Philadelphia, PA, U.S.A | Registered Nurse & Nurse Practitioner
Thank you for the information—I’ll keep tabs via your groups FB page for future events! Sorry for such a delayed response—I haven’t been able to check in on these forums as much as I’d like lately.
I’m hoping you may clarify which events, if any, would be open to people who are not Princeton students/fellows/faculty.
I have no affiliation with the university, although I live nearby. Thanks
I can tell you that my superiors tried to make the ‘meaningful’ nature of my work more salient when conditions and compensation were unsatisfactory—it leaves an awful aftertaste. Simple economic models would’ve supported their perspective: surely satisfaction from mission alignment can substitute for more material incentives. However, my experience and decision making in response to my employer, dangling meaning in front of me, would be better explained in the vernacular of lefty sociologist types: alienation, resentment, and distrust.
The concept of discounted-pay signaling mission-commitment, has the potential to be harmful when you realize coworkers, not just employers, might use it to evaluate one another (actual ex.: “This is just a hobby for Person A, they’re spouse makes X—they don’t really have to work. But Person B is actually committed, her electricity got cut off the other day!”).
You mentioned elsewhere in this thread that employer hiring/negotiating strategies can introduce issues of justice—I completely agree: a creeping sentiment arose in my former org that the organization was biased towards hiring privileged individuals, this lead to a subtle faction lines being drawn. Some people believed they knew who were hired by merit vs. convenience.
No doubt the org’s culture was strong, but it wasn’t necessarily best suited towards making a desirable workplace or achieving mission aims.
I hope the above examples weren’t too tangential—the point I’m trying to make is that while economic models have their place, organizations dynamics and culture are messy and complex. Trying to shape culture through salary directly may be just too blunt an instrument, it can have unintended consequences in individual cases that are too unique to context to be captured by trendlines in aggregate data.
You mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the validity of maintaining a healthy distinction between work and your personal life—I couldn’t agree more.
Toonalfrink, I’m hesitant to provide a concrete definition of privilege because it’s definitely an amorphous thing. That being said, since I know it does mean very different things in different countries, so I should have provided some context in my examples:
Employer Location: US major metropolitan city
Entry level salary/benefits: $35k; competitive health insurance; no 401k/403b (retirement fund) match; no maternity leave
Looking briefly as US dept of Education data, the median American student loan debt burden for those with a bachelor’s degree is around $12k at graduation. The high-performing applicants from selective schools undoubtedly had better-compensated employment options. Assume private and selective schools generally costing more, and higher-earning/more-educated families are generally more capable at navigating the US scholarship and financial aid system (these are both true generalizations, forgive me for not dredging up hard figures to support the claims). It starts becoming clearer why employees in such an org disproportionately came from comfortable backgrounds.
Further, many employees at the organization in my example had previously worked at the org as unpaid interns there for at least a semester (14-16 wks), and generally for >8 hrs/wk for several months. Some were interns after graduating. While that meant we (as the employer) could understand those applicants better than any interview would have allowed us to, many individuals simply can’t afford to commute to a center city office and effectively volunteer for that long—they need to work to support themselves.
Hope this provides clarity, at least with my use of the term.
Two things I should have mentioned in my first post the would have provided some clarity. While many employees certainly were privileged, the HQ was in a lower cost of living city—it was easier to live on a more modest salary. But I completely agree: although there was usually an excess of applicants, the low salary must have filtered out a lot of people.
I’m curious what the cultures are like at different organizations recognized as Effective? I’m sure some individuals participating in this forum could speak to that. I’ve read the observation that EA skews somewhere in the neighborhood of 70:30 male:female, whereas my non-EA org was closer to 30:70 with employees being mostly female.
(I’m uninterested to what degree differences in preferences between sexes are innate vs. socialized). Getting that out of the way: my org prioritized benefits such as generous Paid Time Off and flexible schedules, incentives which tend to be requested more often by women than men as they become more senior. How much does the talent constraint and gender skew in EA orgs, at least in part, overlap?
One example from my old NGO: PTO increases where related to seniority, a measure that seldom seems incentivized as much as it used to as organizations want to signal more interested in performance and notions of merit. Considering how much expense and productivity is lost from losing an employee and having to replace them, I suspect rewarding seniority is less irrational than some may think.
PTO was also given for going ‘above and beyond’ by lending yourself to smaller programs within the org that needed a temporary injection of labor. This scheme seemed similar to a physician retention program piloted in Stanford’s Emergency Dept. around 2014 - domestic services (like Blue Apron, or cleaning services), along with other non-monetary rewards, were given to MD’s that participated in activities outside their position’s core functions, such as mentorship. Interestingly, prior to the pilot these activities were mostly taken on by men, but women achieved parity in participation once the incentives rolled out. This was considered particularly promising as those activities are associated with advancement.
As someone who’s worked as a manager in a non-profit (although mission-driven, it wouldn’t be considered EA) long enough to see attrition and remain in touch with many employees that remained or left, I hope my observations may add value.
