Wednesday, February 24, 2010

when doing good is like being taken hostage

Funny how, when you get prescribed Ativan because talking with your sister about her divorce makes your heart pound, you find yourself taking the Ativan more because work is kicking your ass and driving you toward a major meltdown.

Working for a non profit human services org in this environment (i.e., Illinois) is like being taken hostage and developing a bad case of Stockholm Syndrome.  There's nowhere else to go, you're grateful you still have a job (though you don't know how long that'll last), you're dependent on the vicissitudes of a sector that's completely unsustainable in its current form, as well as the political whim of a bunch of downstate reps who don't give a shit and, as a result, you start identifying with the conditions of your hostage-taking:

Of course it's right and natural for me to tamp down any resentment that my last two promotions have gone completely unrewarded.
Of course it's an equal trade that, instead of merit raises for the past 3 years, we should be happy for random jeans days.
Of course it's ok to work over 40 hrs/week and look at your annual compensation and think, This is not making sense but hey, it's for a good cause.

Sounding bitter?
You bet.  And I'm not the only one.  There is a growing air of dissatisfaction and resentment growing in the ranks here.  And I'm not even talking about frontline folks who have sacrificed a hell of a lot more than the rest of us.  But in the so-called 'high performing' team, the team that is perceived to receive a lot of perks, we are beginning not to feel so inspired by being so high-performing.

Our high performance comes at a price and we're tapped out.  Literally and figuratively. 

Our resentment isn't so much about the fiscal situation we're in.  We know whose fault this is; we know our sector has been bent over a barrell and frakked for the past 20 years by folks down in Springfield.

Our resentment is burbling because so much is being heaped on us, things are starting to fall apart and instead of pulling back, the heaping continues.  In a healthy environment, some of our initiatives make sense.  But we're not healthy; we're in constant crisis mode.  There's an expectation that resources get cut but of course output not only continues but triples.  Ok, I understand that mindset.  But sooner or later, we're all going to start reaching our breaking points. 

Sooner or later, the uncertainty of being on unemployment is going to seem a LOT more appealing than putting up with this crap.

At least when you're on unemployment, you get to rest.  You get to breathe.  You get to slow down a little.  When you're on unemployment (and I have been) you don't find yourself taking anti-anxiety meds in the middle of the day.

And I think half the team is just about there.

I think about what it was like leading a union. Ha ha.  In this kind of situation, dept stewards like me would be advocating union members first to log all their hours and the kind of work they do, then get ready to 'work to rule.'  It was a low pressure, but effective, work action when the administration didn't feel it was necessary to compensate for the actual work that was being produced.  If you're only supposed to work 20 hrs a week, only work 20 hrs a week.  If that meant curtailing office hours, so be it.  If that meant cutting short on class prep, so be it.  The goal was to get compensated for ALL the work you performed, not just part.  If you had 1600 union members suddenly working to rule, a lot of shit didn't get done and the administration would be forced to rethink their pay structure.

Of course, non profits aren't usually unionized.  In fact, our employment handbook makes unionization grounds for discipline and/or dismissal. (Ironic, huh?)

But goddammit - we are getting close to some kind of Norma Rae moment.  Just saying that's what the tea leaves look like.

Huh.  I'm beginning to see how one becomes a Teabagger.


smidgewidgen said...

I'm in that place too - where I work, we have huge disparities in work ethics and number of hours worked (I think I work twice as much as many of my colleagues - we're all f/t - yet make less than them), and everything keeps getting piled on me. I was ready to resign today.

I get too worried about finding a new job though.

Trope said...

Exactly, exactly. I'm overjoyed just at the rumor--unfounded--that we may actually be getting a cost-of-living increase this year. Then I did the math to find out what 3% of my salary is and got all angry and sad again.

Delia Christina said...

yeah; i just calculated mine and it's a whopping extra $55/pay period, gross.

Joy said...

I just went to a meeting to discuss proposed changes to my law schools loan repayment assistance program. Made me wonder if I shouldn't just say fuck all and work for a firm.

Delia Christina said...

the other day, i told a young volunteer who just got into law school to go corporate when she graduated.

work for a firm! you didn't need your soul anyway!

Joy said...

If I didn't need my soul, I would have stayed at the dull, pointless corporate job I had before I came to law school.

We can't win, can we? I see very few people winning these days, even from my relatively privileged vantage point. I think Bitch was right the other day that anyone who works for income has no real stability, it's just a matter of degree. It's fucking scary to do things right and yet still be screwed. I wonder if that's the way of the world and western liberal democracies were living in a dream bubble for the fifty years following WWII.

Delia Christina said...

working for the Man is still working for the Man, even if the Man is a non profit.

and all us privileged people (privileged in our various ways) are discovering just how relative stability is. you're right.