In the United States, recent polls found that 70 percent of American workers consider their workplace a significant source of stress, whereas 51 percent report job stress reduces their productivity. (via PsychCentral)
Do we have to choose?
A month or so ago, I read this article in the New York Times by Anne-Marie Slaughter about our toxic work world.
The article stayed in my mind. But I’ve been wrestling with how to write about it. That’s because I’ve been juggling family issues and an important project and feeling stressed myself.
I wasn’t surprised to read public health experts are concerned about stress. They call it an epidemic. More people are experiencing anxiety attacks and exhaustion. Must we chose between our work and our lives?
The article points out that in our culture, the people who succeed are healthy, young and free from family obligations. The rest of us struggle along as best we can – juggling work and life and often dropping the ball.
The author cites a “distinctive American pathology of not making room for caregiving.” She points to a work culture set up for a past age. For a time when one partner worked and one partner was home and in charge of caregiving.
The reality today is that most children live in households where both parents work. And more people than ever before are working while caring for elderly relatives.
But caregiving is not valued as work is.
That’s when it really hit home.
If our nonprofit organizations work to create a better, more egalitarian world, why do we see this mindset there?
Shouldn’t we value caregiving as an extension of our missions?
There’s so much to think about here:
- Gender inequality. Traditional roles die hard. More often than not, women are still the chief caregivers. That puts additional stress on them.
- Productivity. Is our all-work, all-the-time culture really working?
- Guilt. For our sector, work isn’t just an exchange of labor for money. People depend on us!
The NYT article says girls achieve more in school, make up more than half the college population, and enter the workforce with higher salaries.
Yet the top positions in the corporate world are still held by men.
Women are smart and capable – but stressed more by the competing demands of home and work.
What does that mean in a sector like ours where women are the majority?
The Chronicle of Philanthropy shares that GuideStar’s 2015 compensation report shows female CEOs make less than men – at every budget level.
And the percentage of female chief executives declined slightly.
Development directors also showed a pay gap. In organizations with budgets of $500,000 to 1 million, median earnings for men were 13 percent higher than women’s.
Not so good.
And I have to believe it affects retention. Are we losing experienced, skilled people because their time and flexibility are more important than pay?
Is working so much even productive?
I’ve seen several related stories lately about shorter workdays.
Swedish companies are trying it successfully. And Beth Kanter wrote about some US and UK organizations that are making wellness and flexibility priorities.
It seems likely that a 6 hour day can be as productive – or more – than an 8 hour day.
That fits my experience. Years ago I took a position that had been full-time. But I worked part-time and got more done in 15-20 hours a week.
I was experienced. I knew what I was doing, so I could be far more productive. But I was also attracted to the job because of the flexibility. It was a good situation for both my employer and me.
But how many employers would hesitate to pay an experienced person fairly for fewer hours?
A while back I wrote about the stress we all feel. When people depend on your fundraising success, how do you leave it at the office?
When everyone is overwhelmed and working late, how do you leave without feeling awful?
This is a leadership problem.
When staff is always overwhelmed with work, either there isn’t enough staff or the staff isn’t well-trained. There’s always more work than there are people-hours.
But the public has learned to look at personnel costs as “overhead”. Extra, wasteful expenses to be kept to a minimum so donors would know their gifts were focused only on the mission.
We know now this is all wrong. And even the big charity watchdog groups are revising their rating system. But the myth remains.
Boards look at the expense side of the budget and worry.
But they could be looking at the income side – if they were willing to invest in fundraising.
Executive directors cut hours or personnel to make budgets work.
Instead, they could make the case for increased income and impact.
And nonprofit leaders model bad behavior themselves.
They take it as a badge of honor when they’re described as “married to their work” instead of modeling a balanced life.
We’re doing meaningful work. We accept we’ll likely be paid less than a position in the for-profit sector.
But does it mean we have to prioritize our work above our life?
Let’s make an unapologetic case for our employees.
They deserve decent pay, sane hours, and human expectations. We need to remind funders, board members and nonprofit leaders that overhead is people and people do mission.
There’s a difference between volunteering and working for pay. Each is honorable, but we shouldn’t confuse them.
Overhaul the competitive system that equates time in the office with success.
We should recognize the value of flexibility. We should care about emotional health. And we should honor caregiving. Employees’ value should be measured by results, not hours at the desk.
Likewise, career growth shouldn’t be the prize won by the most aggressive, competitive staff members. Cooperation is good – and employees who are able to truly collaborate will further the organization’s mission.
We should see the lack of equity in our own workplaces.
It goes beyond gender, of course. (My friend Vu writes wonderfully about issues facing communities of color. Here’s just one: The Equity of Risk or Failure. If you don’t already read this blog, do yourself a favor and spend some time there.) Let’s take a real look at our own organizations. And when we see the problems, let’s work to change them.
We should take a stand for ourselves.
How many jobs have you seen advertised as part-time with a full-time workload? A development director position listed as a “coordinator”?
How many organizations truly value their employees as people, not product?
Don’t accept unrealistic expectations. Do your best, most focused work. Then go home without guilt. Take a lunch break. Walk around the block.
Good employees get more done. Good employees build important relationships. They’re worth fighting for.
After giving it all we have, we should go home and have lives. We all should have time to care for the people who are important to us.
Here’s where you come in
I have more questions than answers. And it’s a big problem. But I want to hear from you.
- What are your life/work struggles?
- How have you found balance in your own life?
- How is your organization helping employees to stay well and work well?
- What can we change so our sector can lead the way toward a more sane view of work?
Your work or a life? A bad choice you shouldn’t have to make. Please share your thoughts in the comments. Or drop me an email. This could be the beginning of a long and needed conversation!