever parlayed a request by management for something nearly impossible to achieve, into a promotion for yourself, how did that work?
posted by cartoonella to Work & Money (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Speaking as a manager, I would promote you at your annual review *after* you successfully designed and executed the book club, showing initiative and benefiting the station.

That seems separate to me from the fact that you occupy a union position with specific rules about compensation - if you are contractually entitled to time-and-a-half or some other benefit once you cross an hour threshold, then you get it. If they don't want to give it to you and you don't want to (or can't) work outside your contract, I think you can legitimately say no (I had "this is not my job" happen with union staff occasionally, and we just found another way to accomplish the necessary tasks).

If I were in your position, FWIW, I would be itching to start a book club - it sounds fun. If you do write a plan, I encourage you to think about what a trial run looks like, so you can create a monthly/quarterly system you and other staff members can replicate. Not just the best-ever book club, but the best one that you all can reasonably manage that listeners enjoy. Good luck!
posted by deliriouscool at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Write up the proposal, complete with what is needed, your proposed new title and the union information.

For sure, don't work for free.

When I was very young, I took over for someone on maternity leave, doing both jobs at once. I did get the promotion, but I had to audition.

I learned my lesson and it didn't ever happen again.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:59 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Can you outsource this to an English lit major in need of some work experience? Then you act as project manager.

Trust me, having English lit people in your book club automatically elevates it 10x.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 12:02 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Something on paper detailing the amount of work and the hours involved, especially over the course of a year (or however long they envision this happening) would be a good first step. I'm guessing they have no idea of the time in would require (especially since it would not be just a casual group of friends type club but instead an event representing the station which needs to be very professional and organized). Also, explaining on paper how the new duties would impact your current work level would be important, I think, so they won't be either expecting you to double your work hours or double your workload for the current number of hours.

Are you thinking of asking for a title like "project manager" or something more like "department manager"? I'm not sure how your union works but in my union, "manager" positions are not in the union.

Do you have a union rep you can enlist to back you up or help you to push home the requirement of compensation for hours worked?

So you don't sound like you are giving them an ultimatum, I might start by writing the report and then giving them a chance to do the right thing. If they don't offer anything or offer enough, then you can make a counter offer. And I think that the way you are talking to them about "let's make sure we are both following the union's rules" is helpful, too. Not to make the union the bad guys but making it sound like you and the managers can work together to meet the union's requirement.
posted by Beti at 12:03 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm assuming your employer is a nonprofit? FWIW, this sort of thing is very common in the nonprofit world.

Also, are you salaried? That makes a difference with the whole "getting paid extra for your time" issue.

Anyway, I think it's important here to separate what's "right" from what's going to get you what you want. What's more important to you - getting a promotion and raise, developing new skills/expertise, keeping your hours to 8 per day? I'm not saying it's either/or, but you do have to decide what is your priority.

I've been in a similar situation, as a nonprofit employee in a union working for a promotion. I wound up doing two roles for a few months before I got the promotion. It all worked out in the end (I got a good raise, too), but in retrospect, I should have been more proactive about setting out expectations and a timeline.

On the other hand, I think that if your absolute first reaction is to say "how am I going to get paid for this?" (ie, treating it as a burden or a problem) instead of "this is a great opportunity," that's not going to be very helpful to you, especially in a nonprofit workplace. It's good to advocate for yourself, for sure. But you've got to balance that with showing that you're eager to learn and advance. It's a fine balance.

I do know some people in the nonprofit world who are total sticklers about sticking to their 8 hours/day and not taking on new responsibilities without extra pay. They have not advanced, or their advances have been very slow. I think that's fine with most of them, and if you're just not that into advancing and having a Big Career where you are (maybe you've got other goals/ambitions, maybe that's just not you), then it's a decent approach to take. But if you do want to advance, then you're probably going to have to find a middle ground.

If I were in your position, I would sit down with your boss and lay out a new workplan, with this new responsibility, with some benchmarks for success. And make it very clear that you want a promotion/raise, but don't expect to get it before you start working on this. And, separately, talk to the union. Do NOT talk to your boss about the union. If they want to do something, that's great, but you should let them take the lead there - that's what they're for.
posted by lunasol at 12:14 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

"Bandying about" is, unfortunately, a lot of what public and community radio stations call strategy these days in terms of programming as they struggle to compete with social media for ears and wallets. It sounds like a good idea, like so many other good ideas that ended up as huge resource wasters that didn't kick the station up a point with Arbitron. Stations have a tendency to start new things or end old things w/o including the audience, which is another reason why donations have fallen; if it's really OUR station, let us be involved. Has there been any kind of study that looks at whether book clubs work with stations with similar demographics to yours? Will the station consider any surveys of the listening audience to see if book clubs is what it wants. Much of the discussion so far has been about positions and money and internal politics. The idea has possibilities, but the groundwork with the listeners and advertisers is an important place to start.
posted by CollectiveMind at 12:16 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you're going to do a written plan, that you actually want accepted and funded by management, you had better figure out what the benefits to the station, its listeners and/or its management, will be in doing this book club, and lead with those benefits, before discussing costs. And it would be great if you could close with a recap of those benefits, too. From years of writing project proposals, my rule is to discuss cost/benefit ratios as "benefit to cost comparisons," because it makes it so much easier to characterize costs as "investments" in the closing recap. And all managers want to "invest" wisely, to reap the maximum "benefits" possible.
posted by paulsc at 12:23 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Great responses, guys! I love these thoughtful answers. Will be arming myself with your knowledge before committing to this thing. Please keep it coming :)
posted by cartoonella at 12:23 PM on August 13, 2013

