“There are many things I wish I had known about work/life balance before I started working at my first job after graduating in the summer of 2015. I worked for an environment education nonprofit in the South Puget Sound as a Development Associate. They were a new nonprofit and were trying to increase their funding, so they couldn’t afford to pay me much (or maybe they could have—I didn’t know their exact finances). They offered me $11 an hour, and I proposed $12-13. Their counter-offer was a $25K salary with no overtime, which I accepted.
The position required me to work some events beyond the standard work day/week. In the summer, I worked at least one event a week, which required a 12-hour day. Other times during the year, I worked about two events per month. Because the organization was small, new, and looking to secure as much funding as possible, the staff and board members frequently wanted to add new programs and events.
I didn’t have the option to miss an event if I was sick. We only had a staff of 2-3 people, some of whom were often working other events, so they wouldn’t have been able to cover for me. We had volunteers to help with the events, but our volunteers weren’t able to run events on their own. If I was responsible for the event, I had to be there. Taking on so much just wasn’t sustainable for the staff.
I wanted to do well in my new job, be seen as a positive and flexible coworker, and learn new skills like managing volunteers and public speaking, so I was enthusiastic at first about working overtime and taking on so much. Just coming out of college I was used to spending a lot of time studying, so it didn’t occur to me, at least not right away, that I was sacrificing my health for my job.
I became so stressed out that it impacted my appetite. I felt anxious about work and that manifested into nausea. I should have been hungry but eating wasn’t appealing at all. Some days I had breakfast, most days I didn’t each lunch, and some days I didn’t have dinner. All the stress even impacted my menstrual cycle, causing me to miss it for several months. I finally realized that I had to leave that job to protect my own health and mental state.
Now I work in volunteer services for a nonprofit social services organization in Seattle. I am paid an hourly rate of $20.28, and I only work 37.5 hours a week. If I work an evening event, I get to take some time off later that week, or I’m compensated for working overtime. My employer doesn’t expect me to stay beyond the work day. Once I started working in a healthy environment that encourages a work/life balance, I realized my prior work experience was not at all how it’s supposed to be. I shouldn’t be feeling extremely anxious every day or not eating. With this organization, I feel supported.
I think nonprofit work is extremely popular among college graduates, and an employer might see a graduate as someone who can be paid a little less and work a little more, because they view people in their twenties as young, idealist, and hardworking. I think that encourages a culture of getting away with requiring longer hours, paying less compensation, requiring more work, or a combination of all of those things. I don’t think all nonprofits are doing that, but I think graduates need to ask employers some tough questions about overtime: Do you pay for overtime? What’s your policy on keeping hours around 40 a week? What’s your expectation for attending/managing events? Who is responsible for helping with events? I also think it’s important for graduates to continue their job search until they find a job that offers respectable pay and a culture that recognizes the importance of work/life balance.
Working for a nonprofit does not mean that you need to sacrifice your health or life. And nonprofits should be held accountable for paying people for their overtime work. “
— Lauren, Volunteer Services Coordinator