Making the Case
Long hours of work are one of the biggest factors in organizer burnout and turnover. Organizing can’t be carried out 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, as grassroots base-building often happens on evenings and weekends. And winning campaigns sometimes requires massive effort at peak times.
29% of organizers ADR surveyed work 10+ unpaid hours a week. Some even put in 20+ unpaid hours.
“Organizing staff were working ridiculous hours. We were supposed to flex our hours, but again, you realistically couldn’t because you always feel responsible. You’re on call.”— Case Study Interview
“It seems to me that organizing jobs are high turnover jobs so the leadership treats them as such. They use loopholes in labor law in order to work organizers long hours without paying them equitable compensation.”— Case Study Interview
“The other organizer left. And then we lost another organizer last year. I thought everyone’s going to be sticking around, but it was like, nope, people were leaving…. It had to have been because of the workload.”— Case Study Interview
Questions to consider to ensure a sustainable pace of work
- Are organizers and all staff able to meet family and personal obligations and needs for rest, or does anyone’s workload contribute to burnout?
- Is there a ‘martyr mentality’ in the organization that promotes overwork as heroic?
How to address hours of work
Sustainable and aspirational solutions to problematic practices
Unpaid hours can lead to burnout.
Overtime pay for hourly workers is legally mandated.
Give bonuses to salaried employees who work many excess hours at peak times. Spell out who is eligible for bonuses and who for overtime pay in the personnel policy.
Job responsibilities are impossible to do in the contracted number of hours.
Make job descriptions as doable as possible, and plan ahead for surges of work during campaign peaks. Build in time for education and professional development.
Don’t burden organizers with unnecessary additional work, such as administrative duties.
Hire more organizers so workload can be divided into manageable chunks.
One rule of thumb is that core job functions should take up 60% of work hours, leaving 40% for administrative work, planning, meetings and organizational and professional development; aspire to fund positions that can be so spacious.
Dedicate time to strategizing about truly feasible and sustainable campaigns far in advance.
No comp time policy or other method of allowing recovery from peak crunch times.
Provide time for rest after work crunches, including compensatory hours for nonexempt hourly workers, flextime for salaried employees.
(Check state laws for rules on comp time and overtime. Federal law forbids comp time for exempt professional/ managerial salaried employees.)
Offer substantial sabbaticals, retreats or other extra paid leave after campaigns end.
Consider an annual reflection week when all staff are encouraged to step away from normal duties to read and watch videos to learn, as this organization does.
Paid leave is often inadequate.
Give adequate paid leave, including 12+ sick days as needed, parental leave, flexible holidays for staff of different religions, bereavement leave, and 3+ vacation weeks to start, rising over the years.
Too many and too long meetings crowd out task time, pushing staff’s priority work outside of their work hours.
Keep meetings short (ideally 50 minutes to allow for breaks between them), when possible.
Eliminate unnecessary meetings, or. invite only those whose input is needed and those whose work would be affected by the topics on the agenda. Let others know they are welcome, but are free to prioritize other work.
Set certain days to be ‘no meeting days’.
Research and adopt systems and practices to make meetings more productive and/or to make them unnecessary.
Invest in scheduling software to make it easier to set meeting times.
Expectation of being digitally available 24/7, interrupting rest and family time.
Managers should model going offline on weekends, nights and vacations.
Set limits on digital communication hours for work-related messages (e.g., everyone offline 8 pm to 8 am).