how should I respond when employees complain about financial stress?

A reader writes:

I am the director of a nonprofit with a small team: I have five direct reports. I was a coworker to all of these individuals for years before being promoted and becoming their boss, and as a result I have — and continue to have — very close relationships with them. Since taking on a supervisory role I have worked hard to re-establish personal versus professional boundaries and think I have been largely successful. Of course, we are still a close-knit team and regularly discuss aspects of our personal lives like our families, our pets, our health, etc.

Occasionally, the topic of finances will come up in one-on-one conversation. One of my reports will say something like, “I was barely able to make rent this month” or “my car is broken and I can’t afford to fix it.” I typically respond with something generic like, “Yikes, that sounds stressful” and move on.

Recently, one of my employees was a bit short with me. She later apologized, saying, “I’m sorry, I have been really struggling financially. My rent just went up and my husband lost his job.” I told her that I was sorry to hear that she is under a lot of stress and left it at that. But all of these conversations seem to subtly imply that I (as a representative of the organization) am responsible for these problems, as the employer and determiner of salaries.

I feel my staff is paid fairly for our industry and location, and we give annual cost-of-living increases. It sometimes feels cruel to dismiss what I perceive as a cry for help from my staff, whom I care about, when they are being vulnerable with me, but I also understand that their financial situation is not my problem. Should I be handling these uncomfortable comments — and their subtext — differently, or is it okay to simply empathize?

I wrote back and said, “If multiple people on your staff are saying these things, I would be worried that they’re not in fact being paid enough to live on. How thoroughly have you looked into verifying that they really are (and currently too, given the pace of inflation recently)?”

I’m fortunate that our industry (let’s just say “museums” as a broad category) has a professional organization that puts out annual salary benchmarking data, including both gross and cost of living-adjusted figures, which can be further refined by operational budget, population served, etc. This is not the only metric we use to determine salary, but it helps us to have a guideline, and all of our staff are paid at or above the 50th percentile when compared to similar organizations. We give annual cost-of-living increases (8% last year and 7% the year prior).

We are a small nonprofit which has struggled financially, and we simply aren’t able to pay at the very top of the range for our staff (myself included). Still, we try hard to offer competitive pay and benefits. At one point I tried a more professional response to one of these comments, saying, “If you’d like to sit down for a formal salary review, I’d be happy to do so.” This seemed to embarrass the person and they backpedaled, saying they were just venting. But a few months later that same person was making those same comments.

Maybe I’m reading too much into these conversations? I only really have this issue with two of my staff, but for those two it does seem to be a recurring stressor. I want to let them know that I empathize, but that we are still a business and I’m not in a position to pay them more just because they may want (or even need) more.

Interesting. I was sure it was going turn out your pay data was out-of-date or you really hadn’t kept up with inflation.

For what it’s worth, being paid at or above the 50th percentile for your industry still might not be a living wage, especially when that industry is nonprofit. (Although your cost-of-living increases are higher than what most employers have done in the last few years, so kudos for that.)

Ultimately, though, if this is how you need to structure salaries — and it sounds like it is — all you can do is be transparent with people about that and trust that they’ll make the decisions they need to make for themselves.

To that end, if you haven’t already, it’s generally a good thing to be open about how the organization sets salaries and handles raises (how often they happen, what makes someone eligible or not eligible for one, how much they tend to be), including the benchmarking data you’ve used. This is something you should do with your staff as a whole, not just to the two people who have mentioned struggling.

Also, you mentioned that you offered to sit down for a formal salary review with one of these employees. If you’re not already initiating those yourself on a regular basis for everyone (ideally annually, and separate from cost-of-living increases), that’s something you should start doing; don’t leave it in your employees’ court to ask. You don’t want people feel like the onus is solely on them to make sure they’re being paid fairly, and a lot of people will never ask for a raise even when they clearly should. You might already be doing this! But I’m flagging it in case you’re not.

But beyond that, when someone mentions being stressed about finances, I wouldn’t assume it’s intended as a barb toward you or the organization. Employees having financial stress can simply be a reality of life — and even if you think their salaries should preclude that, you never know what financial burdens a person might have. So you could respond with, for example, “I’m sorry you’re having a hard time” or “That sounds really stressful. I know the pay in our field can be tough.” (Only say that last part if it’s true, of course.)

Read an update to this letter

{ 305 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I know there might be a temptation to tell this letter-writer that she is definitely wrong about her organization’s wages, and I want to preemptively ask people not to do that since we have no way of knowing that (and she’s better positioned to know than we are). Thank you.

  2. Justin*

    It actually sounds like you’re doing a lot of the right things (benchmarking, COL increases that are REAL). As Alison said, the only thing you can do is be honest and direct, and maybe offer more time off if that’s in your control?

    1. Justin*

      This is what my nonprofit does (though we pay relatively highly because we’re funded by companies with enough money to do so), all of what you say plus direct HR communication about benchmarking and so forth. People are pretty happy, far as I can tell, but I’m not in charge.

      Maybe also support your employees in gaining new skills through the work so that if they do have to leave they’ll be well-positioned. I had a nonprofit job where I was poorly paid and we were so siloed I never got to do anything new, so it was lose-lose.

      1. londonedit*

        Yes, it’s similar where I am in publishing. Pay is notoriously low, and there isn’t really a huge amount that can be done about that in general terms (though publishers are looking into ways to make the industry more diverse and accessible, and part of that is through more structural pay reviews and salary transparency) but we have had COL pay rises, more than we’d usually get, and the company has also introduced a couple of things like extra company days off over and above the UK bank holidays that we already get. It’s hard when inflation is so high because it simply isn’t possible for the company to give us an above-inflation pay rise, and it’s tough when you know you’re effectively earning less money in real terms when you look at the cost of your outgoings etc. Energy prices here are particularly crazy and it’s just frightening every time your energy supplier wants to increase your monthly direct debit payment. I’ll admit I do have the odd whinge about my finances and about the fact that 20-year-old me assumed I’d be doing much better than I am, but also I understand that it’s my choice to work in publishing and – as long as my employer is going some way to mitigate the increased cost of living – I also have to cut my own cloth accordingly, as does everyone else (apart from billionaires with tons of money, obviously).

        1. Letter Writer*

          Really appreciate you sharing. As Alison said, it can be tempting to assume I’m delusional and really underpaying my people, and the truth is I WISH I could pay all my staff more! Just like you I am in an industry whose incomes are generally lower than others, but we offer a lot of flexibility and ownership to our staff and I think we have a good work culture. Ultimately any of us may choose to look elsewhere if we really aren’t making what we need.

          1. Candace*

            I empathize, believe me. I’m in another field that is notoriously poorly paid – except for a few folks at the top, who do well (but are not rich, just solid middle class). I feel even weirder, because I’m one of those. It has taken me 40 years to get there, and I work very hard, and also advocate for my staff. (And it doesn’t go as far as it might, as my husband is in very poor health and hasn’t been able to work for quite a long while, but that’s not relevant to their situations.) At every place I’ve worked, I’ve managed to get some increases above and beyond the usual COL raises – think gathering tons of data to show gaps where we weren’t paying appropriately for specialized skills, and getting raises of $5,000 – $7,000 for folks. But I’ve started a new job a few months ago, and yet again, pay is a huge issue, especially at entry level. I will keep working on it, and I know I’ll manage something. But darn, I also wish I could stop feeling vaguely, weirdly guilty that I’m doing okay now.

    2. Momma Bear*

      Yeah, that COL is better than a lot of places!

      I think letting people know in general that a salary review is a thing that can be done or will be implemented is good. They should be aware of the metrics used and the process. Sometimes just knowing what the deal is helps people realize where they truly are vs where they feel they are. I agree that if there are things within OP’s control to change, that would also be good. Flexible schedules, WFH, and time off can offset a bad commute.

      This visibility into pay may also be beneficial for younger workers who may not have the same sense of salary as workers who maybe have been through layoffs or other salary-impacting events. Younger workers may have bigger debt loads from school or be renters. It’s not that it’s OP’s fault, but thinking about their situation may help identify how to approach the topic.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Definitely! I should have added that we conduct annual reviews on employees’ hire dates, and try to be very transparent about that. A few of the people making these comments are between reviews, so I am wondering if they are trying to not-so-subtly hint that they can’t wait until their next review date. Ultimately if their salaries are not what they need given their lifestyle, they may need to look elsewhere, but in the meantime I am always at a loss as to what to say in these moments.

        1. Rebecca*

          Maybe they’re just looking for validation? An acknowledgement that everything is so expensive right now and you’re making adjustments too? The cost of everything has gone up so much, beyond the 7-8% COL raises. That’s not a problem with just your organization or even your industry; it’s literally everyone. I haven’t paid attention to the price of groceries in years, and I’m using digital coupons and shopping sales again.

          It’s hitting all of us, and there’s a way to say that without overstepping. Maybe it’s more their sort-of subtle way of saying they’re under a lot of stress, and they’re worried it’s affecting their work performance?

          Can you take their comments and spin them into a compliment? That’s a way to move the conversation to a positive place without really having a solution. Something like: “I know. I just paid $6 for a dozen eggs at Walmart. It’s hard to focus sometimes when you’re worrying how much your grocery bill will go up next week. I really appreciate how you [insert here: took the lead and killed it with that project OR had such a great interaction with big donor OR whatever]. I know it can be difficult to focus on work when you’re struggling at home, and I really appreciate that.”

    3. Beth*

      Agreed that it sounds like you’re doing everything you can to offer fair compensation. It does sound, though, like your organization’s salaries are probably not very high even if they’re fair for your industry (you mention ‘nonprofit’ and ‘museums’, and both of those are categories where pay is often pretty low compared to other industries).

      If that’s accurate, you do have to find a way to be at peace with knowing your employees aren’t financially comfortable. Some will have other income but experience financial stress when that income is cut off (for example, your employee whose husband lost his job). Others will struggle to make do on what you pay (like your reports who struggle to pay rent or get repairs done). Given that you’re already doing what you can to make sure you’re paying as well as you’re able to pay, and given that you can’t expect them not to talk about financial struggle when it is a reality of this kind of industry, your only real option here is to find a way to not take their comments so personally.

      1. Letter Writer*

        This comment really gets at our situation. I recognize that we may be paying fairly for our industry, but that still might not be enough for some people. I have a partner who is well paid and that personally allows me some comfort that not all of my employees have. I think you’re right that I just need to continue showing empathy, be transparent and trust that people will make the best decisions for themselves.

      2. Emma*

        As someone who also works in a non-profit, everyone understands that pay is indeed going to be lower than other sectors. The factors that, in my experience, make the difference between people feeling like “that’s the reality of the sector, but my employer does what they can” and “they’re taking the piss” are:

        – The employer actually doing what they can – you’d think this is obvious but some organisations don’t seem to get it
        – Transparency in terms of pay bands, how increases work, future plans and the org’s finances in general (as far as is appropriate)
        – Knowing the boss isn’t getting a disproportionately higher salary than everyone else
        – A supportive & flexible culture that makes it easier for people to deal with the impact of low pay – for example, being as flexible as is practical with parents who can’t afford childcare during school holidays
        – Providing non-monetary benefits where possible, like plenty of time off, good policies around sickness etc, discount schemes for things like public transport

    4. Letter Writer*

      Thanks Justin! I have actually been thinking recently about increasing the portion of insurance we cover (currently 65%) as that is a meaningful way to put more money in my employees’ pockets without all of the extra costs that come with increasing salary (for both parties).

      1. Allston*

        Oh man if you can increase the amount you pay for their health care that would be HUGE. 10 years later I still think fondly of the job I had that fully paid my insurance. At every subsequent job any COL raise never even covered the yearly raise in insurance prices, let alone any other COL bullpucky.

