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Should I stay or should I go?
November 26, 2012 6:14 AM   Subscribe

My work/life balance is unhealthy and out of control for a variety of reasons. Help me figure out if this is fixable, or if I need to cut bait and walk - and if I do, how do I keep from letting this happen next time?

I work in the nonprofit field, which is notorious for being unhealthy in a lot of different ways: comparatively low or inconsistent pay, long work hours, dysfunctional office dynamics, and high levels of stress.

When I was hired, my job seemed fantastic. My job description was fairly clear-cut and manageable, working for an organization that I strongly believed in the achievable mission of. It was a salaried full-time position which also had extremely flexible hours, liberal time off, and the ability to work from home a majority of the time, which really worked well with my scheduling needs. Reasonable disability accomodations were granted with a smile. In exchange for this, however, my irregular hours would often stretch into nights and weekends. My boss was a peer of mine, and he took my suggestions seriously; many of them were implemented.

However, this job wound up producing a pretty constant low-grade level of stress - time at home was never fully relaxing, because I might at any moment have to take a phone call, jump on a videoconference, or leap into work, even late at night. Because it was a nonprofit job where everyone was highly passionate, it was generally taken as a point of pride how little time anyone took off. In addition, because a large portion of my job involved networking, particularly over social media, the job itself began to taint some of my non-job friendships and has damaged them. A majority of my current friends are people I met through working at this job. And it rapidly became something that was impossible to leave "at the office" - a lot of "If this fails, the cause I really love will be lost!" mentality.

Fast forward to now. The job and organization fits all the descriptors of a sick system. The person who hired me has left, and I have a new supervisor who is not abiding by the original terms of my contract and is verbally abusive: I now dread picking up the phone. The mission of the organization is changing to something I don't really care about, with unachievable goals. In theory, this supervisor will be replaced as soon as a new one is hired, but I don't know how long that will take or if I can hold out until then.

Datapoints: The money is nice, but not my only income source or necessary to pay bills. Also, I have medical conditions that are exacerbated by stress, which have been causing me more trouble lately.

But I have also never quit a job before - or spent even one day unemployed. The idea of quitting a job when you don't have another one lined up seems weird and foreign and irresponsible to me. At the same time, though, I know I won't have time to really look for a job for at least a month or so. I also don't know if things would be better at any other job.

What should I do? What is the responsible thing to do? What is the sane thing to do? And does this mean I should get a new job, or leave the nonprofit field entirely?

TL;DR: Nonprofit job is unhealthy physically and mentally. Should I quit, even when I have issues with being unemployed? And if I do, should I change sectors?
posted by corb to Work & Money (11 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
The responsible thing to do is to update your resume and start networking and actively searching for a new job. Then when you get one, quit.

Since you have "fuck-you" money, there's no reason that you can't stand up to whomever about what you want in the job.

If your supervisor isn't abiding the terms of your original hiring agreement, ask for a meeting to review your duties and to insist that the verbal abuse stop. In fact when this person starts in on a tirade, simply say, "I am an adult and I don't appreciate being addressed in this fashion. When you can speak to me civilly, we can continue this conversation." Then walk away.

You don't know what another job may have in store, but what you do know is that this job isn't working for you anymore.

I'll tell you what I tell everyone, work for yourself, not the company.

You exchange your energy for money. That's it. When it becomes unbalanced, and you feel taken advantage of, time to find a new gig.

Don't think to philosophically about this. It's time to go, but go on your terms.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 AM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


The job and organization fits all the descriptors of a sick system. The person who hired me has left, and I have a new supervisor who is not abiding by the original terms of my contract and is verbally abusive: I now dread picking up the phone. The mission of the organization is changing to something I don't really care about, with unachievable goals. In theory, this supervisor will be replaced as soon as a new one is hired, but I don't know how long that will take or if I can hold out until then.

Up to this paragraph, I was ready to recommend trying to work out some accommodations.

Whether a job is manageable or not depends a lot on your relationships with people you work with, especially if you had an arrangement that makes it workable. This is not the same job anymore. You mental health is important, and you need to look after yourself. It's worth taking a cut in pay for, if that's what happens.

Go! You'll be glad you did.

(I've been in your situation, though not working for a non-profit. Leaving was worth it.)
posted by nangar at 7:05 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's worthwhile to analyse the things you don't like and see if you are part of the problem, or can be a change agent, and see if you can work with your manager to resolve problems. Otherwise and/or meanwhile, start job-hunting.
posted by theora55 at 7:33 AM on November 26, 2012


corb, listen. I know you're ex-military. You're a civilian now. You're a free agent. You have a contract with these people. They don't own you. You're free to leave, and they're not living up to their end of the bargain. You have right to do this, and you're free to exercise it.
posted by nangar at 7:34 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was all equivocal until I saw that you don't need this job to get by. With that in mind, I'd suggest putting your manager on a PIP, only don't call it that. But basically, schedule a 1:1, sit down with your manager, and say "I am no longer enjoying this job. In order for me to be able to continue working here, X Y Z A and B are going to need to change. Is this something you're willing to discuss?"

