Shake-ups happening at work. Suggestions on how to handle it?
November 21, 2016 12:09 AM   Subscribe

I work as a copywriter at an university in D.C. Lately, things has been piling up at this job with a series of events, and really starting to get to be too much. I'm not exactly sure how to proceed.

Here's what's been happening:

a) I get paid $40k. This is on the very low end, especially for D.C. I'm still kicking myself for not negotiating when I initially got hired (last year).

b) I recently found out that I'm going to be working half of the day at the Alumni Connections equivalent office at my university, greeting visitors and showing them around, in addition to doing writing for the office. The second half of the day will be spent working where I work at the university. Both offices are under the same umbrella department. This is a good opportunity, but it will significantly add to my workload and make time tighter and more scarce.

c) Adding to the last point, we are very understaffed, with very little to no redundancy. Our alumni magazine has been delayed due to our senior writer having personal issues, and my work expectations has been adding up, with last-minute Friday afternoon job duties popping up more and more lately.

d) I'm currently exempt, salaried, but due to the new Department of Labor law, effective December 1, I will become a non-exempt hourly employee, and will be required to punch in and out.

e) I also found out that I'm the lowest paid professional, full-time, permanent employee in my office. How did I find this out? When I found out I would be becoming non-exempt due to the new law, I asked if anybody else in my office was becoming non-exempt as well (and thereby required to punch in and out), and the answer was no – everyone else was exempt, and would continue to remain exempt.

Right now, my morale is at rock bottom, because we're all so busy, we have no time to really breathe, and things keep changing/adding up. Finding out I would become non-exempt and hourly, and have to punch in and out, AND finding out I am the lowest-paid employee, was really a double whammy for me. I do so much work, dedicate so much of my time to the office, and now I'm facing all of this. I feel like there is no time to breathe, and while my supervisor means well and IS a nice person, they don't really seem to understand my frustration and keep saying that they understand the workload is high, that it'll get better soon, and so forth. In short, it's been mostly talk, but no actual action.

In addition to that, having to punch in/out and not having the same flexibility of time as I did before (we had a policy to try and put in 40 hours, but could leave a bit early/late as long as we got the work done) feels like a punishment, especially now that my job is becoming even more complicated with the divided duties I will be doing at the Alumni office in addition to what I am doing. I no longer will have the flexibility to come in/leave a bit early, and being hourly means I have to keep careful track of my time at the job. It's possible I'm taking this too personally, but knowing I'm the only professional in the office who has to do this feels really unfair and would add a burden on me.

I was told that even if I were to get a 10% raise (standard), I'd still not be able to become exempt again ($40k + 4k is 44k, under the ~$48k required now to be exempt). I'm not sure what to do – my job duties are increasing, and things are just very confusing, with so many changes and so little time to really think.

I'm also concerned about my health – I always feel so anxious and stressed and on edge, and things are unpredictable. We're expected to serve the university, so it's just all-around sticky. My hands has been feeling sore lately. I'm always tired, and I'm not motivated to go to work anymore. We keep getting requests, and pretty much feel we don't have any carte blanche to say no.

If you have any ideas or suggestions on how I can regain control of this situation and find some kind of loophole to get me back to exempt, that would be great – or at least avoid having to punch in/out and having to resort to such a rigid system. It doesn't seem like my university allows for non-exempt salaried, only hourly – but is there a way I can try to work this out? I know going to hourly would pose a challenge – that means I could possibly get less work done (and most work is timely/last minute) or end up getting paid lower due to losing track of time, etc. – the old exempt system I currently am on until 12/1 does not require any accounting or tracking of time, other than to put sick/annual leave in. Overtime is possible, but I was told this should not be used unless absolutely necessary, given budget reasons. My supervisor is a good listener, but I get the impression they don't have much power or ability as well, or don't really understand the stress. My supervisor is also balancing additional duties in addition to the supervisory duties, which is new to them. It's just kind of a mess in general, and been a very transitional year for our office (and the university in general).