        1. Letter Writer*

          I love my current role but I also still reminisce about the year I spent working in the produce department of a grocery store. Health insurance was 100% covered and I didn’t have to make any decision more difficult than how to stack the bananas – those were the days!

    5. TG*

      It sounds like you’re doing all you can but the only thing is it might be your wages for the area of the country are not sufficient.
      But to your direct questions I think you can’t be expected to be responsible for people’s finances and how you’ve handed it – with empathy and a comforting comment – is all you can do.

    6. Erin*

      The fact that you are genuinely concerned about the topic of fair compensation, and that you offer empathetic responses to employees who mention financial struggles tells me that you are plugged into this subject. I also feel like your level of transparency with your employees regarding comp cones from the right place.

      Additionally, I’ve had managers that I would never feel comfortable making a comment about financial difficulties. You have created an environment where employees feel ok doing that, which is great.

  3. The Original K.*

    For what it’s worth, I’ve worked in public and private sector and never seen a COL increase that high. An increase that high or higher that relates to performance, yes, but a COL increase that everyone gets, never. We got 3% this year, and that’s not a given. My friend works for a Fortune 20 company and they get 2%.

    1. KHB*

      Agreed. The official inflation numbers are that high, but from what I can see, pretty much nobody is giving COL increases that actually match the cost of living. We got 4% this year, and that’s unusually high for my employer.

      1. RussianInTexas*

        Partner’s company did 12% market adjustment last year and 7% COL adjustment, plus merit adjustment.
        He is in tech department of a non-tech company and they were bleeding people to the FAANG companies. Who knows if they will go back to much lower adjustments now, with the tech layoffs.

    2. Loulou*

      Sure, but it’s probably starting from a very low baseline. Salaries in this field are just not high. Even if you’re being paid fairly by the standards set by your professional organization, it’s often hard to support yourself on a salary like that. So I’m sure OP is right that the salaries are “fair” but they may also just be pretty low!

      1. CR*

        My thoughts exactly. If you’re only making $30k, a 7% increase isn’t going to make a huge difference.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Yes, this is definitely the case. Our baseline salaries are low even when they are in line with industry standards. We decided to give higher-than-typical COL increases across the board (based on actual inflation numbers) because we recognize this and we truly value their work. Unfortunately, as you have said, even 8% of $30k is not a whole lot, and some of my more junior folks are in that range.

      2. The Original K.*

        Fair. My aforementioned friend’s huge, wealthy corporate employer pays pretty well (although not as well as you’d think).

      3. Starbuck*

        Yes, I’m working in a small non-profit also and while a 7% raise would be great, this field is notorious for low pay (even what’s considered “competitive” for this field really isn’t much) so I would still not be in line with the rest of the job market here or the increase in cost of housing especially, which has gone up much more than that )particularly in my region).

    3. ecnaseener*

      I agree, even if the baseline salary isn’t enough, hopefully you’re getting some credit for basing COL increases against the actual increase in cost of living. Sadly a rare occurrence, and it annoys me to no end!

      1. Letter Writer*

        Haha, does any manager ever get credit for trying to take care of their employees? It seems like it’s never enough! But really, I love my staff and the reason I wrote in is because it breaks my heart to hear them say these things – and I do probably have a slight guilty conscience, because I wish I *could* pay them all what they are really worth!

        1. Snoozing not schmoozing*

          About 30 years ago, I worked at a not-for profit in a support role. My pay was about $17,000, plus a few hours overtime most likely weeks. Our director was only making $45-50,000, but he fought with the board to lower the overall pay gap. Eventually, the board forced him to lay off certain positions, including mine, to save money. His wife helped me get a job where she worked. And he quit not long after, because of his lack of respect for the board. He was definitely the best boss I ever had (he was very supportive of the staff in many other ways).

        2. M.*

          Having worked in nonprofit and small business settings, I never took issue with my manager or what they did (or attempted to do) to create the best possible situation for me within those sandboxes. I genuinely enjoyed working with them, and in many cases, am still friends with them now. But the reality is that those industries pay exceedingly low wages for a *lot* of work, betting on the fact that the mission is enough to motivate you to keep going. In theory it might be, and for a period of time, maybe, but when the bills start coming in, it’s an entirely different calculus. This usually has nothing to do with the manager, but how the US criminally undervalues this kind of work and the workers on the frontlines doing it. That, coupled with no real safety net to speak of makes for a very difficult set of circumstances..

    4. Avril Ludgateaux*

      Public sector here: we got a whopping 4% retroactive to January 1 2021, after drawn out and prolonged negotiations that meant we did not get our 2021 COL adjustments until Q3 2022. For 2023 we got around 3%, and for the next two years it drops down to 2% and then 1.5%, which is even lower than average.

      If LW is being honest then she/her organization really is on top of things. Unfortunately, inflation varies by sector, and while broad inflation might be 8%, housing and rent inflation itself can be more than that depending on the area. So for those employees that are complaining about rent, it can really feel like you’re not being paid enough relative to how much your specific bills are climbing.

      Plus, let’s be real, public and non-profit sectors never quite pay enough. Even if you are paying the median among your peers, the fact is that your peers are (broadly, historically, statistically) undervaluing the work of their staff. Unfortunately that’s what happens when you have restrictive salary bands and tight revenue. It is what it is and I don’t know how to fix it, and it’s a shame because it either resigns civil servants and non-profit workers to a low standard of living, which can push out talented people, or it limits the applicant pool to only those who can afford to work for fulfillment and not money (independently wealth, generational/familial wealth, high-earning spouse, etc.).

      1. Abogado Avocado*

        Former non-profit employee and current public servant here. Yes, it’s true: salaries are lower in the public sector, and cost-of-living increases for rank-and-file workers too often are sacrificed on the altar of politics. OTOH, my government healthcare benefits are the best benefits I’ve ever had and my retirement benefits (a pension!) will be excellent. Which contrasts with the non-profit’s 401k, which was entirely funded by the employee. So, yes, there is a sting to public service, but the healthcare and retirement benefits do help relieve it.

        1. Avril Ludgateaux*

          I’m at risk of revealing too much about myself here. Suffice it to say, I’m in a financially and bureaucratically restricted role under a much larger entity and, for whatever oblique and opaque reason, we are precluded from participating in the well-funded state pension plan that everybody else in our larger entity is in. As such, our “pension” is some ambiguous, self-funded, privately administered fund with no transparency (once a year we get a statement about our individual contributions and nothing more – I have no idea where or how it is invested, what the expense ratio is, etc. etc.), to which we cannot contribute more than the mandatory percentage as determined by our age at hire, even if we wanted and were able to.

          Every year they tell us that we should sign up for a 403b (public sector 401k) and contribute as much as possible to it because our “pension” will not be enough. Most of us can’t afford to. I lived with my parents for years and now live with my high-earning partner, and only now, in my 30s, have I been able to start socking away extra money toward private retirement options.

          I do appreciate the excellent health insurance, which I use greedily (I have a chronic health condition so I’m not wasting for waste’s sake), but at the end of the day, the bank doesn’t accept “health insurance” as payment for debts owed. This means I’m always looking for a higher paying job – but it does have to pay *enough* more to account for the invariably worse health insurance and other benefits.

          The other thing that keeps me here despite pay is the PTO and holiday schedule. I’ve been here long enough I’m in a higher “tier” for vacation earnings, a year away from the next tier, but even our baseline is more generous than most private sector jobs seem to offer. Plus our ample sick time accrues indefinitely, so I’ve been hoarding that for an emergency or mat leave or something, and it would simply disappear if I left.

          I passed on a job last year that offered me 40% more than I made at the time, but they only had 2 weeks single-bucket PTO and their “low deductible” health insurance option was $2500 with a premium of $400 a month for a single person. But it turns out my bar for leaving this job is much higher than I thought it would be. (It also helped that the manager who was making my life so much harder, ended up announcing her departure around the time I was interviewing.)

          Based on this, according to economists, I would be considered an irrational actor.

          1. Letter Writer*

            Interesting, it sounds like we are in similar situations! I am also in my 30s with a high-earning partner and just starting to save for retirement. I, too, have a chronic illness and I really like the health insurance we offer, so that is a huge factor for me. We also offer 11 paid holidays (including for part time staff!), 15 vacation days to start and flexible schedules. I have never not approved someone’s request for time off! I know you can’t pay bills in benefits but we really try to make working for us as enjoyable and low-stress as possible. In an emergency I’ve let me staff bring their pets or kids to work or work from home, and we try to do lots of little stuff like Amazon gift cards around the holidays.

            I keep an eye on other positions myself and I have yet to find somewhere that I would make the switch to, even for increased pay. I have grown too accustomed to the freedom this job has afforded me and I like to think my staff appreciate those same things, but ultimately each of us has to make our own decisions regarding what we need and what we value.

        2. All Het Up About It*

          This is so interesting because I’m a former non-profit employee and current public servant and my experience was 100% opposite.

          My non-profits had 401k matching and the healthcare plans covered more and cost less. Perhaps my pension might be worth it… but I don’t think so. I’m paying more attention to my rolled over 401ks and my own investments.

      2. Letter Writer*

        Too true! I believe our whole team loves what they do, but you’re right that even at or above median, our salaries are low. I said this elsewhere but I am fortunate that my partner is fairly financially successful and this allows me to do work that I love. I empathize deeply with my staff who do not have that luxury, which is why I think I tend to be self-conscious during these conversations.

      1. Letter Writer*

        I’m glad that we are doing right by our employees but as others have pointed out, our base salaries are fairly low, so 7% may not be as outrageous as it seems – especially after you account for taxes (our state introduced a new payroll tax this year as well), and the fact that insurance premiums increased, etc. But we really are trying to take care of our staff within our means!

    5. yala*

      We’re government, and our cost of living increase literally does not cover the cost of the employee insurance increase this year.

    6. Anon this time*

      Anon this time – I got 3.5 percent, and I’m a federal employee. I at least get a COLA every year, but that 3.5 % is the largest I or my spouse (who is also a federal employee) have seen in their 14 years.

  4. Sunshine*

    If you’re doing all you can on your end, it’s really up to the employees to decide if they can stay in their jobs or not. It’s really common for nonprofits to pay less than other places and I’m sure that’s something they know by now. You’re not holding them hostage – they’re making the choice to stay. Try to remember that if you’re feeling guilty!

    1. Loulou*

      Okay, but staying in a low-paid but stable job in a competitive field doesn’t always feel like a real choice, at least not a choice with attractive alternatives. It’s true OP doesn’t need to feel personally responsible for the situation, but it’s also true that their employees who are complaining are in a genuinely tough spot!

      1. Sunshine*

        I get that “just get a different job that makes more money!” is not easy or always actionable advice, but it sounds like staying might not be a viable option either if finances are that tight. It’s on the employees to decide whether they can make it work or if they have to make a change. That’s just life! Sometimes we have to take the unattractive alternatives.

        1. Loulou*

          Complaining about hardships is life, too! There might not be an option, attractive or otherwise, that will eliminate financial stress from the lives of these employees. I think OP should try to take things less personally, not be less sympathetic.

          1. Alanna*

            Yeah, OP sounds like a committed and compassionate manager, but they are not responsible for every negative feeling everyone on their team has about work or the organization. (I struggle with this too.) I wonder if they should just address this directly. “I’ve noticed that you’ve mentioned financial struggles in a few meetings. I want to make sure I’m not missing something — are you raising that to open a conversation about your salary or our compensation practices?”

            I suspect they’re just making small talk or venting without realizing the effect it’s having on OP.

