DISCLAIMER: I do not mean this piece to be a critique of my direct supervisors, all of whom are absolutely wonderful and are helping me work through the systemic problems related to working as support staff in a state institution. I work with amazing individuals. I write this piece as an emotional, raw critique of systemic inequalities and issues that result from the policies in place in public, state institutions of higher education that continually disadvantage me and others in a position similar to mine. The fact that I even feel obligated to include this disclaimer shows the truly bifurcated nature of higher education—freedom to speak out is reserved only for the few. Nevertheless, this issue is too important to remain silent about, and I am working in avenues other than my blog to address these problems. To change the system, we must first critique the system.
“It must be such a privelege to work at your alma mater.”
I get this a lot. It used to feel like a privlege, but more frequently now it feels like poison.
What is value? According to Google’s dictionary function, value is:
- the regard that something is held to deserve; the importance, worth, or usefulness of something.
- the material or monetary worth of something
- the worth of something compared to the price paid or asked for it.
Value sounds important—it sounds good. How can values be toxic? Or how can the value of a person, or what you hold to be valuable, be toxic?
It’s toxic to work in a place where you need to “prove” your value. To work in a place where you are not valued, where you cannot be properly and fairly compensated due to the short-term nature of your work—where short-term work is not valued.
It’s toxic to work in place where you are constantly told just how valuable you are, yet the simple “price” that you ask for—a living salary—cannot and will not be honored. It’s toxic to work in a place where, without debt, and with only rent and a credit card to pay every month, you still cannot afford to live where your job demands that you work.
It’s toxic to work in a place where the people who shoulder the burdens of the institution, who do all of the leg work, and who are not properly compensated for it are required to manually log their hours, day in and day out. Where they are not trusted to do they work they are being (poorly) paid to do. Where they are told that if they improperly log their hours, they are stealing money from the institution. It’s even more toxic to work in a place where the administrators are overcompensated for having big ideas that they then delegate to (read: shove upon) their peons so they can then spend most of the work day—if they come to work—only pondering what frivolous items they are going to spend a limited state budget on.
It’s toxic to work in a place where you are overworked and underpaid—where you are not valued. To work in a place that seems to value people who do not work. People who consistently come to work at least two hours late and leave at the same time as (or even before) everyone else. The privileged people who have no real appreciation for the luxury of earning a living salary. It’s toxic to work in a place where not working—and spending work time seeking other jobs—is rewarded with counteroffers. Where you can be paid, and receive a raise, for not working. Where the people who do work day in and day out, who are overloaded with work, with no time or mental space to seek other jobs, cannot receive a raise. Because apparently it is more valuable to not work and spend your work time searching for the perfect counteroffer.
It’s toxic to work in a place that doesn’t value mental and emotional work and capital. Because it takes mental and emotional capital to apply for new jobs, but when you are already overworked, you don’t have any extra to put toward the job-search-for-counteroffer effort. It’s toxic to work in a place where the people who do have the mental and emotional capital for job searches—who, coincidentally, are the people who are not overworked and already earn more than a living salary, thus freeing up mental space—are rewarded with counteroffers and less work.
It’s toxic to work in a place where your regular workload can double, triple, quadruple, but you aren’t valuable enough to be compensated for it because you are just doing more of the “same” work. It’s not enough to do more. It’s toxic to work in a place where to prove your value, you have to take on different, “higher-order duties,” only to find that even after taking on these duties, you aren’t valuable enough to be properly compensated for the extra, different work.
It’s toxic to work in a place where you are so valued that new tasks, new duties are shoved onto your plate because you can handle it, but when you point out this is more work, different work, higher-order work, you are met with silence. You are met with false equivalencies. It’s toxic to work in a place where, after asking for a raise for this extra work, you come to find that the administration has re-written the duties of your supervisor so that your new, higher-order duties are no longer that. They are no longer outside of your responsibility. They are now your responsibility, and you can no longer justify asking for a raise.
It’s toxic to work in a place where the answer is: “That’s just how it is. It’s a shitty system.”
I know my value, my importance. I am not toxic. My employer, however, is a different story.
ADDENDUM: I want to add that I do really like most parts of my job on most days, which is one of the many contributing factors as to why I haven’t left.