What should I do? I feel like I'm a bit stuck, like I have lost control of the vessel. I know an easy answer would be to quit and/or search for a new job. I'm searching out there, but quitting is not an option. It's sticky because the university is also my alma mater, and the environment there is something I mostly love. I also feel like $40k is really low for everything I do, and knowing I'm the lowest paid is, quite frankly, a big insult to me. Please tell me if I'm doing this wrong or looking at this wrong. It's been too much, in too little time.

Thanks so much. I really appreciate it.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think the point of the non-exemption is that you are now no longer expected to put in extra hours without being compensated. I have just switched the other way (different country, different rules) and I definitely put in more hours now that I'm not tracking them. Are you sure it will be a problem?

Anyway, ask for a pay rise. Or what you would need to do to get one. And keep searching for a new job.
posted by plonkee at 12:26 AM on November 21, 2016 [12 favorites]

Wheeee, you can now leave at 5:00 PM sharp, esp if they are going to be pissy about OT (time and a half, baby!) If, when(!) works starts to pile up, you just throw it back onto your supervisor re prioritization, the ol' "I am working on A, B, and C this morning. Would you rather I work on X, Y, and Z that you just dumped on my desk?" Or "Just a heads up, I am working half-day at x location, if you need this sooner, you'll need to assign it to someone else ["regretful" closed mouth smile]."

I'm sure someone will be along soon to phrase this more delicately. In short: practice Caring Less. Can you tell I am just Over It when it comes to non-profit bs? Keep looking.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 1:45 AM on November 21, 2016 [32 favorites]

You should be dancing in the streets that you are converting to hourly with strict restrictions on overtime. It means that you get to leave at the same time every day and never put in more than 40 hours per week. Many many people would cry tears of joy for that opportunity.

That said, you need to have a sit down with your supervisor explaining what it is going to look like when you work 8 hours a day, 40 hours a week, no exceptions. What does that mean for the work you get done on a day-to-day basis? What does it mean for larger-scale projects?

Someone needs to be the lowest-paid, and unless there are people there with fewer and/or less essential job responsibilities than you, it makes sense that you are the lowest paid. It's not a judgement on your personal worth, just a business decision based on the job duties that you have.

Finally, I do think you are looking at this all wrong. There is a undercurrent in your question of your personal feelings being very wrapped up in these job details (taking it personally, unfair, burden, not motivated to go to work, etc) that I think is not serving you well. It's understandable, but this is a job, and your employers - alma mater or not - are making decisions based on dollars and cents and hours and responsibilities, and not on feelings and fairness.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:09 AM on November 21, 2016 [17 favorites]

When you have a full-time job and someone tries to add to your workload (like spending a morning a week showing visitors around), your answer should be, "sure. What should I de-prioritize?"

There is no shame in not being able to do everything assigned to you. There will always be more work. And supervisors will always add to your plate if you are managing what is already there. It is up to you to draw the boundary.

The new law is there to PROTECT you from the very situation you are in, not punish you. The lowest-paid people in an office should not be expected to have the same kind of availability that better-paid folks do. The law is recognizing that now. Your bosses will get way better at prioritizing your time. Do yourself a favor and be a stickler for following it - punch in and out exactly as required and don't check email or do anything off the clock. If they want you to be available, they should compensate you appropriately.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 4:49 AM on November 21, 2016 [28 favorites]

Seconding Rock Steady - make sure your supervisor knows that you will not be able to do flex time stuff to make sure your work gets done. Emphasize that last minute Friday work will not get done unless they want to pay overtime.