            1. Beth*

              I honestly feel like this doesn’t need addressing with them! It’s not OP’s team members’ job to avoid the topic of finances just because OP is uncomfortable being reminded that their salaries don’t go very far. That’s just a reality of working in industries like museums or nonprofits.

              Given that 1) OP works in a historically low-paid field, so it’s not a surprise that people’s finances are tight, 2) OP is pretty confident that their organization is paying equitably for their field and also to the highest level that their budget is capable of bearing, and 3) no one seems to actually be asking OP to do anything about this, they’re just complaining/venting…I think the solution here is for OP to figure out a way to feel more peaceful about these conversations happening, and that’s going to be a process of emotional self-management, not something that talking with their team can give them.

            2. Letter Writer*

              I said something very similar at one point – we were between annual reviews, but I told the person I would be happy to conduct another salary review at any time. They seemed embarrassed so I haven’t used that tactic since! I think you’re right that they are probably just venting and I need to take it less personally.

          2. Sunshine*

            Complaining to your boss about financial hardships is NOT life. I never said that OP shouldn’t feel sympathetic, but the letter suggests to me that she’s wondering if this is her responsibility to fix in some way and it is not. I’m just pointing out that it’s on the employees to either change their situation or stay, but if they stay they really should be venting to a more appropriate audience anyway.

            1. Ellem Smith*

              Yes, and one way to do that would be for your employees to form a union and collectively bargain (as equals) a transparent, fair, and mutually agreed-upon contract. This also allows for an opportunity for all parties to discuss the NP’s finances in a professional, data-driven manner. Based on the letter writer’s desire to be supportive of their employees while also respecting economic realities of their industry, I am certain the writer would enthusiastically support such an employee unionization effort.

              1. Giant Kitty*


                I will never stop believing that a place that cannot pay all its employees a living wage shouldn’t even be in business.

          3. Letter Writer*

            I think you hit the nail on the head with personal vs. sympathetic. I need to try to feel comfortable knowing I am doing the best I can for my staff and that otherwise, the particulars of their situation are out of my control.

        2. Jessica*

          Having worked in a (supposedly desirable and fun) job that paid $40k–on the West Coast! not that long ago!–there was literally a period in which I couldn’t afford to leave.

          I was working a second job to be able to afford rent and food. I woke up in the morning and went to work, microwaved and ate dinner at the end of the day in the company kitchen, then went to my other job. Then I came home and fell into bed. Rinse. Repeat.

          I didn’t have time to job hunt and update my resume and go shopping for Interview Clothes I could afford. On weekends I mostly just made food for the week and slept because I was too tired and stressed to do anything else.

          I doubt, even if I *had* found the time to actually job search during that period, that I would have been able to get any of the jobs I applied for because I was too perpetually exhausted and burnt out to interview well.

          There had been over 300 candidates for my job. There were regular layoffs in my industry, and to get a new job in that industry, job-hunting was basically a full-time job itself.

          Sometimes it really feels like the “then just leave!” people understand how much low-paying jobs trap you in them if the industry is competitive by just… using you up so there’s nothing left to be sparkly in job interviews, or even to have time to get them.

          1. Letter Writer*

            This is heartbreaking. ): This might sound insincere but I would truly (and have, in some cases) do anything in my power to help my staff get a position they wanted elsewhere – give them a day off for interviews, write a letter of recommendation. I know how difficult it can be making a living in our industry, and as annoying as it is to have to replace someone, it just doesn’t benefit anyone to have someone be miserable while working for us. But I know having that kind of conversation with your supervisor can be scary!

            1. M*

              I think it would help being proactive in bringing these things up if you can. Obviously, you don’t want to sound like you’re pushing anyone out or that you want them to quit, but being open to cultivating people’s professional journeys, actively acknowledging that not everyone will work here forever, offering to be people’s references, holding strong boundaries about not questioning when/why people take time off, etc. I think would be helpful. Many subordinates aren’t going to feel comfortable being open about job hunting or the work/job hunt balance, so taking the initiative might relieve them a bit (though obviously many will still feel cautious about talking about it).

            2. coffee*

              You sound like a very considerate manager. I don’t know what your jobs are like, but maybe also check that staff are getting some good “demonstrate your skills” work? The kind of thing you can trot out in an interview if they do need to change jobs.

      2. Rebecca*

        There’s also other benefits that can male a slightly lower salary a better option. I make probably 15-20% less than I could make somewhere else, but the trade-off is that I work almost entirely independently, can choose to work from home whenever I want, and can flex my schedule however I choose. That 20% is less than childcare would cost for 3 kids, so it actually is a net positive that I wouldn’t have if I worked traditional hours. Most positions I’ve found aren’t nearly as flexible, and that really does matter.

        1. Anon this time*

          This right here. Spouse left industry for a federal job because while they could make probably 40-45% more in an industry job, taking that job would mean crappy insurance, less PTO (there really is something to be said for separate buckets for sick and vacation time), and back to having to go to an office and travel more than 15 days a month. In the federal job the insurance is sooo, sooo much better (rare, but it occasionally happens), work from home, more PTO, and almost zero travel (so no more missing birthdays, anniversaries, or holidays).

        2. Letter Writer*

          Yep – I expounded on this elsewhere but for me personally (because I am not immune to low wages as a manager!) I place a higher value on the benefits, flexibility and independence I have in my current position. I am also in a position to value money less than I might otherwise, which I recognize. But I think I am right that at least some of my staff also sees value in those non-monetary benefits.

      3. Chutney Jitney*

        You contradicted yourself in that first sentence. There are alternatives. You don’t find them attractive. You have therefore *made the choice* to stay in your job. Acknowledge your agency so you can stop feeling trapped.

        1. Loulou*

          Sheesh, this feels like a weirdly harsh response (and also a weird response to me, since at no point did I say I felt trapped…I was speculating on how OP’s employees may view their choice to work in this role).

          Jessica’s comment, above, does a good job of outlining what this situation can look like. There’s a wide gap between literal indentured servitude and not having many good choices when it comes to employment.

    2. Chirpy*

      I used to work in museums, and after losing that job, I’ve never been able to get back into that field, or even anything adjacent. Sometimes if you want to stay in a field, you’re stuck.

      And while my current job pays “decently” for retail, it is very much NOT a living wage. I’d need about a 25% raise to reach a living wage.

      1. Letter Writer*

        This has always been my personal fear about leaving. Our industry is very specialized (think “air and space museums”) so there are literally only two or three places you could work in a given state – if they even have openings. But some of my staff who are in more general positions, like our maintenance manager, for example, could pretty easily find better paying work elsewhere.

        1. Chirpy*

          Yeah, there’s approximately 5 jobs like the one I had in my entire state. I had the only one in my city (until it was cut), and pretty much the others are going to be either low paid (or volunteer) small museums, with maybe 2-3 bigger museums that might pay ok.

  5. CR*

    The benchmarking is all well and good but you’re only comparing your organization to other non-profits, most of which are probably experiencing the same financial challenges that you are. As someone who has worked in the industry my entire career, it is just a chronically underpaid sector.

    1. Dawbs*

      Yeah, I work at a nonprofit (voluntarily) and I love what I do…
      And if my spouse dropped dead tomorrow, I would have to find a new job–spouse’s job subsidizes mine..
      (I’d have to get rid of my pets, sell my house, move to a smaller apartment, and I’d still be hardpressed to manage the family needs.)

      My employer pays ‘well’ for the position. And they’ve tried hard to make it a good place to work all around…
      And it is still not a living wage. They can look at every calculator for how people in the sector are paid and say they’re paying us well–and by those calculations, they are.
      But if they look at true cost of living (I’m in a relatively low COL area), they’re paying us below a living wage.

      (which also DIRECTLY contributes to the diversity and inclusion issues. But that’s a whole ‘nother discussion)

      1. Justin*

        Yes, when I was at a poorly paid nonprofit, I had more…. colleagues of European descent named Lauren or Laura than colleagues of color.

        Now at a much more diverse nonprofit with Black leadership, we also pay a lot better. HMMMMM

      2. Momma Bear*

        For giggles I looked up the federal poverty line. I found a report that focused on my county. It included what they call the “Self-Sufficiency Standard” (SSS) which takes into account the ages of the household and area the family lives in. For example, a single person with an infant will have higher childcare costs than a single person with a child old enough to be home alone. The difference between the federal poverty line and the local SSS is $25K for a single person and that jumps to $81K if you add two young kids. The SSS figure in the second case is more than my annual salary.

        If there’s no sufficiency standard included in the salary calculations, it might be something for OP’s company to consider. I’m not saying base salary on household makeup, but it might be enlightening to see how far the dollar actually goes in your location and why some employees may feel pinched.

        1. sundae funday*

          I looked the SSS out of curiosity. It also seems pretty out-of-date using the data 2021. The housing price for a single adult in my county is $786 per month. Unless you have roommates, you’re going to have a really hard time keeping your housing cost that low! I live in a relatively low COL area, too.

      3. Letter Writer*

        Yes, this is exactly our (and my) situation. But it brings me back to my original question which is, keeping all these things in mind – what do I say to employees griping about money? I guess, just as Alison said, something like “that sounds stressful.” I just tend to feel that this is dismissing a lot of the realities that you outlined here, but maybe it’s better not to get into the weeds at all.

          1. Letter Writer*

            Yes! This is a good reminder, to say not only “I hear you” but “the Board hears you”, and to let them have more insight into our situation and decisions.

        1. Dawbs*

          This may just be me, but…when someone says “well, are they well paid” and you go into all the ways you pay them ‘well’ but ignore the fact that they may not be making a living wage in spite of how ‘well’ they’re paid, it rubs all sort of wrong.
          To me, it carries an air of “so they should be glad they got this 7%” instead of “it’s effing criminal that we can ask highly skilled professionals to work and not pay them enough to pay their bills.”

          So, here’s the big questions, that would might answer, to me, how disingenuous you might appear to them:
          1-Regardless of how ‘average’ it is for your industry, is what they’re making a living wage? (If it’s “no”, what are you doing about that? If it’s “yes” is it “makes enough to own a dog as a ‘luxury’ “, and if it’s not, what are you doing about that?)
          2-If you think, in spite of how ‘well’ they’re paid, that it’s not enough, are you continuing to shake that tree and ask for more?

          Because honestly, your answer feels very “well, they can’t afford dental care but teeth are your outside bones and we pay them more than they’d get elsewhere” and that…that might be why I’m contemplating leaving museums. And hoping to unionize.

          YOu’re right, you’re getting into the weeds if you engage.
          But I have to say that the management that’s continuing to spout platitudes and say ‘that sounds rough’ but is willing to prop up the unethical underpayment that burns these employees out and casts us aside…honestly, I hope they feel guilty. Because I think they should.

          And I’m not trying to attack (even if it sounds like it), but man, at some point, the folks who think that we should be grateful boot lickers because we got 7% of a sorely sorely SORELY underpaid salary, that brings us up to almost living wage, are part of the problem. (and at some point, I’m continuing to work in the system, so I am too. Although I may be radicalizing my replacements on my way out)

    2. Lemming22*

      Agreed – I worked at a zoo for years. The pay was “average” for the industry but the reality was it was barely a livable wage. That said, it sounds like OP is trying harder and doing better than my org did. The only way anyone could stay long term was because they had a spouse to support – I did not, so ultimately I left.

      1. Letter Writer*

        And, to be honest – the employees who seem to be struggling the most both did get divorced within the last twelve months. So I understand that they have experienced something devastating both personally and are also dealing with the financial fallout, which I am sensitive to. But unfortunately, I can’t just pay someone more because they got divorced. Which makes it hard to know what to say when they mention their money problems. But I suppose I’ve been doing alright with just responding as any normal, kind-hearted human would.

