Creatures of the Night: Changing After-Hours Staffing

Good Jobs logo for printThis month’s Good Jobs blog post is by Emilie McLarnan, Assistant Director at Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse.

photo by darwin Bell

photo by darwin Bell

After-hours crisis response is a crucial service we provide to the community. Our agency is a tri-service (domestic violence, sexual assault and crime victims) agency, operating a confidential shelter and straddling state lines. We are fortunate in that we have a healthy roster of trained volunteers taking the hotline nightly, freeing staff to do the in-person response when needed.

Since our shelter operates at a separate location from our offices, we have typically had shelter staff members perform back-up (our agency term for on-call) duties for the shelter location including after hours intakes and responding to shelter emergencies. Office-based staff usually covers any non-shelter related response: forensic exams, DV calls to the ER, responding to the police department, etc. Oh, and the Executive Director or Assistant Director alternate weeks of being on back-up for those strange situations that might need extra guidance or insight. This system has worked fairly well in the past, but last year we started to take a closer look at how back-up was going.

When we first started discussing the idea of shifting from separate shelter and office back-up to a system where this is a shared duty amongst all staff, I must admit, I was very leery of the idea. After all, shelter staff knows the many ins and outs of shelter, and office staff is fluent in the ways of community advocacy. But we realized the idea was worth considering if making a simple change could decrease the number of staff on back-up from four every night to three. While we consider providing after hours services an important part of what we do at ATVP, we are also aware of the burden it can be for staff and the budget. This change would shift shelter staff from being on back-up several nights per week, to expanding our team and ensuring no more than 4 to 5 one week shifts per person, per year. That’s a big difference!

How did we get here? We realized that some careful analysis of our procedures and our data had the potential to inform wise changes that could benefit staff and not impact the survivors we serve. A major concern was what to do if there is more than one call out at the same time? So we started by analyzing our afterhours activity. When we looked we realized that in the past year we had no incidents of multiple callouts at once, and no middle-of-the-night shelter intakes. To be sure, there were a couple of weekends with 3 or 4 calls to the hospital, and of course there were times the shelter alarm went off and staff had to make sure everything was alright. But overall, our perception was worse than reality.

When we decided to make this change, we pulled together a small team to go over the essential paperwork and information that all our team would need. We went over this with staff, giving them plenty of time to think of questions and concerns. At a recent retreat we spent most of the day training each other on after-hours response. There was plenty of time to ask questions, share concerns, role play, and troubleshoot. By the end of the day, the general consensus was that people felt more secure in their abilities in this area. Office staff will all be trained at the shelter and shelter staff will follow up with lingering questions on forensic exams. July 1st is the starting point for this new venture- we will see how it goes!

Survey Says!?…

family feud

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Did you know that WSCADV administered a Wages & Benefits Survey in 2011? I know, I know. Many of you have already seen it. But I often hear from folks who haven’t seen it or did not know about it. So, take a look at the 2011 Wages & Benefits Survey Summary (or refresh your memory). 266 employees and directors from 56 programs responded representing all 39 of Washington’s counties.There’s a lot of interesting information about wages and benefits (shocking!), but also information about job satisfaction, and job flexibility.

But… 2011 was a long time ago (you might say). Yes, this survey was indeed administered over 3 years ago. I’ve heard from some that you need more up-to-date information to share with your Boards and to inform the decisions you are making about good jobs at your agencies. Well, fret no more! WSCADV will be re-administering the Wages and Benefits survey in late 2014 or early 2015. This survey will be similar so that we can compare apples to apples, but we have some room to improve or expand upon the information we would like to gather.

So what do you want to know? Take a look at the 2011 Wages & Benefits Survey Summary and let us know what is missing. What do you want to know more or less about? We want the results of this survey to be informative and useful to you. Tell us what you think!

Negotiation: A Magical Solution?

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This month’s Good Jobs blog post is by Megan Dorwin, an MSW student at the University of Washington and an intern at WSCADV.

photo by Glenn Sapaden

photo by Glenn Sapaden

I recently attended an event for social workers on wage negotiation. I came to that event to learn how to present myself as a knowledgeable, passionate and dedicated employee package that employers would want. Instead, I was told to be thankful for the job offer and remember I’m not in this field to make money! In other words, don’t negotiate. As you might imagine, I came away with conflicting feelings about how to progress in my job search. But it got me thinking about how complex the issue really is, and how hard it is for both workers and organizations to navigate.

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the root cause of the gender wage gap. The most recent fad seems to indicate that simply teaching women concrete negotiation skills will help them earn similar wages as men. If you follow a few simple steps and embrace female stereotypes of femininity, you too can take charge of your financial future.And while it’s true that negotiation is a factor in the wage gap, it is not the silver bullet for ending wage disparities that the media would have you believe.