I've been in this exact situation in re scheduling, and you need to get ahead of the narrative. I did not, and everyone expected that I would get my work done at the same rate or even faster as they added new duties. We had to have a couple of rather tense conversations about how they could either lighten my workload, authorize overtime or accept that things wouldn't get done to their schedule before it really sank in.
posted by Frowner at 4:52 AM on November 21, 2016 [6 favorites]

Talk to HR. With the new labor laws you generally need to be hitting that 40 a week but there's nothing that says it must be 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9-5. 4/10 might be in your future or coming in at 7am and leaving at 3pm. Try to figure out how this may play out for you. Are you actually punching in and out? Or do you need to just enter your hours into a system? Because if it's just a system you may still be able to leave a little early.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:15 AM on November 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Do yourself a favor and be a stickler for following it - punch in and out exactly as required and don't check email or do anything off the clock. If they want you to be available, they should compensate you appropriately.

Seconding this 100%. Also, you should be clocking in and out for any required trainings or meetings that happen outside of your normal hours and may need to punch out early another day to make up for it. If anyone ever suggests maybe you clock out, but stick around to finish a few things up? That is straight up theft, and you should not stand for it.

With the new labor laws you generally need to be hitting that 40 a week but there's nothing that says it must be 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 9-5. 4/10 might be in your future or coming in at 7am and leaving at 3pm.

Very true. My wife works a non-exempt job 3 days a week, 12 hours a day (with usually a few additional hours staying late and going to meetings on off days to get her to 40). I used to work a non-exempt job 8am-6pm Mon-Thu, 8am-12noon Fridays. It was great!
posted by Rock Steady at 5:31 AM on November 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Also, if you receive work-related email on your phone, TURN IT OFF or delete the mail client. My Fortune300 employer (healthcare) will not permit non-exempt employees to set up the client that pushes work email to personal phones since that involves working out of scope.
posted by catlet at 8:33 AM on November 21, 2016

The new rules are by design raise for people like you -- either more money, or less work for the same money. In principle they should not be giving you stress. But don't be surprised if weird or inconvenient procedures are announced to deal with your schedule and time-keeping and duties, especially in a department which has had literally no non-exempt employees heretofore.

For what it's worth, there's also a fair chance the rules never go into effect. Employer associations are seeking to block them in court and a ruling is due (I believe) this week, and if that happens the rules are likely gone, because Trump won't fight the injunction while his Department of Labor goes through the process to rescind them.
posted by MattD at 9:15 AM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Nthing everyone. If this does go into effect, it will be a big win for you. Either you work no more than 40 hours a week (including reading email, etc!) or you get time and a half for every moment you work above that.

Have a meeting with your supervisor where you get on the same page about what the priorities are, now that there's a strict limit on how much you can work. Ask her in what cases she wants to authorize overtime and how she'd like you to request it if and when the needs come up. And then chill. You're upset about punching in, and I get it because we all like to be flexible about arrival time, but that thing where they literally can't ask you to work past 5 is amaaaazing.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:55 AM on November 21, 2016

I totally understand the feelings of being demoralized. The expectation to do everything for low pay in extended hours because of your positive feelings about the organization is rife in the nonprofit world.

This is your opportunity to set new boundaries around your work. As others have said, you have to put the work of prioritizing your tasks back on your supervisors, where they belong. Comp time and overtime needs to be tracked and taken and charged. Make sure you are disciplined about sticking to your scheduled hours!

You may find a renewed sense of enjoyment once you get into the new groove. It can be very liberating to know that you have strong boundaries around your work life, and can make plans for your time outside work. But keep tabs on how it's going and what is going on in the job market around you. And don't be shy about asking for those raises!
posted by gateau at 10:25 AM on November 21, 2016

As a person who was almost made non exempt, I understand your issue. I know that people think it's a good thing, but sometimes it isn't depending on your job. I like being able to go to the doctor during the workday and get paid for it, for example. There is an amount of leeway that I'm given that clocking in and out would make a giant pain in the ass.

Sounds like there isn't anything you can do about it though. Sounds like they don't respect you as an employee at all.

