Workplace culture and job satisfaction have been regular topics here at Adaptistration for nearly two decades and while change moves at a glacial pace, I am seeing more positive change over the past three years than the decade prior.
Case in point, Tom O’Connor recently posted something at LinkedIn on that topic that comes across as a combination of processional statement and call to action (emphasis added).
So much content about the so-called Great Resignation in my feed this morning that it’s hard to digest it all. Most of it centers companies, which I understand considering the sources. I prefer to think of it as the Great Boundary Setting—workers are telling you/us what they will and will no longer tolerate, because for larger economic reasons, the leverage lies with them. We have the opportunity and the mandate to create better, human-centered companies, and to be places where people feel respected, seen, heard, and cared for. This concept is not in conflict with the traditional bottom line or with our missions—particularly in the arts, I want the care of our humans to be a critical part of both, and it can be. Any element of the status quo that we fear losing more than our people is worth interrogating, and is yet another statement of what we truly value.
The part that jumped out at me was the bit I highlighted toward the end. While there’s traction when it comes to acknowledging the soul crushing workloads and unrealistic performance expectations that that drive staffers and artists into closets to cry, there’s still a disconnect between that and the fact that the field is undercapitalized when it comes to stakeholder compensation.
But that’s exactly the uncomfortable, but essential, conversation nonprofit arts and culture boards need to have.
How does the field get past “the spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak” syndrome in the wake of the Great Resignation?
I don’t see that the field has a decade or more to slowly chip away at improvements; it needs a Henry Ford tipping point where boards and executive leaders internalize that they can’t expect workers to do far more for far less. While attitudinal adjustments are a prerequisite to reach that stage, they can’t be the only part of the process.
I’ve been preaching this gospel for two decades and the only positive movement I’ve seen transpire has come at the very top of labor food chain: executive compensation and benefits. While they’ve grown at parity level speed, it’s fair to point out there’s still plenty of room for adjustments when it comes to unrealistic expectations and pressures.
Unfortunately, that improvement comes at the cost of creating an even more dangerous negative byproduct in the form of executive pay gap resentment. Simply put, the people earning most have made far better gains than the people working under them.
This doesn’t exactly make things better for the field as a whole and to move forward, we can’t avoid those uncomfortable conversations. We also need to see more overt effort from the service organization sector. If they aren’t able, or willing, to stake the sort of position and use their position to keep the topic front and center, it only serves to impede progress.