Can't speak to the employer-related issues but this is an example of an NPR-related book group being run via Meetup. You might get some operational ideas from there (including being able to charge the members/attendees a nominal participation fee to cover some of your costs).
posted by fuse theorem at 12:23 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd also do a report, detailing the activities you have mentioned in your post, possibly as a table with the following headings: "activity" - "description" - "why" - "hours" - "budget" - "Who". The table for easy overview, but I would actually also include those as sub-headings in my report. People who have never done something frequently think that much less effort/ time/ money is involved in doing said thing than is actually the case. If you are to conduct a professional book club that is to reflect well on the station and actually serve as part of their PR program, they can't skimp on it, or else the club may well have the opposite effect.

I'd write the report super-impersonal. Under the "Who/ Personnel" heading I'd come up with several options, such as, each annotated as to benefits and challenges of each proposal:

1. The author of this report as club concept designer and exclusive moderator.
Benefits: extensive experience of xyz, has done bla bla bla.
Challenges: Author is already fully booked doing bla bla bla, which results in regular 8 hour days with few exceptions. Additional tasks requiring more than x hours per week/ month might negatively impact on current tasks, and contravene union rules.

2. Report author as concept designer. Colleagues/ interns/ English lit students etc as moderators, under report author's guidance.
Benefits: bla bla. Also, this would keep report author's time commitment in line with current tasks, whilst allowing the author as representative of the station to have significant input remain in charge of the overall management of the club.

Basically, I'd make sure that the report clearly states how many hours the club would suck up on a regular basis, as well as what the one off efforts entail, in terms of both hours and budget-wise. Also, I'd be clear on what the benefits and challenges would be (also with regard to the "Why"), and to what extent a shoddy approach might trip the project up, or even pose wider problems to the station.

From what you've written in your post you seem to have a clearer idea of what this will entail than your management.
posted by miorita at 12:24 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Not sure how public radio works, but for profit radio, announcers who do personal appearances are generally paid for their time by the advertiser. Seems like what you need is a book store as a sponsor who would pay you for your appearances. Do you have sales people who could secure this sponsorship for you? If not, it may be up to you to find funding for it.
posted by willnot at 1:18 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is this the same company you've written about before? If so has the stealing stopped, and are you comfortable enough with your fake assistant to get in even deeper with your listeners? This seems like a troublesome proposition, especially if they're not opening the discussion with some talk of how they're going to manage existing resources to pay for it. I don't see it as "project manager" though.
posted by headnsouth at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

By the way, Audible sponsors a number of podcasts I listen to including PRI shows like This American Life. I don't know what kind of audience size they look for or what kind of CPMs they're paying, but that may be an easier call to make than trying to get in with a local book store.
posted by willnot at 1:30 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd like to amend my answer above: instead of talking about "Who/Personnel", I'd have a section on "Implementation models". This would not be entirely dissimilar, but it moves focus even further from the "here is why I can't do it unless you pay me extra" issue, and turns it even more from a personal request to an impersonal but implacable necessity. You could also include here the notion of an audience survey mentioned by CollectiveMind - what kind of model would your audience prefer?

So, in addition to the stuff re. who is mediator etc above, you could also include an audience/ reader-led model, with representative of the station (you?) acting as manager/ co-ordinator. In fact, I’d try to present the models in the rosiest light which have a representative of the station in a co-ordinating/ program managing role, with interns, or audience members, or colleagues in rotation acting as meeting conveners/ presidents. This seems the most reliable way of allowing you to describe the role as genuinely managerial, at least in part, should it come in handy in the future (next job you’re applying to).

Another added bonus for doing a good report is that it is something which you can include in your CV. This type of analysis is also very transferable for completely different kinds of positions.
posted by miorita at 1:36 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much, again, guys!
posted by cartoonella at 2:23 PM on August 13, 2013

Does your city do a One City One Book program? If so, why not partner with whoever runs the existing program? They'd get free advertising via your radio station while you wouldn't have to handle the coordination aspects.
posted by MsMolly at 5:47 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

As someone who works at a nonprofit, I wouldn't be surprised to have something like this thrown at me, and I certainly wouldn't expect a promotion or extra compensation. I might, however, come in late the next day if the actual book club meeting was held in the evening. [BUT I am not in a union, and I can see how that would complicate things.]

If you're not super excited about this idea, maybe you should ask around and see if someone else would like to take it on? Remind your boss that it's only going to be good for the organization if the person running it is enthusiastic about the idea.
posted by jrichards at 1:31 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older Etiquette of homeowners insurance and accidents   |   Please help me send a SASE internationally. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.