        1. Lemming22*

          Yeah, I suppose just respond with sympathy! It might be worthwhile to acknowledge the challenge of the sector. It seems like you are doing your best while your hands are mostly tied!

    3. Dust Bunny*

      Was just getting on here to say this: Competitive with what?

      Competitive with other non-profits doesn’t mean it’s enough to live on securely.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          And that means that the LW may need to learn to live with the fact that people will leave over it, or complain about it, but also that s/he needs to recognize that “competitive” might not really mean that much in the real world and stop using it to reassure themselves that their employees aren’t underpaid.

          1. Letter Writer*

            I didn’t mean to imply that I don’t think my staff are underpaid – certainly, some of them may be – although none of them are paid less than a living wage for our area. But they are paid in line with similar organizations and at the top of what our budget can bear. The crux of my question was really, what do I say when my staff brings up money concerns? I certainly can’t – and would never say – “you need to go elsewhere if you want to get paid more”, even if that is the case.

            1. Sarah*

              Why can’t you say that? I’ve spent my career in corporate America. My husband, also in corporate America, has an employee who is constantly bringing up how underpaid they are (they aren’t in his opinion). He has had to say, “Here is how compensation decisions are done in this organization. If you feel strongly you are undercompensated, you need to look at different roles because I’m not able to offer you more.”

        2. Alice*

          Well, Alison asked OP, “How thoroughly have you looked into verifying that they really are being paid enough to live on?”
          And OP answered, “I have access to industry benchmark data and they are paid 50th percentile or higher versus comparable orgs.”
          The answer (industry standard wage) doesn’t match the question (living wage), and I think that is what Dust Bunny and CR were getting at.

          1. TomatoSoup*

            Also, I’ve seen some of those reports for non-profit fundraising and they felt off from my time working in that sector and checking in with colleagues at other orgs. Granted, fundraising can have a dozen variables that make it hard to compare things accurately, but those reports generally come from self-reported data from members of particular professional groups. This can skew things depending on who joins that group and who chooses to disclose their info.

            1. Letter Writer*

              True, I acknowledge this – yes, the data is self reported and I try to filter for other relevant factors, which can sometimes leave a very small data pool. We are also limited in what our budget can bear – there have been times when staff have asked for an increase beyond what is feasible and I have simply had to decline. But I am much more comfortable having a conversation about money and salaries in a professional context, where everyone knows what we are discussing, than in these personal conversations where I can’t quite make out the subtext (if there is any).

    4. Museum worker*

      +1 to the chronicle underpaid part.

      My guess, as someone who works in museums, is that this venting is done with the knowledge (assuming that employees are aware of raises, evaluation rubrics, etc) that this is what the industry is like and THAT is what they are displeased with.

      These conversations might be the start of their journey out of the field altogether. A salary readjustment meeting, while nice to offer, might simply not be the level of financial change they need to make their life viable. This also ties to the additional comments re: the lack of diversity in the museum field. At my last institution, every single staff person had a spouse who was either a lawyer or worked in tech or finance. Non-profit “well-paid” is still poor in most instances.

      1. Smithy*

        Yeah – so I’m not in museum nonprofit – but started in “small human rights” nonprofit and then ultimately moved to “large humanitarian” nonprofit. And the reality was that it allowed me to stay within a professional world I cared about, but opened up a professional growth track that didn’t require me to get married or have family money.

        It may be that ultimately these direct reports are just venting and will be ok, but in terms of genuine professional development – there may be an opportunity for the OP to think about lateral career moves for different team members that would open far more in terms of pay. Depending on your department’s focus, getting additional Salesforce training or specialization that might make the leap to larger more bureacratic places more competitive.

        Also going from some place larger to some place bigger….there’s a mid-junior sweet spot where you can often take a slight step down in seniority while still getting a pay raise. This can give you the time to learn about how a larger place works, switch specializations, etc. without taking a pay cut and then move into a model that does offer more financial opportunities.

        1. Polly Hedron*

          Also going from some place larger to some place bigger….there’s a mid-junior sweet spot

          Did you mean “going from some place smaller to some place bigger”? (important for where that “sweet spot” is supposed to be).

          1. Smithy*

            Lol, yes – that’s what I meant.

            Particularly earlier in your career, there’s a point where going from being an Officer on a smaller team to an Officer on a larger team can feel like a stepback in terms of seniority and job tasks. Because on the smaller team, your boss was the Director and their boss was the CEO/Executive Director and now your boss is a Sr. Officer and the Sr. Officer’s boss is an Associate Director – etc etc.

            Your peers might even be a bit younger – or your boss might be your age. All things that can be irksome. However, if you get the timing ok – you’re also getting pay raises when you make this move. And so what you lose in that being irritating, you can make up in having a faster learning curve and realizing how/when to apply for promotions, new roles, etc.

            Basically – I loved my time at a small organization but it didn’t pay and the transition to a large one did require taking that step sideways to learn the bureacracy.

      2. MuseumGal*

        I’m also a museum worker and agree 100%. I know so many talented, passionate people who slogged through grad school because they dreamed of working in this sector and then left after a couple of years because they realised the change they needed just wasn’t coming soon enough. It is very demoralising to realise that the higher up an org chart you, the whiter and independently wealthier it becomes, because those are the only people with the resources to stay in the field long term. It’s easy to focus this frustration on the particular institution you work for at the moment, but it’s usually much bigger than that.

      3. Viki*

        Essentially this, a full time curator position in municipal/local museums will at most be a 30$/hour wage before tax and that’s with several years of experience. Most start at around 21$-24$/hour.

        I couldn’t afford to live on that, so I switched to a different field. 24$/hour is what I pay my one semester second year co-op student.

        You can be paying fair for your field and still be under the cost of living. It’s a factor of museums, and that needs to change. But it won’t because most museums need tourism/grants and tourism grants are one of the first cut in a budget.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Yes – it’s both validating and demoralizing to see so many in the same field who have been there. There does need to be sweeping organizational change but who knows when or if that will happen. In the meantime I do my best to continually advocate for increases, try to offer better than average benefits and help equip my staff should they decide to move on from my organization.

      4. Letter Writer*

        I certainly understand if my staff need to look elsewhere to meet their financial needs, and no hard feelings if that’s the case. I’m just not sure what exactly to say to these comments, as their manager. Since writing the letter, one of the employees in question actually said to me, regarding money, “I may need to look elsewhere for employment.” I just responded with “I support you making whatever decisions are in your own best interest,” which I suppose is fine?

      5. Former Museum Worker*

        Seeing that it’s museums absolutely made this make sense to me, as the other museum folks are pointing outs, museums do not pay well and have a lot of other issues that make the difficultly low pay particularly grating. Being competitive within the industry only means you’re in the same frustrating range as everyone else. It’s a frustrating industry! It’s not lucrative and the downsides can be big. Often times when you’re talking about bad nonprofit pay, it’s a pay you can survive on ok with the right circumstances but you’re also always being asked for so much despite the low compensation. That’s the real killer that makes people leave a field. It’s not just the pay, it’s the whole package. And that’s when the place is treating you very well, which, you know, is not always the case.

        Also, only a few people having an issue shouldn’t make you assume they should be discounted as complainers. The people who seem to have the most stress are probably the ones who either don’t have other money that offsets it (like a well compensated partner) and/or who have some other complicating expenses, like the car repair coming on top of a medical bill or one kid finally having outgrown all their school clothes or something. Having the kind of household income that means you have to be very cautious with money means you end up fighting a lot of fires, but you never have the money for something preventative like a newer car or whatever.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Yes, this is all true. And I don’t mean to discount them – in fact, in my original letter I specifically said I dislike sounding dismissive. I understand these problems are real! Unfortunately, I’m not able to suddenly increase someone’s pay because their car broke down or their rent increased, which is what makes it hard to know what to say sometimes.

    5. Some Dude*

      I have friends who are Executive Directors of small nonprofits, who manage a team of 12-15 people, have to do the bulk of the fundraising to keep their nonprofit afloat, so their time is split between making donors happy, making the board happy, making their employees happy, making sure their programming is keeping up with interest and demand, advocating for their sector..and all for 40% less than I make as a mid-level admin at a better financed org who is able to clock out at 5pm most days. But if your org is already struggling, how do you give everyone a 30% raise to keep up without going bankrupt? As a comparison, my local school district gave their teacher’s huge raises a few years ago to approach parity with neighboring districts and the basic cost of living, and the district is now in a huge financial crunch because it turns out increasing your payroll by 30% is a hard thing to absorb without raising a lot of revenue or slashing costs elsewhere. And donors in general are notoriously tetchy about paying for administrative costs. It’s rough.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        As a former underpaid nonprofit employee, let me just say that if donors and grantees genuinely wanted diverse staff and especially leadership, they would fund decent salaries. But they don’t. This is also because you can put together a nice piece about a splashy and feel-good new grant project, but “we can hire diverse staff and pay them a good wage, buy a copier that prints more than 1 page a minute and fix our leaky roof” is apparently less valuable for PR purposes.

        1. Starbuck*

          Word. So many people have this weird resistance to the idea of non-profit workers getting ‘rich’ off their wages…. so they pay so low that only already-rich people need apply, otherwise yeah you’re consigned to poverty. What good that’s meant to accomplish – no clue.

      2. Letter Writer*

        This is 100% our situation. Everyone’s comments are astute and I am not immune from the problems being described – I, too, am paid “fairly” for our industry but would still struggle without my partner’s income (which I suppose means I myself am an example of some of the inequities being brought up here).

        And, in fact, because of the COL increases we gave to our staff the past two years, we are struggling even to stay afloat – strangely, the exact number our payroll increased was 30% – and there just isn’t the revenue to keep increasing wages, even though our staff may still feel underpaid. It’s a tough situation and I certainly didn’t expect to find a solution here, but I *was* curious what the best way to address money concerns with my staff was. Especially since I understand how real and stressful they can be!

        1. Former Museum Worker*

          This is kind of separate from your question, but I want to chime in as someone who left the field because of compensation because it might be useful for you in general. I think giving people a lot of grace in general can do A LOT to offset frustration with pay, and it would help you and your employees and the organization a lot. It’s not going to solve, say, not being able to afford a sudden big car repair bill, but getting a lot of kindness when that happens really helps. Using that same example, can you offer them some changes to their schedule to allow them to accommodate not having two working cars for a while? Make sure they have well-covered break time if that’s not always reliable? Try to figure out some other coverage for evening work they would normally handle? You can’t hand them a wad of cash but you can remove some of the work-side stress off of your employees by making sure they feel like the org is going to support them when they need it.

          You might read that and think, I’m doing all that already! And I’m sure that is true, because you sound like you really care about these folks. But still, if you look for it you could probably find some things that cost $0 and would make your staff in general feel more appreciated and more that the organization is actually concerned about their wellbeing, because a lot of those things are not obvious or even typical. You have to be kind of creative sometimes. One of the big things that makes the lower pay stressful, to me, is that you make that personal sacrifice to do something you think is important, and often what you get in return is zero effort on the part of the organization to try to make your life any better. If it felt like your management was really trying to look out for you day to day, it would sting a lot less when the pay causes problems.

          1. Former Museum Worker*

            and often what you get in return is zero effort on the part of the organization to try to make your life any better. If it felt like your management was really trying to look out for you day to day, it would sting a lot less when the pay causes problems.

            Sorry, to be clear– I’m talking about how I felt in my past jobs here, not saying that’s how you operate. You’ve been pretty clear in the comments that you do try to do what I’m saying here, and you sound like you have a way better understanding of how to handle this world than anyone I’ve ever worked for. I realized after I posted it that it might sound like I was bagging on your management, which I’m not. I guess what I mean is keep looking for ways to do this, even when you already feel like you’re doing a lot.

