I thought a salaried job had prestige. I worked at restaurants as an hourly worker for many years and in sales at Nordstrom on commission, and even when I became an office manager I was paid by the hour. When I got my first salaried position, I thought I was moving into a white collar environment and that was more prestigious. I’d arrived, but I found out it just means they can work you as many hours as they want.
At the company I work for, our sales have gone up by more than 15% a year every year for the last three years, but that’s not translating into more staff. Everyone just works 15% more each year. It takes months to replace someone after they’ve left, and in the meantime, there's an expectation that everyone else can just pick up that workload, too.
I put in a lot of extra work — easily 50 or 55 hours a week. Others work even longer hours. People break down in tears because they are working until 10 or 11 o’clock at night, and often weekends, too. One person just quit after two years with the company, and he said he never worked less than 55-60 hours a week. He took a pay cut to go back to a job where he’s paid time and half for overtime. Everyone is just slammed, all the time.
What drives the long hours is that they’re not hiring enough employees to do the work in a reasonable amount of time. It’s easier to just expect that people will stay until their work is done.
It definitely impacts the quality of work when you’re editing documents at 10:00 or 11:00 at night instead of 11:00 in the morning. So even though we’re putting in more work, it's less productive time, so as our sales increase without adding staffing, the product quality is going down.
But it doesn’t just affect the quality of our work. These kinds of hours have a big impact on our families, our time with our kids, our health, our well-being. Feeling lousy and exhausted every day makes it very hard to advance one’s career, or look for a better job, and that affects income mobility and career growth.
I think mothers are especially limited in their job mobility because of the expectation of overtime. My ex-husband worked on salary, often putting in 50 - 60 hours a week, which limited his availability for the kids, but also my availability for work, especially after we got divorced. I always had to be careful to take jobs where there wasn't that expectation of overtime, because someone needed to be there for the kids. His career advanced, and mine stayed stagnant, and I paid the cost of his additional hours in that sense.
I’ve felt really limited in my career growth because I'd be looking at positions where it was implied or even explicit that those additional hours would be part of the job. There’s just an expectation that 50 hours is standard, minimum, if you’re in a salaried position.
It's like you have to work a certain amount of hours for free before you have a chance to make more money. I've been in the same salary range and the same position level for more than 10 years, because I couldn't contribute those additional hours that could have meant more advancement. Both my kids’ parents work full-time, but they’ve seen their dad’s career and income advance, a lot, and I’m no better off, just older. Now that they’re almost both in college, I’m trying to finally get on a career track with one of those good salaried, 50+ hour a week jobs, in my 50’s!
I’ve seen the social impacts outside my family, too. I made time as a parent to volunteer at school and coach sports, and it was really difficult to get enough parent involvement because of parents working late and not being able to assist in those volunteer jobs. I think that hits lower-income more than higher-income families.
It seemed like most of the kids who are able to participate in sports and other activities are higher income, and it's not just because of the fees, it's because of the parents’ availability to get their kids to and from practices and everything. And so the parents who are better off — their kids are in sports and dance and everything, and then kids right down the street whose parents are working late every day can't run them around, and they don’t get to participate.
I’ve seen the positive impacts on the kids I’ve coached, in their education outcomes, and graduation rates, and college prospects and future job skills. I think the limitation of time that lower income, working parents have to give to their kids, adds to the perpetuation of poverty, maybe not for all low income kids, but definitely in general.
If my workplace had to pay overtime to salaried workers when they work extra hours, I think they would hire more people instead of paying people time and a half. That's what I'd recommend, as the person who does the accounting in my company. I’d point out that we could actually be saving money by having more people on staff. Then people would get more time for their families and their health, and their quality of work would improve, too.
If the whole state treated overtime properly, I think there would be more people with jobs, and if wages were fair, there'd be fewer people on public assistance, which would save the state money.
If employers had to pay people for the hours they actually work, and fair wages, more people could get off work at a regular time, have dinner with their families again, run the kids to practice, help them with homework, coach a team, or contribute in their communities other ways, all those things we hope working will allow us to do but we never have time for. I think our society would be better off. We’d all be better off.
— S.J., Normandy Park