A non-profit has a budget crisis. They then go through attrition, layoffs, and other budget cuts. Higher-ups emphasize continuity of services to users, trying to keep the budget cuts invisible. Because many non-profit employees do truly care about their users, they take on more work, and the ones facing the public try to remain available even during breaks and lunches to answer questions or resolve a crisis. Just to keep the quality of service high.
Does this sound kind of familiar? I'm borrowing the language from this New York Times article about Wells Fargo and toxic work cultures.
It's kind of a theme in libraries. I'm taking a wild guess and assuming it's a common theme in other non-profits.
Even when some managers try to nag their employees to respect their break times, not to start early or work late unless it is on the clock and absolutely necessary, the employees care. Maybe too much.
Because if they stick to all labor rules and guidelines, service will suffer--because those in charge of the purse strings made painful decisions. Quite possibly because of bad financial decisions or risks that went south. Or maybe the purse strings are affected by the crappy politicking and jostling in the government.
So they take on more work because management also says to maintain the same level of service. Because management does not want to cut services. Not yet. Let's kick the can down the road until the next round of layoffs.
We care about our users, they say, and we agree.
We care about our employees they say, and we stay silent.
What if there is no breakroom? That subtly tells people to stay at their desks to eat lunch. And that makes people more willing to be interrupted during lunch. Because we're right there, and our users see us. They think, "Why can't they just help us?" We sort of agree, so we do.
Then we go back to lunch, and grumble a bit. Feel a little resentful of management.
Because when management says they care about employees, and yet expect them to work more for the same amount of money because they do not want to cut services, it shows management to be clueless. Unsupportive. We feel we can't speak up.
So we take it on, bottle it up.
That stress piles on top of any other stress the employee feels. Financial constraints. Professionally stuck. Spouse's job sucks, too. Family changes. Health crises. Dirty dishes in the sink. The stress cup gets full.
If you are a trauma survivor and also have PTSD, your stress cup can overflow. If you have poor emotional boundaries and actually feel what others are feeling when they vent their stresses to you--whether a friend or your non-profit user, that adds even more stress to that cup, and it sloshes onto the floor and your clothes, and becomes more obvious.
For these people, they may psychologically crack. Become overly anxious. Become depressed.
Have a mental health crisis. Take time off of work per doctor's orders. Feel guilty because your work has to be divided up among the others.
I may or may not be talking about myself--but it is a common theme I see among fellow library workers online, as we form our own little support groups.
Because management says they care about us, and yet they do not want to make the tough service cut decisions. I can't say I blame them, since it really does affect our users. Also I know they probably feel pressured by the community's expectations to maintain the same level of service.
So, instead of showing our users the effects of budget cuts, we hide it.
And when you hide stress, stuff it deep inside, it has to go somewhere. Sometimes employees will indeed go somewhere, because that series of actions has inadvertently created a toxic work environment. Sometimes it means employees get stress. Sick. Need treatment, which costs the company money in insurance and sick time and possibly FMLA and even short term disability.
It may not be as quickly toxic as uranium, but maybe more like too much ammonia exposure. It gets to you after a while.
Or a constant stream of water that erodes the surface until nothing remains of even the strongest rock.
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