            But also, don’t use the volume of difficulties you’re hearing about from your staff as a metric for whether you’re doing a good job or not. Some amount of that’s going to be unavoidable, and it’s not on you to fix. Having your car break down sucks and you’re going to be mad about that no matter how cool your boss is about it.

          2. Letter Writer*

            Yes, this is great feedback and good to keep in mind! As you touched on, I do some of that already – for example, I have let my employee with car troubles use our work truck to commute when necessary. But you’re right that there is always more, and maybe even asking “what could I do to help?” would go a long way, even if it’s just the thought that counts.

    6. Avril Ludgateaux*

      As somebody who has worked in public sector most of my career, I shared the same sentiment in other words upthread. It’s an unfortunate reality, but paying the median wage in a sector known for poor wages still means your staff are underpaid.

      I do want to give OP’s organization credit for making an effort – those are some sincere, good faith inflation-aware COL adjustments – and it may not be something they can go any further to remediate. As I said above… It is what it is. I am so hesitant to resign myself to the status quo but I gave up on ever being paid fairly in my sector a long time ago.

      1. Alternative Person*

        This. My company says it holds itself to the median for the industry. Which is all well and good, but when the industry is locked in a downward spiral and salaries haven’t moved in the best part of a decade it starts to wear pretty darn thin.

    7. Ariadne Oliver*

      Yes, the reality of what is ‘competitive’ pay these days is a lot more complicated. You’re not necessarily just competing for workers with other organizations in your sector — and while the recent COL adjustments are relatively high, if they’re off such a low base, they still may not be enough to keep people. Getting creative with non-monetary compensation & other benefits, to the extent that you can, may help.

    8. Pierrot*

      Right, but ultimately comparing themselves to other non-profits makes sense because that’s what they are. It sounds like the LW is doing her best to compensate people within the fair range for working in their industry. A lot of people who work in small nonprofits will move on to larger, better funded ones or leave the industry altogether because of this. The LW just has to keep that in mind and do their best to continue improving the pay and being direct with employees when there is no room for increasing salaries.

      1. Letter Writer*

        Appreciate the understanding and compassion from these comments! I feel we really are doing the best we can given a difficult situation.

  6. Alice*

    I don’t know if “median or higher for similar small nonprofits” is a living wage or not, given OP’s region and industry — but a good way to figure it out is Enter a metro area and it calculates a living wage for different household sizes. If you scroll down to the typical expenses section, it breaks the numbers down for food, childcare, medical expenses, housing, etc.

    1. Yoyoyo*

      This is a nice tool, and very validating for me. I make what is considered “a ton of money” for my field with a master’s degree and professional license, and I am not earning a living wage according to this. It helped me to feel less like I must be doing something wrong to be struggling like I am financially.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      Worth noting, though, that this is only the wage to meet “minimum standards”, not to live without chronic stress about money.

      1. WorkForYourPay*

        No, it’s not. This tool was designed to show what it takes to live in a healthy manner in a given city. i.e. Not chronically stressed about money. It is updated periodically to show how inflation has impacted the living wage.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        Also worth noting, quoted from the “About” page:

        The living wage model does not include funds that cover what many may consider as necessities enjoyed by many Americans. The tool does not include funds for pre-prepared meals or those eaten in restaurants. We do not add funds for entertainment, nor do we incorporate leisure time for unpaid vacations or holidays. Lastly, the calculated living wage does not provide a financial means to enable savings and investment or for the purchase of capital assets (e.g., provisions for retirement or home purchases).

    3. NeedRain47*

      I earn above a living wage for my area, but nearly all the similar jobs pay the same, like even the ones in NYC and other places that are much more expensive to live than the midwest. So it becomes a wage a single person cannot live on.

    4. MuseumGal*

      This is really important for museums to think about when determining pay. Low pay is so normalised in the sector, comparing what you pay to other museums doesn’t actually tell you that much about how truly fair it is (curatorial roles that require a PhD but pay less than $40 k in a major city are shockingly common). It does sound like the OP is doing a lot (esp the COL raise) though and may truly just not be able to pay any more. I think honestly the best thing museum managers can do is remember that you’re not paying corporate wages, so you can’t have corporate expectations. This industry is so competitive, expectations of low paid employees can be very high. Be respectful of their time (there should really be no expectation of unpaid overtime even for exempt employees on museum wages) and be understanding when they leave. Do what you can to help entry leave staff build skills, experience and a solid professional network.

    5. Resident Catholicville, U.S.A.*

      Coming from an American perspective: according to this chart, I make well above a living wage for my area- though average for my profession- but even as a single woman with no kids and no debt, I think I’d be hard pressed to live independently on my own without incurring any sort of debt, let alone living comfortably/without financial stress. Factoring in any potential debt (car or student loans, for example), I can see where even if someone is paid well for their area and in their field, it might not be enough.

      That said, of course the organization can’t just immediately bump everyone up overnight to a wage that is comfortable for their area and the organization isn’t responsible for their employees’ overall financial health. Companies have to do the best with what they’ve got and work toward making it better. The company I’m currently at is the most I’ve ever been paid at and gives very generous bonuses at the end of the year. I’m fortunate to know that we’re working toward raising everyone’s salary- it’s just that can be a slow process.

      1. Meep*

        I am paid nearly 4x the “living wage” in my area and even I feel like I am living paycheck-to-paycheck this past year with all the artifical inflation. Though, I acknowledge I was also raised by a dragon so spending any amount of money is painful.

        1. pope suburban*

          I’m in a similar boat. I make almost twice the “living wage” in my area, and my husband even more above that (at five more hours per week, and occasional OT), and yet we’re still rent-burdened for one of the cheapest apartments in the area, we still have to budget carefully for groceries, and we’re not really able to meaningfully save since whatever we accumulate gets depleted by routine “emergencies” like car repairs. We were doing well until CoL took off and wages didn’t come with it, and I doubt that’s a unique story. Frankly I don’t know how we’re ever supposed to claw our way even back to that point, but we’ll keep trying because it beats the alternative.

          1. Meep*

            Oh 100%. I live in a low CoL area to boot! Luckily for us, we bought a house when interest was at its lowest, so our mortgage is at least consistent (and lower than most rent in the area), but I cannot get over how we used to spend $60/week for groceries for two and now we are paying double to shop at the same store. I recently went to San Francisco for a conference and even though I wasn’t personally paying for it, it was insane to me that a simple breakfast omelet and coffee was $20-30 anywhere you go. And our politicians are arguing over who is more corrupt like it even matters.

    6. Dawbs*

      That is one of the things that I’ve used to look at how my nonprofit pays.
      And again, they can say they pay us well. They DO pay us well for the exact field I work in.
      But I can’t pay all my bills with them paying me ‘well’.

      And that’s WITHOUT factoring the ‘crip tax’ that we add with the family disabilities.

    7. Lanlan*

      This is a cool tool, but it also assumes that full-time is 40 hours. I wish they would have one that adjusts to 35.

      1. Hlao-roo*

        If you want to adjust the hourly wages the tool gives you for 35 hours/week (instead of 40), you can multiply the wage by 40/35 or about 1.14. So a living wage of $15.00 at 40 hours per week is $17.14 at 35 hours per week.

        1. Relentlessly Socratic*

          They also give the total pre-tax annual income at the bottom of the page, which you could then divide by 1820 for an hourly rate

    8. Reed Weird*

      Thanks for sharing! I had to check how they calculate the housing costs. No wonder it seemed very low for a single adult, they assume a single occupancy with roommates rather than a one bedroom apartment. That explains why they allocate just over $600 to rent and utilities in my Midwestern major metropolitan area when my rent alone is over $900 for a decent one-bed apartment thirty minutes out of the city.

      1. Starbuck*

        Haha, they are using the HUD fair market rents – what a joke! I just looked up what the data was for my county/area and it’s not even close – what I see on the market is about 50% more than what they’ve stated. It’s not a very helpful tool.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        A decent but not fancy one-bedroom in my area would start around $1200 a month.

        Sorry, but I just don’t think a non-luxe but also non-hellhole one-bedroom apartment should be considered a luxury for an adult who works full time. Why would they assume roommates? I feel like they’re lying about what a living wage should be.

        1. pope suburban*

          Where I am, you can’t even get a single room in a house/apartment for under $1200. That’s depressingly likely to come with restrictions on whether or not you can use the kitchen or ever have guests or even drink alcoholic beverages. It’s very hard going out there for a lot of people, and we’re not even in a major metro area- in fact, living in LA proper is cheaper than living here!

      1. Starbuck*

        Yeah I think their housing data must be an average of what every household is paying divided by the number of adult occupants, or something like that – because the number I got just does not make sense for the rental market where I live, it’s got to be driven down by all the people who’ve bought houses 10, 15, 20, etc years ago and have these tiny mortgages that they’re then averaging out to a lower cost per person.

        1. Starbuck*

          Ok yeah they’re using the HUD fair market rents from 2021… lol, even then you couldn’t get something that cheap.

          1. Chirpy*

            Yeah, it thinks living wage for a single person in my area is $17/hr…I currently make $16 and sure, if you got lucky with an apartment and were very frugal, you might barely survive, but a true living wage based on the average rent for a 1-bed apartment (and keeping that cost 1/3 your pay) is at least $20-24/hr.

      2. Lady Kelvin*

        Mine too. We live in Honolulu and the housing, food, and childcare costs are all way underestimated. With 2-kids in daycare we pay 34K a year, not the 20K it estimates, lol. And we are definitely in one of the cheaper day-cares.

    9. WestsideStory*

      This is fascinating. Thsnks for sharing, I fully intend to pass it on to colleagues in publishing – the ones who keep posting entry level jobs under $30K

    10. Starbuck*

      Hmm I don’t know about this tool, I am wondering how they get their housing data as it seems way off. If it’s just an average of what everyone in the region is paying, whether they bought a house in the 1990s or have just moved to town, it’s not really an accurate representation of what you need to pay a working person for them to be able to afford rent. The number it gave me just doesn’t exist unless you were lucky enough to buy a house a decade ago, it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with actual market-rate rent prices here.

    11. Letter Writer*

      This is helpful! I used this to answer someone above but all of my staff are making at least a living wage – which is $17 in our area, we are in a rural county – and all of my managers are making more than this.

    12. Remedial Chaos Theory*

      None of these calculators ever have housing costs that correspond to reality. Looking at my area, as a single adult, my housing costs should be ~13K, which is absolutely not possible in any way, shape, or form in my entire state. Checking current listings (including those I know to be pretty subpar), you’re looking at ~20K.

  7. Jujyfruits*

    Your employee who’s rent went up could genuinely be explaining her (perceived) change in behavior. When a family member is laid off, it’s always hard. I’m sure she appreciates your empathy and understanding.

    1. DEJ*

      I was recently reading a study of major life stressors and unemployment was one of the top life stressors, ranking even higher than divorce or sudden and serious impairment. I think layoffs are even worse because for most people the rug is completely pulled out from under them, vs firings where hopefully you would know that you’re struggling.

      1. Anon4This*

        I would agree with this assessment. My spouse was laid off the day they went back to work after our youngest child was born. It was unexpected and not based at all on their performance (it was a last-hired/first-fired decision), and they were let go over other underperforming members of their team. And we had a new baby and a toddler.

        Looking back on it a decade later, it ended up being a net positive – someone they worked closely on a challenging project with heard what happened and forwarded my spouse an opening at their spouse’s organization along with a good word to their spouse about mine’s work ethic and skills. This ended up being a much better fit and has turned into a long-term career. The severance they got with the layoff let them stay home with the baby for about a month while their hiring paperwork was processed. We were also so lucky that I had a stable job, and we weren’t in dire straits on the rent or food.

