I have graduate degrees in Social Work and Public Health, and I think of myself as a community organizer at my core.
But, after 20 years working in the non-profit and municipal sectors in Massachusetts, I decided to call it quits this spring and move into the corporate world.
There is a lot I miss about the non-profit work environment. Things like the feeling that "we're all in this together," the unflagging, personal commitment to mission, the flexible work environment which often compensated for pay that undervalued employees' skill sets.
But, six months after I made the jump, that I don't miss about a non-profit workplace, particularly my last office. These include:
- Having to step over homeless people to get into the office
- Inadequate basic desk and office equipment (e.g. voice mail and a phone at my desk)
- Lack of administrative/operational systems (e.g. system for sorting and distributing mail)
- Decision-making based on relationships before the interest of the business, and its dirty cousin, excusing mediocrity and poor performance to avoid hurting someone's feelings
- Executive whining when one's sense of mission did not override one's desire to be with family, manage illness, have work/life balance, etc.
Don't get me wrong. The corporate sector is far from perfect. But, at the end of the day, there is no question about motive or purpose. Whether manufacturing widgets or operating in the service economy, business exists to do the best job it can at the lowest possible price in order to make money. I like what I do and I respect the company for which I work. But I'm under no illusion that I'm saving the world. And this makes it a whole lot easier to take a sick day, walk somewhere to grab lunch, or to leave after eight hours at my desk.
I look back on my last position now with incredulity. How did I - how did anyone on the team - survive in these conditions? It is nearly impossible to get work done efficiently - a necessity when every dollar you spend is a dollar you need to raise - when there was no consensus on who should check voicemail and distribute phone messages, let alone no professional telephone system.
I love working with a sense of mission. But, at the end of the day, work is work. So, until I find the perfect non-profit or government sector job, I'll stay where I am, marketing widgets and checking my voicemail.