Four out of eight staff members have quit their jobs or been fired from Qmunity since Dara Parker took over as executive director in May.
A fifth staff member is awaiting the outcome of arbitration. “I have no comment except to say that I look forward to coming back to Qmunity into my position as executive assistant once the arbitration process is complete. That is as much as I am prepared to say,” Lyndon Surjik told Xtra Nov 23.
Parker acknowledges there have been three or four “staff transitions” since she took the helm. She cites a youth worker, a program manager and the coordinator of Qmunity’s Generations Project for seniors.
Asked if she has any concerns about the turnover, Parker says it’s an opportunity. “It’s natural in the sector that there is high turnover,” she says, noting that two staff members left to pursue higher education.
“In addition to that, sometimes people just move on,” she says. “It’s been challenging with so much transition. We’re losing some of the institutional memory within the organization.”
“I’m also on my own learning curve,” acknowledges Parker, a first-time ED. “I’ve only been here for six months. I don’t know the intimate program details that some people have, so yes, that presents some programmatic challenges. But it also presents opportunities to have new energies, new people to freshen programs that have existed for a long time.”
Parker says she is “absolutely” qualified to do the job as executive director. “I have a broad range of experience. I’ve worked in the frontline of social profits, I have developed programs, I’ve managed staff, I have hired, I have worked on policy development initiatives, I’ve worked with our local government, I’ve worked with funders, I developed funding proposals, I have successfully received funding proposals — all key skill sets to successfully do this job,” she says.
Two former staff members disagree. They attribute the turnover to Parker’s allegedly weak management skills.
The former coordinator of the Generations Project, who tendered her resignation at the end of October, says she felt harassed at work.
Alexandra Henriques says she was called into four unwarranted disciplinary meetings in five months with Parker and was suspended for a week without pay over a conflict regarding the continued existence of the Generations newsletter.
She describes the pressure as “ongoing and relentless.”
“It was [like] being on a terribly fast treadmill,” she says, alleging that Parker micromanaged without sufficient understanding of Henriques’ responsibilities.
The last straw, Henriques says, was Parker’s last-minute attempt to stop her from attending an elder-care conference in Montreal for which arrangements had already been made and a plane ticket purchased.
Henriques says she went to the conference anyway since she felt it essential for a Generations representative to attend. “I knew I would have to resign when I came back,” she says. “I was told when I came back there was going to be another meeting.”
Prior to resigning, Henriques says she called Qmunity board member Simone Longpre to complain about the work climate but was told that the board doesn’t get involved in human resource issues and that staff members would have to deal with the ED directly.
“We got no support from anyone on the board. They don’t seem to care about the interruption of service; they don’t seem to care about the lack of continuity,” Henriques says.
“We have no continuity with the program manager, and that’s a key position,” she says, noting that the organization is on its fourth program manager in two years. “The executive assistant is also a key position, and now Generations. These people will be new and no overlap. I think that’s important.
“This is serious,” she says. “The board should be taking note, and they don’t seem to be.”
Henriques wonders whether the board instructed Parker to clean house, noting that Qmunity’s staff unionized a few years ago.
“There was no direction for the executive director to clean house with regards to staff,” past chair and current board member Jeffrey Preiss says. “The executive director is given the oversight of HR within the organization. I can tell you the board is extremely pleased with the work that Dara has done since starting as executive director.”
Preiss says Henriques’ concerns were brought to the board but says the board’s focus is on governance. He says Parker has the board’s full support.
He notes the board has “created some serious expectations” for Parker, including finding a new location for Qmunity and ensuring its financial stability.
Preiss says the board worked with Parker to eliminate Surjik’s executive assistant position and create a new manager position.
Asked if he feels the board needs to be more hands-on regarding staff issues, Preiss says the board is kept apprised of all staff matters. “The staff also have the ability to speak to various representatives; they have access to a union, for example, in which those issues can also be raised.”
Asked if the board anticipated the recent staff turnover, Preiss says that in any organization staff come and go at their leisure and at their stage of life. “In this case, certain staff members had reasons that they left.”
One recently fired Qmunity employee, who would speak only on condition of anonymity, echoes Henriques’ concerns about staff conditions under Parker.
He also questions how Qmunity tracks the number of people accessing its programs annually.
Parker says the current tracking system does not distinguish between new and returning participants. Asked if that could lead to double counting participants, Parker says it depends on what information funders are seeking.
Asked how many people use Qmunity’s programs per year, she says she can provide the number of people — approximately 35,000 — that interact with the organization annually. She says she would have to check on how many use the organization’s programs.
“We count the number of participants who participate in our programs. We also track how many referrals and references we do; we track how many requests we receive by email and so on; and we track the number of people who come into the organization,” Parker says. “We also track how many partners we work with and who receive presentations that we deliver.”
Asked if the community has any reason to be concerned about the future of the organization, Parker says the community should be excited about Qmunity’s future. “I think that there is positive change happening within the organization. I think we’re building on a very strong foundation, that I inherited a very strong foundation, and that the board and the staff are excited about moving Qmunity into the next phase.”