        But, god, did the shock of the layoff suck a LOT for so many reasons when it happened, and it took years to get over.

      2. Jessica*

        I wish more people knew this.

        I read an article a few years ago where they said the stress of losing a job (in the US) was second to “death of a close family member” but above pretty much everything else.

        I don’t think we account for how much the workforce in industries with a lot of employment insecurity is just… perpetually traumatized.

        1. Starbuck*

          Yup, not surprising in a country that has such a paltry social safety net but it’s depressing to read.

        2. Chirpy*

          I lost my “good” job over 10 years ago, and yeah, the trauma from that is definitely a factor in my inability to get a better job.

        1. DEJ*

          A little late coming back to this, but this is the study:

  8. Amber Rose*

    I mean, realistically you could pay top of the line and your one employee whose spouse was laid off would still be struggling. Husband and I make pretty good money and we would literally face ruin if one of us was laid off. That’s just not in your control.

    Also people face many things that lead to financial struggles regardless of income. Even after I started making good money that didn’t erase the debts accrued from making terrible money, or from making poor decisions, or from a series of unfortunate circumstances. A sudden broken car bill would still be very stressful for me as well.

    I think you may be taking these comments a touch more personally than they’re intended. And I don’t blame you. You are in charge of pay and you’re a good person who cares about people. It’s normal to wish you had more power to help. But you know. Take a breath and a step back.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Wonderfully worded sentiment! Snaps for you!
      You made the point I was going to make but better!

    2. fine tipped pen aficionado*

      This is so painfully true. I’m paid well now, but I’m buried in old debt from trying to keep my trashy old car running and occasionally buy food and new underwear when I was making starvation wages. And that brought my credit score down so when I eventually had to buy a new car so I could hold down a job, it was at an absurd interest rate.

      And that’s to say nothing of how much more expensive your life becomes when you try to address health and maintenance issues in a timely fashion, cutting into your ability to pay down that old debt.

      It’s just really hard to be poor and being paid better doesn’t immediately solve it.

      1. Amber Rose*

        Once we both started making OK money we came up with a 5 year debt plan. It ends next year, after which things will be a lot more stable for us. But yeah. 5 years to dig ourselves out of the hole being poor left us in.

    3. Betty Flintstone*

      This right here. These complaints aren’t necessarily about how much money the staff are making at all. I managed someone in a high paying industry about as opposite from nonprofit as you could get and he still wanted to complain to me about how he thought he should get more money (despite poor performance) because his wife didn’t work, he had 3 kids in private school, and his furnace broke. He was making an amount most on this site would consider huge and still having financial problems – but none of those were mine or the company’s to fix

      1. Meep*

        ^The person who has the highest salary by 10’s of thousands at our company recently became overdrawn. She is very good at saving money, but her partner makes minimum wage and puts things off until it bites both of them in the ass. It happens.

      2. Venus*

        Sounds like my coworker, although thankfully mine is a higher performer. He comments on how he struggles financially on his (very high) salary and then commented on the high cost of sending three kids to private school. It’s his choice and I support him in that, but his salary is higher than mine and I now try to avoid talking about it with him.

    4. Letter Writer*

      This comment was pretty far down but I think it’s one of the best and most accurately captures how I’m feeling. I am pretty close with my staff and watching them face life stressors is hard – I wish I could do more and in these conversations I am often wearing my “boss hat” when I could probably get away with my “compassionate friend hat”.

  9. Healthcare Manager*

    Acknowledging the COL crisis we are in it’s rather likely these people are just venting as you’ve remained close for so long.

    Worth while also responding ‘are you wanting to vent, or did you wanna talk about it in any other way?’. To give you a bit more understanding of why these two are repeatedly talking to you about it.

    Last year, I complained to my manager just because I wanted her to understand where my head was at – that’s literally it, I wasn’t implying I needed to be paid more.

    It’s a tough time right now and a lot of people just don’t want to feel alone dealing with it.

    1. Blarg*

      In a different context, but when I was working with clients, I had one say to me, “I need a cheerleader, not a coach.” And it was such great framing! I use it to myself and in all kinds of situations now — not always using those words, but sometimes I do.

    2. Letter Writer*

      Very sage advice. And actually, right after writing this letter, one employee did tell me “… and that’s why I’ve been a bit short with you.” She was telling me about the stress she had been under and apologizing that it had effected her work behavior. I really appreciated it and told her that there was nothing to apologize for! I think it’s a good idea for me to try and understand in what context and for what reason these comments are being made.

  10. Eric*

    Do any of your benefits include access to an Employee Assistance Program? Making sure your staff is aware of the resources available to them through that could be helpful.

    1. UKDancer*

      I was going to suggest this. Is there an EAP you could point them to, if only for someone to talk to?

      Are there any other sources of support / funding? I know my trade union has a hardship fund. Or any benefits your employees are entitled to but may not know about, e.g. my company will help people buy bicycles or with childcare and pays for the flu jab.

    2. Angelinha*

      Maybe I’ve just had really bad EAPs but this would feel insulting to me. Yes, I know about the EAP, no, there’s not much they can do to help me when I’m venting about high expenses.

      1. pratik*

        EAPs commonly offer access to financial counseling. They can’t necessarily make bills go away, but they can help people who find it difficult to plan their finances, anticipate future bills, and save. Some people who struggle with living below their means might also benefit from psychological counseling intended to boost their impulse control and executive function.

        1. ShanShan*

          Either that or we are living in a cost of living crisis that has just collided with a wage stagnation crisis and more than 60% of us live paycheck to paycheck with nothing to spare.

          Suggesting that people who can’t make ends meet, in today’s culture and economy, need psychological counseling and help with impulse control is just victim blaming. It makes everyone feel better to think that people who are struggling brought it on themselves, but the truth is that very few of them do, and societal factors are a much, much more likely culprit.

    3. BluntBunny*

      Yes accessing assistance programs or even suggest taking some time off if they are stressed and need to figures things out.

    4. Helpful Name*

      +1. It sounds like you’re doing the best you can (within the constraints of your organization) for salaries, but you can help in other ways by directing employees to some of the resources and benefits you have. Even if there’s no EAP, making your employees aware of some of the other benefits that are offered could be useful.

    5. Hannah Lee*

      That’s a great idea. There may be actual financial resources available … not free money, but maybe financial counseling, planning etc.

      Plus the other thing that came across in the letter was that these employees are STRESSED!! due to finances … having a resource just to vent to or that can help them manage that aspect may be helpful.

      A couple of years ago we had an employee who had hit a financial rough spot: divorce, change of living circumstances, child support, car needing repairs etc etc all over a short period of time. He was incredibly stressed about it and struggled to manage everything (and also when in stress he sometimes made expensive impulse purchases of things he couldn’t afford which only compounded the problem. And the stress was not only hard on him, it led to him being very volatile and difficult for other people to work around. While the company did look at his pay and adjust it based on his work, accumulated experience, etc what seemed to really help him manage through it was a referral to a program under our group health insurance plan which included financial and counseling assistance. Just to have a resource he could vent to, and could maybe get some concrete guidance from outside of work was useful.

      It was also helpful, stress-reducing for his manager to have something other than “oh, wow, that sounds really hard” to offer him. It sounds a bit silly now, but just having tangible printout of “here is a resource, here is a number you can call, here is information you may find useful” that he could hand to the employee was a positive that made it easier to deal with.

      And it also redirected the ownership of what comes next in the employee’s overall life back to the employee, which as stressful a situation as it was, actually was helpful to the employee. IIRC, after one conversation, the employee said he needed a few minutes, and went out to his car, called one of the numbers and was able to have an initial conversation with someone, and set up a follow up one.

      1. Letter Writer*

        This is a useful anecdote and very helpful! It might make both of us feel less powerless if there were some action to take or resource to turn to – I will be looking into this!

    6. Skittles*

      I was going to suggest this too. We’ve just had someone from HR present to our department on the assistance we have available within our organisation (rather a lot as the company is in finance) and some resources and strategies to consider. I’m not personally having any difficulty right now but I still found it really interesting and there was a lot of great info.

  11. Era*

    My sense from the conversations listed here is that your employees are sharing facts and insight into their personal lives, not hinting that you should do anything. It sounds like you’re doing the right things with regard to making sure they’re compensated fairly, and it speaks well to your sense of responsibility that you feel the urge to solve this, but I think making sure you’re being fair to everyone (including COL increases and salary reviews) and empathizing in the moment really are the right courses of action.

    I’m trying to think if there’s a good way to phrase “it makes me uncomfortable to hear about your financial struggles”, but my sense is that as a supervisor you probably should accept the discomfort as a price of the position instead of trying to restrict what your reports can complain about and risking them thinking they can’t ask about their salaries directly, or something.

    1. Letter Writer*

      I appreciate the perspective, I tend to be too much in my own head sometimes! I actually really appreciate that my staff feels comfortable enough to talk to me about these things – I enjoy, when appropriate, offering personal advice. But money always feels like a loaded topic. I think I need to just relax and treat it like I do any other difficult conversation about a break up, a sick pet, etc and simply be understanding and supportive.

  12. I should really pick a name*

    Considering that the person keeps making those comments, this may just be a case where this is how they make conversation, and they don’t realize that it makes you feel awkward.

  13. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    It sounds like you’re doing all you can do. The fact is housing costs are so out of control that even a dual income household with no kids can easily be struggling to stay afloat and will have no cushion for when things go wrong (laid off, medical emergency, major car repairs, major home repairs, lawsuits, etc).

    It would of course be nice if your org could afford to do more and you should advocate for that when you can, but it really seems like there’s not much more you could offer and you shouldn’t expect yourself to be able to solve like a fundamental issue with the economy. It sucks. And most people probably just want their feeling that it sucks to be validated.

  14. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

    About a year ago, my husband became disabled and it’s still up in the air if his condition is permanent, or if eventually he’ll be able to work in some capacity. I really loved my job, but I knew that there was no way I’d make enough if I stayed. I was paid about mid range for my job/industry, but my employer, as great as they were, wasn’t in a position to give me a substantial raise to bridge the gap cause by my husband’s disability. And I never felt it was their responsibility to do so. I didn’t want to leave that job, but financially I had no choice. I was fortunate to find another great team and a job that paid enough for us to live on my income alone. I get it’s not easy to just “find another job” but sometimes that just is the only thing to do.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Very helpful to hear about the perspective from the other side – and so sorry to hear about your husband! I completely understand if my employees need to go elsewhere, and truly, I would be happy to facilitate that move in any way I can when the time comes. As you said, I wish I could pay them all exactly what they are worth to me (which is really priceless) but I’m just not in a position to do that.

  15. Bess*

    Those COL increases are higher than anything I’ve ever seen! Wow.

    The phrasing of “making rent” is concerning, and I think the key comes down to how your industry compares to other employers–it’s possible that good for your industry still isn’t enough.

    That said, I have definitely had a coworker who complained about salary & affording stuff constantly–we weren’t making bank but were definitely fairly paid for the area, and they had some additional voluntary expenses that were adding some pressure, including their spouse dropping to a lower salary and some huge voluntary expenses for their teenager. Some people don’t have boundaries and do expect their employer to fix what are ultimately personal finance problems. Maybe a possibility here? Is there a general feeling in your industry of being underpaid? People can seize on that sometimes as a general complaint about their pay, even if they specifically are paid a reasonable amount.

    But the phrasing of “making rent” gives me some pause here–sounds potentially serious.

    1. Decidedly Me*

      Yup – I’ve definitely seen this. I had a friend who constantly complained about not being able to save any money and living paycheck to paycheck, while taking weekend trips 2-3 times a month, expensive hair appointments, dinners out with friends several times a week, etc. It’s her money and she can spend it as she wants to, but it’s not really fair for her to say she’s living paycheck to paycheck when she could afford all these things that many people cannot.