-Many employees weren’t motivated by salary. This can be for any number of reasons: eg. their spouse has an exceptional income, their interests outside of work require little money, etc.
-Status counted for a lot and takes many different forms:
-The ability to maintain relationships with wealthy donors, elected officials, and prestigious foundations clearly appealed to many people who worked there.
-The organization enjoys its own national prestige, especially within its general problem area.
-Arguably, many people outside your workplace grant you ‘halo-status’ for merely working in a non-profit, even if they have little understanding of what you or the org actually does. I’ve noticed the substandard pay, working conditions, actually augment this effect by some ‘costly-signaling’ mechanism. If your work isn’t capital-e Effective, that might count for little; however, many employees who considered their work important enjoyed the sentiment and found it well deserved.
-The only departments where wage dissatisfaction was common was where employees both worked long hours and had a skill-set that was easily transferable to the private sector. Although I’m not sure if employee turnover was necessarily higher than other departments, those who have left often have ended up in higher-paying, more conventionally prestigious jobs (eg. a Big-X consultancy or accountancy firm). Accounting, which furthermore lacks opportunity for tangible direct impact, did seem to have the greatest turnover and wage dissatisfaction.
-Many people that left remained within the social sector with presumably comparable compensation. Interestingly, many perceived the organization they joined to be more effective. Others considered other orgs’ missions to better align with their own values. I know of four employees that actually returned to the organization after leaving several years prior. In an org with around 130 employees, I find that quite remarkable (but I’ll admit I have no base-rate). It would be interesting to understand what motivated them.
An important point to make clear: many people who worked there weren’t slouches by many conventional metrics. The organization dramatically over indexed the social sector by number of Ivy League alumni, or from other selective schools. Most were remarkably intelligent, adaptable, and agreeable. Most employees found the calibre of their peers to be one of the better perks of the organization, many remain in touch to continue to exchange high-quality ideas. As to whether this was the direct product of the org’s efforts to attract talent or some accident of history that led to an agglomeration of talented people recruiting their talented peers is hard for me to tell.
My basic argument is that while ‘all things being equal’ wages certainly do matter, there are so many other factors that attract employees. I do think more operational positions, such as accounting should be compensated more closely to the private sector, and I do think some management roles should be recruited from the private sector, so wages may have to meet their expectations. (I do wonder if that would lead to second order effects, with it calibrating all employees’ expectations or sparking resentment).
As mentioned, I hope this contributes...let me know if something needs clarification.
This is an interesting coincidence. I’m someone who read and was influenced by EA blogs around 2014-2015, after working for an NGO for a few years. I was influenced enough to factor it in my decision to leave my job and go back to school to become a Nurse Practitioner. (As evidenced by the fact that nursing and advanced practice nursing aren’t highly recommended pathways in 80k hrs, it’s fair to say I factored what I read among EA sites alongside my own appraisals of priority areas, beliefs/attitudes, and individual circumstances).
Despite being in Boston, arguably an EA hub, I didn’t engage with the community there during my time in school. Although the NGO I worked for wasn’t EA, having a peer group that was concerned about various issues and recognized the need to deviate from mainstream culture when it came to matters of earnings and consumption, definitely counted for something. Compared to grad school, where classmates surely had diverse motivations for choosing the career path, the greatest common denominator revealed itself to be “achieving a comfortably middle to upper-middle class lifestyle and the ability to ‘help people.’”
I can tell you my values drifted. Concepts such a marginal impact, and the fact that clinicians’ marginal impact is much less than most believe, are threatening to front line clinicians—so I avoided those topics with peers. Surely many classmates were conventionally status-oriented that my previous peers in the non-profit. As I tried to learn about the more conservative norms regarding attire expected in some private practices, (as opposed to the NGO where I worked which was quite informal), I was exposed to more of such consumption-as-status messaging. After breaking up with a long term significant other, who at least understood my beliefs and attitudes about EA and simpler-living, and starting to date other professionals in a high-COL city, I definitely found myself thinking about more of my income going more towards self-presentation. With significant student loan debt from the program, my first job will definitely prioritize salary more than I’d otherwise like.
All the while, I always had EA in the back of my mind. I listened to MacAskill’s book in audio format at some point during my graduate program. As someone who seems to be more interested in managing downward risk combined with the fact that my previous work was in behavior change/nudging, I was always concerned I would not ‘come back’ to the community or succumb to norms of the dominant consumer culture.
On reflection, I think that is part of the reason I wasn’t deeply engaged with the community—I seem to be more concerned with making sure I have some kind of significant impact, than trying to maximize impact. I’ve long been concerned about an imagined future-self succumbing to burnout, resentment, or alienation. I wondered how my future self might cope if I invest heavily in a problem area that turns out to be, for one reason or another, no longer a high-impact area. It’s safe to say that I’m rather risk-intolerant.
Moving forward, I do plan to re-engage with the community, especially in person because I now appreciate how alienating it can be to not have peers than understand your deeply held values. I hope this post adds-value; rather than codify the challenges and protective-factors, I thought it’s best I just concretely describe my experience and leave it here for interpretation.