Do We Really Want To Find Out How Much Is Too Much?

William Blake wrote “you never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough” and while that packs plenty of good, it isn’t something you should want when thinking about how far you can push employees beyond a breaking point.

Adaptistration People 065Joe Patti published a thought-provoking post last week about the discouraging earning potential of artists in general, but it got me thinking about the broader nonprofit arts and culture sector.

My mind immediately went to what I’ve felt is the increasingly problematic pressure cooker of the overworked and underpaid staffer.

From an observational perspective, I’ve seen entry and mid-level staff positions shouldered with increasing responsibilities but this labor group has been forced to accept the lion’s share of wage sacrifice since the economic downturn.

Do we really want to find out how much this workforce can endure before it breaks so badly, it becomes near impossible to attract worthwhile candidates?

I wish that were a rhetorical question, but it isn’t. I’d love nothing more than to provide a swath of research figures right now, but none exist.

You certainly won’t find the information at any of the usual suspect service organizations. Foundations studies? Forget about it.

It’s a radioactive topic for reasons that are likely obvious.

At the same time, the solution is straightforward: acknowledge the potential trouble, document the problem, then commit to a plan of action.

Progress can be quantifiably measured without undue burden and the benefits are self-evident. All we currently lack is collective will.

About Drew McManus

"I hear that every time you show up to work with an orchestra, people get fired." Those were the first words out of an executive's mouth after her board chair introduced us. That executive is now a dear colleague and friend but the day that consulting contract began with her orchestra, she was convinced I was a hatchet-man brought in by the board to clean house.

I understand where the trepidation comes from as a great deal of my consulting and technology provider work for arts organizations involves due diligence, separating fact from fiction, interpreting spin, as well as performance review and oversight. So yes, sometimes that work results in one or two individuals "aggressively embracing career change" but far more often than not, it reinforces and clarifies exactly what works and why.

In short, it doesn't matter if you know where all the bodies are buried if you can't keep your own clients out of the ground, and I'm fortunate enough to say that for more than 15 years, I've done exactly that for groups of all budget size from Qatar to Kathmandu.

For fun, I write a daily blog about the orchestra business, provide a platform for arts insiders to speak their mind, keep track of what people in this business get paid, help write a satirical cartoon about orchestra life, hack the arts, and love a good coffee drink.

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