    2. Hannah Lee*

      We’ve had some employees who have struggled with that over the last couple of years. My sense is it’s a combination of rent/utility increases plus partners losing jobs or increased childcare costs has tipped a lot of people over the edge. They could get by previously with their jobs, side gig(s) and other people’s income in their household, but now things are much tighter.

    3. Letter Writer*

      Yes, there is definitely a “we are so underpaid” vibe associated with our industry, even when salaries may actually be relatively fair. One of the employees who has been expressing her money concerns recently told me she adopted two kittens, that her rent went up and she’s had a lot of car trouble as of late. She also recently took a two week vacation to Europe. Any and all of those things could mean that the same salary that was sufficient six months ago is now being stretched a little tighter. It’s my sense that when this particular individual recovers from some of those expenses she will be okay, but I could be mistaken.

  16. KHB*

    How much information do you share with your employees about how their salaries are set? If you can “show your work,” as it were, that might help put them at ease.

    Beyond that, it sounds like you might be taking this more personally than you need to. Not all of your employees’ financial stresses are your responsibility – it’s certainly not your fault that an employee’s husband lost his job. It’s just a financially stressful time for everyone right now, and it sounds like they might be reaching out to you to commiserate human-to-human (especially since you’re their former peer), rather than complaining employee-to-employer.

    1. K8lin*

      This was exactly my thought – how much are these benchmarks communicated to the staff in regards to their salaries? How much are they made aware of what factors you’re using in determining their salaries, and especially what information is publicly available about the salary ranges for folks in comparable positions? Depending on what the job is, it can be very difficult to separate the so-called “median” salary for a type of job in the private sector with the median salary for a job in the non-profit world. When you Google and see that, for example, the median salary of teapot decorators is $70k/year and you’re only making $45k, it hits differently than if you’re given the information regarding the salary range of non-profit teapot decorators and realize that range is more like $40-50k.

  17. Pink Candyfloss*

    LW, I think you are reading too much into what these employees are saying. Sometimes people just need to vent, and they don’t always choose an appropriate channel to vent to, especially when you were once a peer/colleague and are now a manager. You have not completely erased the professional/personal boundaries – nor do I think you have to be super strict and slam down a hard wall.

    You have done plenty to ensure that this isn’t an organizational issue that you can solve for them, so, a sympathetic nod and a polite redirection of the subject back to work matters is more than enough.

  18. Not a SuPURRvisor*

    I know a lot of people who work in “museums” and unfortunately, even with all of those benchmarks and proper checks, they can’t afford it in this economy. They love the work, but just don’t have the ability to afford what they need, so they leave and promise to eventually consider reapplying and entering the field.

    1. Not a SuPURRvisor*

      Aw I forgot the “How to respond” bit. Anyway point is, sometimes a “Yeah, inflation out of control” is all you can do, especially when you have all the work done properly for how it’s calculated.

      Could you hold a meeting to show how what the raise/pay process is determined?

    2. mf*

      Yeah, sadly, this is true of the people I know who work in the nonprofit sector. Just because someone’s salary is around or above the median for their industry does NOT mean that salary is a living wage. :(

  19. Quercus*

    I think you can have both personal and professional relationships at the same time, but it never hurts to be clear about which one is active for any given conversation. So in this case, maybe you could empathize (and in unusual circumstances like the husband-laid-off case, make whatever offer of help is appropriate for the personal friendship) then say “and if you think there’s anything I can do as your manager, let me know, so we can talk about that”.

    1. Felicity Lemon*

      I think this is a great response – I was also thinking of that great conversation technique of “do you want me to offer advice, or just listen?” Perhaps they just want you to listen and empathize, but perhaps they are indeed looking for some concrete action (in which they would be approaching you more as their manager, not as their friend).

  20. Irish Teacher*

    It may not be related to the job at all or not much anyway. You mentioned one of the reports saying her husband lost her job; it may simply be difficult for them to manage on one income, even if that income is above average for the area you live in. And of course, they may also have stuff like student loans or elder care or other financial obligations that would be difficult to cover regardless of how fairly they are being paid.

    I wouldn’t assume the comments are a criticism of your organisation. It’s quite likely that this is just an issue that is concerning them at the moment and if you have a close-knit organisation, it’s usual for people to talk about things that are on their minds.

  21. Peanut Hamper*

    My raise last year was 0%. That’s on my company.

    My rent went up last year 33%. That’s not on me or my company.

    But I am looking, both for a newer, cheaper place to live, and for a company that pays more than I currently make. That’s on me.

    Once these employees realize that a different job may be their only option, be prepared to lose them. It may be their only option. You’ve done what you can, but you can only do so much with the budget you have.

    (And if they do leave, you may want to consider breaking a single full-time job into two part-time jobs, so that future employees come into this knowing they can’t depend on this job alone to pay all their bills. Just a thought.)

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Could you expand on the bit in parentheses at the end? I don’t really follow. Anyone taking the job would know what they’re getting paid and whether that works for their situation or not.

      1. cardigarden*

        I suspect the result of this would be candidates self-selecting out before applying. Anyone who couldn’t make the household finances work on a part-time salary wouldn’t apply.

        1. I should really pick a name*

          But what if the job is enough to pay the bills for some people, just not all?

          1. Peanut Hamper*

            You can’t really plan for all possible contingencies, but if this is a situation that OP continues to run into, this may be the best option for them.

  22. MsSolo UK*

    My husband works in museums, and honestly, even the best paying ones rarely offer a living wage to front line staff, and barely more to curatorial/administrative/education/marketing/IT/finance staff who’ve been in the industry for decades and have multiple degrees. Not that most of the front line staff don’t also have Masters and PhDs in relevant degrees…

    Ultimately, for LW, your staff are commenting on the realities of the industry, not your personal role in setting their pay grades. Yes, you’re likely to lose staff over pay. Yes, your application pool is going to be limited to people who have another source of income (or can’t get a job elsewhere in their sector for a variety of reasons). As others have said, to a certain extent you have to take these comments less personally.

    1. Museum Conservator*

      Can confirm, I’m an art conservator who has worked at museums (in both the UK and US). There’s an unspoken acknowledgement that museum workers (many of whom are female, and white) will rely on a spouse’s salary (or other family support). It is a huge, HUGE barrier to diversity in the field, and we are just starting to acknowledge this and grapple with it in any meaningful way. I am mid-career but currently single, and as a result I have a second job in consulting in order to put any money at all away for emergencies – my full-time job is only enough to get me paycheck-to-paycheck.

  23. Morgan Proctor*

    I mean, I think museums just don’t pay very well, period. LW’s organization can be perfectly in line with industry standards, and their employees might still be struggling. I worked in a museum for a very long, very difficult year and a half, and yeah, my pay was standard, but it wasn’t enough for me to live on. I had a masters degree and two roommates. It had been my lifelong dream to work in a museum, and once I was there, I couldn’t escape quickly enough. So this might not be a LW problem, but rather, an industry problem. I don’t see the problem ever getting better. In fact, in the face of the recent inflation, I assume it’s gotten much, much worse.

  24. Elle*

    I’m not sure if it is possible but have you ever approached your funders about salary? You can’t do the work you do if you don’t have staff and/or high turnover. I don’t think this occurs to funders.

    1. MuseumGal*

      Unfortunately, funders usually provide conditional funds, so it needs to go toward producing a specific exhibition/gallery/ public program/ acquisition. Staff wages are generally treated separately to that in the budget.

      1. Letter Writer*

        This. It is very difficult to get grants or funds for administrative expenses, including salaries. They are out there, and we did get a fair amount in PPP loans, ERC, EIDL, etc. but a lot of those funds have dried up now that the pandemic is in the rearview mirror. So we are left to our own devices to generate revenue to support staffing costs (which we are working on, of course!)

  25. NeedRain47*

    I’m shocked (in a good way) that LW ‘s people are getting raises that are two to three times higher than most nonprofit raises, and I’m not sure LW needs to do anything here. But. Math.

    The cost of living went up an *average* of 7-8%. Groceries and utilities, for example, went up quite a bit more than that. If you are a person who spends most of the money you earn on basic necessities, your expenses have likely gone up at least 15%. So peoples’ buying power is less than it was three years ago, even with that 8% raise.
    I don’t have any advice on that as I don’t see companies giving out 15% raises, but it’s still happening, people aren’t being whiny or bad at money management.

    1. Michelle Smith*

      I agree, I don’t think we should conclude that the employees are mismanaging their money. Nor do I think it’s LW’s business if they are. LW seems to be doing their very best to be fair while not sinking the nonprofit with salaries the organization can’t afford.

    2. Letter Writer*

      I said elsewhere, but the staff that are being most vocal have had some serious life changes recently (divorce, rent increase, etc) so I understand their situation, and I think the best tactic is to continue being empathetic and try not to feel personally responsible.

  26. Dust Bunny*

    Also, I strongly suspect that a livable wage by law/on paper is somewhat different from a livable wage in real life. That you can technically live on it doesn’t necessarily give you room to, you know–enjoy it, or live on it but without stress.

    The calculator posted above gives the livable wage for my county as $17.something an hour. I make more than that and I can tell you that the kinds of places I could rent on 1/3 of my take home are not places you live unless you have no other options. One of my coworkers has thrown out all her furniture twice because it became bug-infested in the kinds of places she can rent on her “livable” wage.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        There may not be anything they can act on, but they need to at least not kid themselves that the institution is paying “well” because the pay is comparable to every other underpaid nonprofit.

        1. Letter Writer*

          Thanks – I tried specifically not to use the wording “paid well” (maybe I slipped up) but rather “paid fairly.” And I recognize that even that is in relation to other low-paid organizations.

    1. NeedRain47*

      “Living” wage IMO is just “where the minimum wage should be”. It’s the least amount you need, it doesn’t get you anything nice.
      (My wage gets me a choice between a too small place in a good location, a too small place that is newer but not well located, or a good sized crappy old place. I chose crappy.)

      1. Dust Bunny*

        The table link posted above made it clear that it was “minimum to get by”.

        And minimum wage was intended to provide a modest but not by-the-skin-of-your-teeth living standard. That’s where it should be. If you’re constantly just on the knife edge, it’s exist-able but not actually livable.

  27. KareBear*

    Does your company have an EAP (Employee assistance program). All large companies in Canada have one, it’s a hotline you can call to get free assistance for things like financial help, counseling, mental health, etc. If you company has something like that you should be encouraging all your employee to use it if they are feeling stressed/overwhelmed/need help/etc.

  28. Toast!*

    “saying they were just venting.”

    My take on this is that they were just venting. Is there something else that makes you think you should not just take them at their word?

    “But a few months later that same person was making those same comments.”

    Recurring stressors tend to lead to recurring venting. If it is taking a toll on you, as other people’s venting sometimes does, you can set boundaries around how much you can hear. However, since she is venting about financial stressors and you control her salary, tread very carefully lest you veer into Ebenezer Scrooge territory.

    1. Letter Writer*

      Scrooge – yikes! I actually don’t mind the venting as long as both parties understand that I am not going to be able to solve their problems with the wave of a pen. And I think maybe I’m the party that really needs to accept that!

  29. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    At the end of the day YOU are not responsible for your employee’s financial decisions and the results. It sounds like you as a manager have done everything that’s feasible for you to do to make sure that your employees are being paid fairly for the work that they’re doing while also acknowledging that cost of living has dramatically gone up in the past 3 years.
    While it’s got to be difficult and somewhat demoralizing to hear these constant comments of “I can’t afford xyz” I think the most important thing you can do for yourself is to remember that people’s definitions of financial stress vary GREATLY. For some people, saying “I’m broke” means that they’ve had to cut down on eating out and their annual vacation is a weekend at the lake instead of a week in Cancun. For others, “I’m broke” means that they’re skipping meals to make grocery money stretch until the next paycheck. Unless you’re that involved in your employees’ lives (and if you are, that’s a whole different issue!) you’ve got no idea where on that spectrum your employees are at.
    Give yourself the grace you want others to extend to you. You’re doing your best.

