With a world in crisis and an art market spinning out of control, ace art-world consultants Chen & Lampert deliver hard truths in response to questions sent by Art in America readers from far and wide.
I am writing as a member of the board of directors of a perennially busy and beleaguered art non-profit. We were recently faced with the excruciating task of terminating our long-standing director. They held their position for well over 30 years, but pressing legal matters and numerous documented acts of managerial negligence finally forced us to take action. We offered a severance package along with an emeritus position that provides continued health benefits. They agreed to our terms but clearly have not accepted their dismissal because they continue showing up to work, which is causing major discomfort and confusion for the staff, board, and everyone involved. Please advise us on how to handle this delicate situation so that we can all move on.
It’s always challenging when a long-serving employee can’t accept a change in their role. We once hired our former masseuse as an administrative assistant and soon found ourselves having to repeatedly ask them to stop kneading us all the time. Their firm touch and exquisite thumb-work was soothing within the sphere of their reiki studio, but in our office it felt more like harassment. This example is slightly different from your situation, but, in both cases, no always means no.
First and foremost, your entire board must have a candid conversation with your former director. A “thank you for your service” email won’t suffice. Bring pastries and explain in a kind yet direct manner that their time at the organization has ended. Gently remind them of their severance package and emeritus position, neither of which kicks in until they stop showing up. You must help them to discover that this transition opens up new opportunities that will keep them involved with the community in different ways. You should also change the locks.
Remember, the goal is to handle the situation with sensitivity and respect for the former director’s meaningful history with the organization. After so many years, they surely made some kind of worthwhile contribution, even if they are floundering in the present. If things progress and they refuse to play along, have your lawyer send a formal letter reiterating the termination of their employment and forbidding them to come within 500 feet of the office. And if none of these tactics work, establish a nice new emeritus office equipped with a rotary phone in a retirement community somewhere in the tri-state area.
I know it sounds ageist, but I’m a curatorial assistant who is being driven over the edge by my senior-citizen bosses’ inability to hit “reply all” to emails. I’ve demonstrated how to do it countless times, and at this point there is no excuse for their incompetence. Important communications with lenders keep falling through the cracks, and I’m constantly doing damage control. It’s outrageous! How can I get them to master this ultra-basic move?
Ah, the age-old (it’s a pun!) problem of getting the elderly to adopt new technology that isn’t even new anymore. Listen, whippersnapper: being ancient is a sad and completely valid excuse for just about everything that you screw up after the age of 40. If you were a good go-getter assistant, you’d be permanently logged into your boss’s account and reading all their emails daily in order to avoid such foul-ups. Your chances of getting the geezer to “reply all” are as good as our prospects of getting our kids to put away their goddamn Legos. The only real way to cajole children and old people alike into doing what you want is with bribes, so try rewarding your boss with a Werther’s Original every time they respond to an email correctly. Keep the supply of hard candies coming and they might even figure out how to add an attachment all on their own.
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