There is no shame or harm in leaving a job that is treating you badly. If you do the above, they will probably just tell you to GTFO, which will also give you the option of collecting unemployment. But you never know, they might take you seriously and work to improve the environment.
posted by KathrynT at 8:58 AM on November 26, 2012


Usually it's best to have a job lined up before quitting. However, considering you say your health is worsening because of this job, I'd give it a few months at most of job-hunting and then quit - especially if you have skills that will let you get temp or contract work to bridge any gaps and bring some money in.

Here is why it's probably best for you to leave ASAP: I've known people who have had to actually go on disability who might have been able to continue working if they'd been able to listen to their bodies and dial back their work commitments, quit stressful jobs, or do what they had to do to preserve their health before they crashed so severely they were forced to stop work entirely. Of course, not everyone has that luxury, but it seems that you have enough of a cushion that you would be able to quit if your health got worse.

You are not an indentured servant - your company doesn't own you. I think that loyalty to a company is almost always misguided because most companies won't give two shits on a biscuit about their workers. It's different than the military where you do have a legal contract and you are supposed to be loyal because you are serving your country.

And I'm sure there are other nonprofits with a similar mission that you could apply to. A lot of nonprofits' missions overlap at least somewhat (which is why so many nonprofits have to fight so fiercely for crumbs of grant money). Dust off that resume, update that LinkedIn profile and go hunting!
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 9:09 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


But I have also never quit a job before - or spent even one day unemployed. The idea of quitting a job when you don't have another one lined up seems weird and foreign and irresponsible to me. At the same time, though, I know I won't have time to really look for a job for at least a month or so. I also don't know if things would be better at any other job.

I just wanted to focus on this, because it seems like it's the real stumbling block to your leaving what seems like an awful situation (i.e. dreading to pick up the phone.) One, I would say to just reach out in your networks and on LinkedIn/Idealist to see what's out there. There might be another position that would be easy to get without the month lead in, and if nothing else, quietly letting friends know that you're on the market for a new job could lead to other prospects in the future. I can see how it would be really hard to just let go. At the same time, you have a lot of other responsibilities going on in your life, if I'm remembering previous AskMes correctly. You have a daughter, and an upcoming wedding; this situation is exacerbating your medical conditions. You wouldn't be abandoning your principles if you say that right now, your family and your health are more important.

Finally, I suspect that things really could be better at another job. I've worked at two non-profits, one a local chapter of an international organization and the other a college. People tend to get burnt out all the time from the constant barrage of work and the weight of the mission statement (for the group of people working at a non-profit because it's a non-profit, not because it's just a paycheck.) Very few non-profits actually have enough people for the work, and if you have supervisory turnover on top of that, well, it becomes a sick system indeed. Where I work now is a place I care deeply about. But it also provides excellent benefits and a fantastic supervisor, which matter more to my pragmatic side. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for the latter. You don't owe it to your job to suffer for their hiring mistakes and mission creep. You owe it to you to take care of yourself and be in a better position to find a job that you can both succeed in and be a benefit to.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:04 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't know if this is the only job that you've had in the nonprofit field, but I've been working in the sector for more than five years now and not all nonprofits are like this. Many of them are - I've seen my fair share of nonprofits where taking a sick day or using all that flextime is encouraged by the agency, but people shun it because of pride; I've worked in ones where there is constantly stress and drama and bad supervisors and turnover. But they're not all like that. I just left one that was and started a new position at a much more accommodating agency.

I think it's definitely time to start looking for something else. If you have contacts in the nonprofit sector in your area that you trust, it would be smart to reach out to them and see if they know of any openings - I didn't get my most recent gig this way, but the networking has always helped.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:29 AM on November 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just to update: I looked for another job, found it, and made the jump. It is with another nonprofit, but one relatively respected and rumoured to be low-conflict.

From the moment I was gone from the first place, I felt loads, loads, better. My health and happiness have been better overall. Can't thank you guys enough, enouraging voices urging me to leave!
posted by corb at 11:57 AM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Another final followup: job is still healthy and happy, and there is still zero conflict or drama at the nonprofit. Productive work gets done instead. Much appreciation to everyone for helping me get there!
posted by corb at 9:59 AM on June 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm really glad to hear that, corb. Yeah, moving to a different work environment can make a huge difference. I'm glad to hear you did it and it's working out for you.
posted by nangar at 2:02 PM on June 18, 2013


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