I had a tough conversation with an employer, as the employee. I work for a non-profit organization and compared to what I could earn in the for-profit world, I make considerably less. This is the story of 80% of non-profit employees, everywhere. These employees are mission driven to accept a lower wage in exchange for the peace that comes with doing good work. I love the work that I do and I am very good at it. But is that enough?
Now, non-profits are recognizing that in order to attract the most talented folks for a lower wage, they must offer other “perks”. Some of these perks include a generous number vacation days, flexible work hours or schedules, medical insurance paid at 100% (or something near that) and opportunities for advancement or regular wage increases. These are some of the reasons why people like me say yes to these kinds of companies. There is a trade off. We know that and we accept it. In exchange for the lower cost employee, most non-profit employers benefit greatly by getting a salaried and exempt employee who regularly invests an excess of 40 hours each week. Most mid-level non-profit employees put in way more hours than they are compensated for weekly. 50-60 hours each week is typical and when you are under compensated, the toll that takes becomes evident sooner than in the for-profit world.
A 2011 survey of more than 2,000 nonprofit employees by Opportunity Knocks, a human-resources organization that specializes in nonprofits, in partnership with Jessica Word, an associate professor of public administration at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, found that half of employees in the nonprofit sector may be burned out or in danger of burnout. “These are highly emotional and difficult jobs,” she said, adding, “These organizations often have very high rates of employee turnover, which results from a combination of burnout and low compensation.”
This alone would seem reason enough for an organization to be accomodating when it comes to certain things. My organization however, was not. Upon hire, I received 3 weeks of vacation. I scheduled a trip which, by the end of the year would have put be in the negative for vacation, by one day. One day. Do you know they are making me take leave without pay rather than allowing me to go into the red by ONE DAY? This same organization does not believe in allowing any employees to work from home rather than use PTO. It would seem that it is okay to over-give to an organization, but not over-receive from it. Hmmmm?
I wish that people would understand the value of generosity and considering humanity along with organizational protections. This is why I do the work that I do. To decrease situations like this and increase the perspective of companies who think that strangling workers is the best way to control finances, hours, production, etc. This company is a victim of an immature and thoughtless approach to leadership which very reactive rather than strategic. Reactive quickly solves immediate problems but typically causes several more, over time. This means that a reactive approach can immediately seem effective and can validate the leader. However, over time, it causes more harm than good. When an organization approaches a problem, if they are thoughtful, resourceful, strategic and inclusive in their solution, they will not only arrive at an effective result, but a lasting one too.
I imagine that in this organization’s past, they probably had some employees abuse a policy or two. Rather than taking the time needed to root out why the abuse happened or even establish whether the misuse of a policy by one or two people even establishes a recurring and problematic issue - they simply reacted. And now, here we are. I cannot vacation and be compensated for it even though what I have given in hours more than makes up for the 8 hours I would be over by.
Why aren't organizations asking these questions and then asking them again?
Are the policies reflective of the culture we want?
Do we value our employees?
How do we demonstrate that value through our policies?
What more can we do to value them?
We have to be more thoughtful as employers. We have to be people-centric in our approach. Well, let me rephrase. We should if we value our people. If we want them to remain engaged, loyal, and happy about coming to work - if that is true, then we SHOULD be people-centric. That just means considering the impact of leadership decisions on the people the decision will greatest effect.
Strengths coaching allows me the opportunity to educate and assist the organizations who don’t want to fall into this trap. Even though I work for an organization that has fallen into this messy approach to leadership, I cannot help them unless they ask. So, here I am, helping other teams and groups and entire departments to do better. At the same time, I wait for my own organization to simply ask for help…