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

Good Jobs logo for print

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!

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

 

photo by Michael Fleshman

photo by Michael Fleshman

Good Jobs logo for print

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

Good Jobs logo for print

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.

cookie_monster_waiting

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

Good Jobs logo for print

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?

Tending to the Nest Egg

Good Jobs logo for printAhhhh, retirement. Visions of schedule-free days, travel with loved ones, working through your bucket list that you’ve carefully crafted over the years.

by incanus

by incanus

Wouldn’t that be nice? Unfortunately, it’s a word that can strike fear into the hearts of many working in this field.

RETIREMENT.

Colbert screaming gif

See?

And for good reason. Many of us are terrified that we won’t have enough to retire when we want to, or even enough to live comfortably when we can’t work anymore. So what about those days of carefree gardening and travel? How can we help make that (or whatever’s on your list) a reality for the folks who work at our programs? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have some information that can help us think about it.

In the 2011 Wages and Benefits survey we asked employees of DV programs “Are you saving for retirement?” Here’s what folks who took the survey had to say to that.

programs offering retirement benefit graph

Are you saving for retirement graph

Among those who said they are saving for retirement, 64% said that they utilize the plan offered by their employer. Here’s a breakdown in a little more detail:

How are you saving for retirement graph

So some are saving (a little over half) and some are not. There are a lot of reasons why people don’t save—like they don’t have enough left over at after making ends meet, they don’t think they need to (I’m so young and carefree!), they don’t know how or even where to start. As an employer, you cannot necessarily address all the reasons why people aren’t saving, but what can you do? Figuring out how to offer a retirement plan is a great start, but even then, some employees won’t take advantage of it. What then? What have you done about this at your agency, if you offer retirement plans? (Here’s a suggestion that you might have seen before, hint, hint).

There’s not easy answer to these questions, nor The Big One—How on earth am I supposed to manage and make a retirement plan option worthwhile for my employees? Where’s that time and money going to come from? Good question. Who’s doing it? How’s that going? We’d love to hear from you!

Being On-Call

Good Jobs logo for print

PHOTO BY LANIER67

Photo by Lanier67

At the WSCADV Annual Conference last month, a bunch of forward thinking directors, managers and advocates came together for a Good Jobs Forum. There was a lot of great discussion, but one topic in particular came up and we didn’t have time to fully explore it—On-call staff!

Structuring and managing on-call work is a big challenge.  Our discussion brought up a lot of different (and not always harmonious) things to consider. What’s best for your particular community? What fits into the structure of your agency? What do your funders require? What does the law have to say? What’s the ideal- what fits best with our social and economic justice principles?

Portlandia lesbian bookstore owner gif

Just writing that made my head hurt.

I’m sure there are a lot of you out there with some really great ideas about this, so let us know what is working for your staff, agency and community.

Also, here’s a little PSA (public service announcement) about what the law says and why this is such a murky topic. This is a very short article about what happened when an agency unknowingly improperly compensated their on-call workers.  Here’s the crux of the issue: “…on-call time becomes compensable under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) ‘when the on-call conditions are so restrictive or the calls to duty so frequent that the employee cannot effectively use on-call time for personal purposes.’”  For example, Anna Advocate is on-call twice a month with the crisis line cell phone. She is free to be wherever she wishes as long as she is able to answer the cell phone if it rings and take the crisis call. She’s paid for the time spent on any actual calls, but not for the time she has the cell phone and is on-call. Seems pretty clear.

But, Anna also must be available go to the shelter to welcome any survivors who call needing shelter. There are rules about being on-call at Anna’s agency that say she must be able to respond to the shelter within 30 minutes of a call, and the number of calls for shelter during a weekend of being on-call can vary.  Does this mean that Anna Advocate is so restricted that she cannot use on-call time for personal purposes? See what I mean by murky? This is tricky, but good to be aware of.

What do you have to say about this? What else is challenging about on-call work? Let us know!

Sometimes it’s the little things…

Good Jobs logo for print

Last month we presented a MoneyTalks webinar (for those of you who do not know, WSCADV holds quarterly MoneyTalks for advocates to come together and talk about economic justice topics). *end shameless self promotion* This webinar was all about getting excited about money and how advocates can integrate talking about money into their work with survivors.

?????

Money is hard to talk about. People are more willing to talk about sex than about money. Money is personal. Our first lessons about money (for better or for worse) were from our families, and oh, how those lessons can vary. When we ask people what they were taught about money growing up, answers range from “save, save ,save” to “spend it when you’ve got it.” Money is gendered.  We’ve already talked about the wage gap. But this also goes back to what we were taught growing up. Many women tell me that they received very different messages about money than their brothers and other boys in their lives. They may have been told “you don’t have to worry about those things” or they were simply left out of the lessons about working, banking and budgeting.

Given all this, many of the smart, skilled advocates who work at our agencies may struggle with talking about money with survivors because of their feelings about their own financial situation. Some agencies offer financial education support groups for survivors, and survivors often report that when they get a handle on their finances, the power they feel in their own lives is liberating and propels them forward. Money can be stressful when it feels out of control, but it can be exciting and empowering when you feel confident.

We talk a lot here about big ideas and important goals like raising wages and offering better benefits. But sometimes even the little things can have a big impact. As leaders at your agencies, you could offer resources to help staff get their own financial houses in order. You could partner with a local financial planner or simply take some time to talk about it at a staff meeting. There are many resources on www.getmoneygetsafe.org that can help folks track their spending, understand credit, master their debt and more! Ask me more about this. What are you already doing at your agency?

Like A Boss

Good Jobs logo for print

We have all had good ones and bad ones. Being the boss is HARD. But being a great one doesn’t have to make it harder. It may even make it just a little bit easier. Whether you are the big cheese, a manager, supervisor, or were just put in charge of the new intern (!!!), there are things you can do to foster excellent relationships with those you supervise and help create an environment where everyone (including the boss) feels valued, supported and motivated to do their best work. An article in Forbes asks “Do you have the 12 signs of a great boss?” Here’s their list:

12 Signs of a Great Boss

1. You get genuine pleasure from helping others do their best work; you measure your own success by theirs.

2. You don’t treat everyone the same. You know your people well enough to manage them as individuals.

3. You understand that your title gives you power, but intelligence and integrity give you influence, which is invaluable.

4. Your feedback is specific, sincere and constructive. People know where they stand with you.

5. More than a few people on your team have saved notes of praise you’ve sent them. Your words carry that much impact.

6. Your constructive response to mistakes and problems leads people to feel they can safely bring you bad news, when necessary.

7. You communicate your plans and goals clearly, and people understand their roles and responsibilities as members of your team.

8. You hire people smarter than you are and aren’t intimidated by their knowledge. You can look out your office door and see your replacement.

9. Your staff members feel ownership of ideas and initiatives, even those you originate, because you share power and control.

10. You know the occasions when only a top-down decision will do: times of crisis, high risk or high conflict. And your staff appreciates it.

11. You’re a continuous learner, always looking to improve your skills and knowledge.

12. Your employees know what you stand for and are proud to stand with you.

My favorites are numbers 4,6,7, & 9. What do you think about this list? What awesome things are you doing that didn’t make it on the list? Discuss!