A variety of factors impact wage disparities, including the kind of industry in which a woman is being hired to and who is doing the hiring (and where his or her personal biases are when it comes to assertive women). While women face similar experiences of socialization that impact their relationship with wage negotiation, there’s a difference between women getting hired in the for-profit sector and in the non-profit sector. In for-profit companies workers are expected to negotiate wages and benefits. This helps workers feel valued and supported in the workplace, allowing them to receive a fair wage for their education and experiences and creating a sense of ownership which can lead to happier workers who are more invested in the company.

Women in non-profit work, however, face organizational cultures where negotiation is not expected. Organizations are operating with limited budgets and workers are often pressured to take what they’re offered. There’s a push-pull internal dialogue that occurs for many women in this field between their dedication to the work and their financial demands. It goes something like this: This is good work. Important- no- vital to my community. I went back to school to make how much? I’ll have to get organized with my budget. But it’s a great organization and this is what I want to do…It’s an either-or mindset that pits quality services against quality pay and benefit packages for staff.   I would like to push back on this dichotomy, because I believe it’s possible for organizations to pay a wage that reflects their workers’ expertise and ensures financial stability.

So please share with us, as leaders in this movement, how are you creating a culture of openness that encourages negotiation within your organizations? How are your agencies balancing limited resources and providing good jobs? Do we really have to choose between services for survivors and a well-paid staff

(Do we, says the woman who is currently looking for a job in the field :) )?

We know the wage gap exists for many reasons, some of which include socialization, pregnancy and parenthood, fear of retribution, messages about organizational culture, and career trajectory.  The argument that providing women with skills for wage negotiation will lead to a decrease in wage disparities is simply wrong. No one cause can be blamed for the gap and no one solution will resolve it.

P.S. Here’s a brilliant video to shed some light on pay disparities and hopefully bring a smile to your face. Disney Princesses for Equal Pay – need I say more?

Hiking the Minimum Wage (and Living To Tell About It)


photo by Michael Fleshman

photo by Michael Fleshman

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This month’s post is written by a staff member at a local DV/SA agency who wishes to remain anonymous.

My goal in writing is to urge us to critically think about how our efforts at promoting social and economic justice can have unintended consequences.  The State of Washington is considering a minimum wage hike, as are a few individual cities. I’ll get to more on this in a moment, but here’s my story.

I work at a domestic violence and sexual assault agency that is part of a much larger, diverse organization populated by programs with unequal funding sources and different requirements for service provision. My program in particular is struggling financially due to the loss of DV/SA grant funding. When planning this year’s budget with my finance director, we based the final budget not only on the funding realities we faced but also with the knowledge that the entire organization was facing a major increase in health insurance benefit costs.

On top of increased health insurance costs and loss of funding, my agency implemented both a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) and a step increase. We learned in late December (and of course after we had established our budget) that those increases would go into effect January 1, 2014. Because we are all on the same salary structure, my program could not elect to exempt our staff from this salary increase. And unlike for-profit businesses that can pass rising costs onto their consumers by increasing the price of their products, we do not charge for our services by law, by design, and by principle.

For us, this meant that we needed to decrease our costs immediately. But how? The vast majority of our budget goes to salaries and benefits. All of our services require people: providing shelter and legal advocacy services, , assisting survivors with transportation and childcare, , providing advocacy-based counseling, coordinating systems on their behalf, and documenting it all. We had already trimmed our operating costs to the bare minimum by reducing our office space and eliminating any extraneous expenses. When there were no other costs to cut, only salaries and benefits were left.

I considered three options. First, I could require every staff member to take 18 furlough days per year. Second, I could lay off a single full-time person. Last, I could move the full-time staff to part-time at 38 hours per week. The cost of these lost hours closely mirrored their pay increase, which meant their take-home pay would stay the same (and cost them much less than 18 furlough days). We would also only lose fourteen hours per week of staff time rather than forty. However, three of our staff would lose paid health insurance benefits for their families. After considering all the angles, it seemed like there was only one practical option: to reduce full-time staff’s hours to 38 per week.. And so it went.

I lost a lot of sleep over this.

It is difficult to devote your life to promoting social justice and then find yourself doing something you never imagined – and to people about whom you care. It wasn’t fair, it wasn’t right, but it was our reality. And our reality can change when we work to build a better future. I need to work with my organization and my community to find ways to do just that.

Before December I would have been completely on board with the minimum wage hike proposals. However, the effect of a sudden increase in costs on our program gives me pause.