You aren't looking at this wrong.
posted by josher71 at 10:33 AM on November 21, 2016

I'm sorry you're dealing with this. I also work for a non-profit and a lot of this sounds SO familiar. I found this recent post on Ask A Manager to be pretty interesting and relevant to my life in regards to the new overtime law. Good luck!
posted by GoldenEel at 11:35 AM on November 21, 2016

[This is a followup from the asker.]
Thanks for the answers so far. To make things a bit more clear, this has a negative impact on me because I haven't had to go overtime much, if at all. I know this law is intended to help salaried employees who DO go overtime often and not get paid for it, but that doesn't apply to me, and being 'downgraded' from exempt, salaried and having more flexibility (i.e., not having to account for every minute) is not a good thing. My pay is the same, and I'll be keeping sick/annual leave; the only thing that will change is me having to punch in/out vs. currently, where I don't have to. This will negatively impact me because if I don't clock in/out on time, I'll lose pay, have to keep careful track of my time, etc., and I've had the luxury of being able to leave a bit early at times, as long as the work is done.

I understand this isn't the university's fault; instead, it's the "fault" of the law. However, is there any way I can somehow negotiate to be an non-exempt, but salaried, employee, so I wouldn't have to account for my time, but still be within the bounds of the law, and get paid for overtime? I'm changing to an hourly employee, no longer salaried at all. As far as I understand, being non-exempt AND salaried does exist out there, unless I'm wrong? But, my university seems to insist that I move to punching in and out.

As with all laws, this law has good and bad terms; sometimes unintended consequences or impacts on a small subgroup of an otherwise well-meaning law can come out of it.

posted by cortex (staff) at 11:55 AM on November 21, 2016

Are you going to have to actually punch in and out or will you just need to fill in a time card? I am non-exempt but don't punch in and out. I fill out a time card once per week and make sure it lines up with my actual work times and payroll coding. Push for a time card and not a punch in system. Having responsibilities in another department might change your flexibility, but non-exemption doesn't have to do that. It depends on how your manager/department handles it. If you are their guinea pig, so to speak, you might have input and influence on how they run things.

You can't expect overtime if you are not keeping track of your hours in some way, but it does not have to be a system that notes that you punched in at 9:02 one day. If it is such a system, clarify with your boss that punching in at 9:02 is okay if you also punch out at 5:02 that day.
posted by soelo at 12:30 PM on November 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

[This is another followup from the asker.]
To clarify with the recent question, I would be required to punch in and out using a timekeeping system.
posted by cortex (staff) at 12:53 PM on November 21, 2016

Nothing you have said explains why clocking in an out is a hardship. I've had office based jobs where I had to do that. I turned up when I wanted, worked however long that day and left when I wanted. As long as it evened out across the week (or even the month) nobody cared. Sure the first week you'll forget a few times and it'll need to be fixed etc. But it beats doing a time sheet and accounting for your time in 6 min increments, which is what I've been doing since 2004. Has anybody said you need to be there at 8am sharp and leave at exactly 4.30pm? If so ask them why that is necessary.

Second question - how can you have both too much work to do, at least that was my take away from the original question, and worry about not having enough hrs to fill your 40 hr week? Especially with the new task you've been given, that takes half a day/wk. Unless you're currently able to do your work in less than a full working week but somehow managed to get paid for one what exactly is changing? If that was the case - work more slowly?
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:42 PM on November 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

For what it's worth if it will help you let go of your salary resentment, negotiating is unlikely to have gotten you a better salary. Universities do have some discretion in what they pay people, but they are very unlikely to use that discretion to raise the pay of someone in what sounds like a very junior role. You're making two thousand a year more than I made as a librarian at a university, which is a position that requires a masters degree. If you want to get paid a D.C. level salary, look into jobs with the federal government, not universities.
posted by MsMolly at 3:08 PM on November 21, 2016

It sounds like the Alumni Connections part of your duties is pretty unassociated with your writer role. Do you like doing it? If so, maybe after a few months of rocking out at it and balancing it with your writer duties you can advocate for a better and more appropriate title, like "manager/deputy director of alumni programming/engagement." I had a similar level role at a university in DC and was paid in the 50k-60k range.
posted by mellophone at 12:57 AM on November 22, 2016

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