My concern is about whether or not the act of increasing the minimum wage will by itself truly move us toward social and economic justice. If human service organizations have no immediate way to make up for their increased costs except by decreasing staff – and thereby their level of service provision – then what will have been accomplished? Human services are desperately needed by the people we serve. So what can we do? Ideas I have considered are as follows:

  • Allow non-profit and human service organizations to implement minimum wage increases over time.
  • Continually support legislation and policies that address bloated healthcare costs and inefficiencies in our health care and health insurance systems.
  • Encourage the government to commit to funding us like they do other federal programs. I consider DV/SA and other human service programs to be a hybrid of FEMA and the CDC. Like FEMA we address social hurricanes and tornadoes, and defunding us would be like defunding FEMA. AND we are like the CDC, working to promote public health by addressing DV/SA/other social problems not only a case at a time but with our prevention programs. Our work is vital to our communities.

That may not be much, but it’s a start. What do you think? How are you handling similar situations?


Self Care

Good Jobs logo for printSelf-care. It’s a term that has been tossed around a lot in the 13 years I’ve been working in the DV movement, and I’m sure for the decades previous as well. We’ve talked about it with the survivors we worked with, and we’ve encouraged each other to practice it. But what does it mean?  When we talk about self-care today, we have moved beyond the idea that chocolate and bubble baths will rejuvenate us. In this line of work strong and brave advocates take in traumatic story after story. Those leading our organizations make one tough decision after another about funding (or lack thereof) and program structure—decisions that can be hard news to deliver to those strong and brave advocates and staff. We must continue the dialogue about self-care. Incorporating real and helpful support for staff (and those of you in leadership too!) sustains good jobs and strong organizations.

Recently, Sarah Foley from the YWCA in Spokane wrote a guest post here about a supervision survey she conducted with advocates and supervisors from DV organizations around Washington State. She asked a few questions about self-care. When advocates were asked if they engaged in self-care or had a self-care plan, most (87%) said yes. All participating supervisors reported that it was important to support advocates’ self-care. Most (89%) reported that it is ‘very important’ and the other 11% reported it was ‘somewhat important’ to support advocates’ self-care and sustainability in the work.

Advocate and Supervisor Perception of Supervisor’s Support of Self-Care

self-care graph 1

Advocate and Supervisor Responses on the Frequency of Asking about Self-Care during Supervision

self-care graph 2

As you can see from the second graph above, there are some discrepancies in how advocates and supervisors perceive how self-care is being addressed. What kinds of things are you doing to address vicarious trauma and promote self-care at your organization? Our sisters at the Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs have some suggestions. Are you talking about this in new employee orientation? Have a system for addressing it during regular supervision sessions? Let us know what you’re doing and what you think is working well!

And one last thing…I spoke with a leader at a DV organization recently who, like in the example above, has had to make some tough decisions in the past year. At every level of our organizations, we have great people doing hard work that can sometimes feel thankless. So I want to say Thank You. Here’s a little late Valentine from another nonprofit blogger. I think he puts it beautifully. You are a unicorn!

Our Business

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So, this post has been making it’s way around my Facebook circle, so I read it. It’s an open letter by an executive director of a small non profit to his friends in the business community. I think he makes some very interesting points. Take a moment to read it.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.


OK, so, what did you think? What about it resonated for you? What didn’t? Maybe there are some points here that you could incorporate into your next conversation with donors or your Board. Tell us what you think!

Creating Time for Supervision

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This week’s post brought to you by guest blogger Sarah Foley, Associate Director of Counseling and Outreach at the YWCA Alternatives to Domestic Violence Program in Spokane, WA.   

There is never enough time in the day to complete all the work that needs to be done, including providing supervision to advocates and staff. Many times crisis and conflicting meetings result in supervision getting rescheduled or canceled. Recently, I in partnership with WSCADV administered a survey on supervision to a representative group of WSCADV’s Member Programs. Many supervisors and advocates said that supervision was scheduled weekly, but 56% of respondents on the advocate survey and 47% on the supervisor survey claimed that it did not happen with consistency and predictability. So, how can priority be given to supervision?

Sarah graph 1 Sarah graph 2

Some organizations and supervisors may be able to provide weekly supervision (awesome!), but for most organizations that may not be a reality.  A scheduled weekly meeting for supervision is setting unrealistic expectations for many staff and supervisors. But I’ve got great news! Many advocates and staff are not looking for weekly supervision.  Here is a comparison of supervisors’ and advocates’ ideal supervision:

Sarah graph 3

Creating scheduled supervision biweekly or monthly can benefit both staff and supervisors.  Having meetings scheduled less frequently can help prioritize supervision; it can lend more importance to the meetings when they are scheduled.  While having fewer scheduled meetings with advocates and staff can be concerning if the ideal is weekly supervision, 60% of advocates report being very satisfied with the availability of their supervisor outside of scheduled supervision.

Sarah graph 4

Results from this survey suggest that it is important for supervisors to be flexible and realistic about supervision.  Scheduling fewer meetings but holding those times consistent could free up time on the calendar and provide the supervision that advocates need. What do you think? How are you making supervision work at your agency?