  30. Human Embodiment of the 100 Emoji*

    As someone who works in museums, even most that are relatively “competitive” compared to others aren’t paying a reasonable cost-of-living salary. It’s the unfortunate nature of the field. I imagine you probably don’t have much wiggle room on salaries, but I wonder if you could implement some of Alison’s other typical suggestions for increasing employee satisfaction (increased PTO, sick leave, other perks). Museums are also typically a place where everyone is overworked, so it won’t help your employees’ financial situation, but it could help retention and satisfaction.

  31. BellyButton*

    I think LW is probably overthinking it and maybe feeling a little bit of guilt about the promotion and raise. I think she is doing everything that can be done to ensure they are being paid within the industry standards. A lot of companies, and even more non-profits, don’t do that much. Also, well done on the larger than average COL increases! So many places just do 1-3% of any at all!

  32. goducks*

    There is no amount of money that will make these comments from employees completely go away. You’re doing the right thing by benchmarking your pay and making sure that your compensation is fair. However, the reality is that people at all income levels stress about finances, for all sorts of reasons. I’ve had employees who make six figures and have a spouse who I assume also makes similar based on what their job is complain about the stresses of living paycheck to paycheck. I don’t know if those cases are due to mismanaging their finances or due to other factors that I’m not privvy to (supporting family members, for example).
    All you can do is make sure the compensation you’re offering is fair, and be kind when someone says such things.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      This. I feel like 75% of people feel like they’re underpaid and it’s a feeling, not something you can counteract with facts. (Hell, on some particularly crappy days I feel that way, too!)

      And, one of the facts in this particular industry isn’t generally that well-paid and won’t be as long as the revenue sources are what they are (typically fundraising and grants) and any salary/admin money takes away from “the mission”. There’s not a lot LW can do to fix the industry as a whole, so being transparent about how salaries are calculated and what can/can’t be done is the best they can do for employees to let them decide if it’s the right fit for them.

  33. Daisy-dog*

    Do you offer some type of financial wellness training or coaching? I would suggest reaching out to your insurance broker or EAP or retirement provider to see if there is a next level approach. I know many programs typically offered can be super simple and not really approachable to people that are financially struggling *now*.

    It should be company paid and there are some really high quality programs that are sometimes as low as $20/employee/year. The programs vary, but some work where they assign individuals (who opt in) a coach who can help them go over their budget. Others provide really great training on budgeting & saving that is much more realistic.

    Obviously don’t present this in a patronizing way. Announce it to the whole company as a new benefit. It can also be helpful for things like retirement planning, saving for kids’ college, buying a house, etc. It also may not be helpful to the 2 that are struggling.

    1. The Original K.*

      Financial wellness training won’t help someone who can’t make rent though. If you don’t have enough money, the only thing that will help is more money.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        This. I’ve been involved with some of these “address a complaint with programming” thing, and they nearly always come across as patronizing and attempts at corporate CYA. It’s tone deaf when people express difficulty paying their rent to come and talk to them about retirement planning and buying a house.

        I worked in a law firm for years, and these sort of sessions that were offered for both attorneys and staff (lest there be accusations of discrimination) were like a car wreck you couldn’t look away from. I don’t think a most of the staff was concerned about where to stash those spare $10Ks lying around to avoid capital gains taxes. Most of them were trying to make rent in DC and pay for expensive, quality child care with a year-long wait list.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          I definitely don’t recommend getting the free sessions that are usually provided by the retirement provider or life insurance company. Find a better quality (paid) option that can work with employee’s real problems.

      2. Daisy-dog*

        It won’t help them immediately, but they may be able to provide guidance on options for reviewing when loan payments are due to better coincide with the pay schedule. Or if certain loans payments can be adjusted.

      3. Dust Bunny*

        Thiiiiis, and I’d be super insulted if my (nonprofit) job assumed that this could stand in for, you know–better pay. At some point I just can’t save any more without making my life crazy. I just need to get paid more.

        1. Daisy-dog*

          It’s somewhere around $20/year. Would you prefer to be paid $20, post-tax? The worthwhile programs are also more than just tips on having emergency savings.

          And obviously LW wouldn’t present it as, “I know you have money problems, here’s the solution.” It would be, “Here’s a new benefit.” Or combined with other new benefits.

          1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

            I mean, yes, when I was in that position, I’d take the $20, no question.
            At the time I definitely didn’t care about how taxes would cut into it – I wasn’t having any tax withheld, because I didn’t make the standard withholding.
            Advice on managing loan payments wouldn’t help – my only loans were federal student loans gaining interest at an alarming rate and there’s really no negotiating with the DOE. I was on a reduced payment plan because of my low income already. Financial advice that wasn’t “how to keep your heat below 52 without freezing pipes!” or “how to pass annual inspection with zero car maintenance!” was pretty much useless for me at the time.
            What $20 would do, however, was get me enough gas to go to the good grocery store, where the milk and cheese I got as my WIC allowance wouldn’t expire the next day.

    2. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      This isn’t a bad idea, but be *really* careful with this one. I used to work in a “museums” non-profit, and was paid moderately well for the industry, but ultimately the wages assume that your living costs are subsidized by a spouse or a trust fund. If you’re not, all the financial coaching in the world won’t help you; it’s a fairly simple math problem, at the end of the day.

      The joke used to be: “What’s the difference between an archaeologist and a medium pizza? …A pizza *can* feed a family of four!”

  34. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    It might just be venting. It can be an attention-seeking ploy. I work for a non-profit that pays stupidly good salaries…and my drama llama coworker constantly whines about barely able to make ends meet. And it’s definitely attention-seeking on her part.

    Also, inflation is hitting us all! But those COL raises are incredible. (We bargained for 3%.)

    There will be always someone who cannot manage their money, even when well paid. I know there are all sorts of excellent reasons why ppl have debt – job loss, school loans, mortgages, back taxes, children, health conditions, divorce lawyers, they were defrauded, etc. – but also there’s just a lot of people who overspend, don’t keep track and want to keep up with the Joneses. For my drama llama, if you complain about your bank balance but still spend $1500 for a trip to Jamaica because “Winter” that’s your choice to make. If you don’t manage money well, it looks odd to complain about the money automatically set aside for your pension instead of wishing you had it to spend because at the rate my drama llama’s going, she’d never have $$ set aside for retirement.

    If they’re venting, there’s nothing you can do about that.

    The museum could look into other things, though, like a discount on group insurance for car/home; or a good review of the benefits package to make sure it’s still competitive and apace with current inflation; or a daycare subsidy.

    1. Astro*

      Yeah, I was sick of hearing from a coworker about his overwhelming expenses and how he didn’t make enough money, who opted to send his teenager abroad for the summer for $5k. Spend your money on that if you wish but don’t pretend you’re living paycheck to paycheck if you can give that experience to your kid.

    2. Lily Potter*

      I always say “own your choices”.

      If you’re a working mother and want to stay home with your kids, don’t be whining to me about about “not being able to afford to stay home” when you have the money to do a family ski vacation to Europe every year. Just own your choice, and say that you prefer to work.

      If you work at a low-paying non-profit job and don’t bring in enough money to make your bills, don’t be whining to me about it unless you’re already working a second job or pounding the pavement to get a new primary job. What you do to bring in money is a choice, and we’re not limited to one employment path in this life. Own whatever choice you make.

  35. WhyAreThereSoManyBadManagers*

    Wow, I’ve worked in both public and private sectors and have NEVER had a 7-8% raise, COLA, merit or otherwise. It’s always 1-3%, which turns out after taxes to be practically nothing. So I applaud your NP’s efforts on that front, that’s awesome. Where I live the cost of everyday living is astronomically high, has been for years, and is just unattainable for the grand majority of people here to do anything but barely pay the bills. Even those with advanced degrees in higher level jobs. It sucks.

  36. cardigarden*

    I love seeing that your COLA is so high! My org only does merit raises, so if you don’t qualify for one of those, you’re s-o-l.

    Otherwise, I think all you can do is be transparent about how salaries are set and adjusted and be ready when people decide they have to leave to make their finances work.

  37. Michelle Smith*

    It really sounds like there isn’t an issue with pay that’s in your control, but more that these folks are venting concerns about their personal life the way they would have vented to you when you were their peer. I’ve got no idea whether it’s appropriate to set additional boundaries around that or just handle it like you’ve been handling it, but my gut is telling me the latter. Sometimes employees overshare and I wouldn’t take that too personally. It doesn’t matter how much you pay your people–if they are reliant on two incomes and one of those incomes is lost, finances are going to be tight. I don’t think the person complaining about it is expecting you to make up for that lost income, nor would they be reasonable if they did have that expectation.

    I really agree with Alison’s advice about transparency. It is frustrating to work for an organization that isn’t clear about pay, which includes being clear about when pay increases happen, why they happen, and whether there are opportunities for increases outside of the normal schedule. My old employer (government) was never clear on this. If we got a raise, it was at a random time during the year and always a surprise (never guaranteed). Very frustrating! I heard rumors that merit raises were a possibility, but no one knew if we were eligible or how to get those. I took on quite a few extra projects to support my department and I did not receive any recognition for that.

    My current job does a bit better with transparency. We know reviews are tied to the raises and reviews are a certain month every year (hypothetically let’s say December). So in December, you have a meeting with your director to review your performance over the past (up to a) year (could be less if you started sooner than January), and based on that performance, your director requests either the cost of living raise or (for truly exceptional performance that I’m unlikely to aspire to) they can ask for you to get a merit raise. BOTH of those are capped at percentages that I won’t share here, but that are lower than the cost of living raise you’ve given your employees the past couple of years. Hypothetically, let’s just say 2% increase for cost of living and 4% increase for merit. So again, not saying you are underpaying your employees AT ALL. I’m just giving a couple of examples of how pay information is shared and I’ll be honest, I strongly prefer knowing that there is a system in place and having some information about how to get ahead in that system if I want to. So if you’re not already sharing this information with all of your employees, I’d suggest doing so. I’d also be really transparent about the cost of living increases and convey in a non-accusatory, non-“you should be grateful” way that you are trying to keep up with inflation the best you can given limited resources. People working for you may not realize that 7-8% increases annually are not the norm.

  38. JLM*

    Being a small non-profit I’m not sure if you have an HR department, but you may want to check to see if your company has an EAP (employee assistance program). Lots of times these will offer some kind of financial planning services/counseling. This can include budgeting assistance or local assistance programs.

  39. JH*

    I am a former non-profit worker, not in “museums” but for fundraising healthcare organizations. It’s an unfortunate fact that many non-profits just cannot pay the higher salaries most people see in corporate. And it’s not that employees in non-profits don’t work as hard, it’s just that oftentimes many organizations work to keep operating budgets low to keep their rating and look good to their boards and their donors. I finally made the switch to corporate this year after almost a decade and I will never go back. My work-life balance, salary, and mental health have never been better. I loved my job for a long time but during and after the pandemic my work load increased because of layoffs and I even briefly had to take a salary cut which was just untenable in a high-cost metropolitan area. When my boss asked me why I was leaving and I mentioned salary was part of it I was told that it’s “just part of the sacrifice you make to do good”. Again, glad to be out and I feel for the LW because they likely can’t increase salaries even if they wanted to and I also feel for the employees. I’ve been them and remember how stressful it was trying to make ends meet to stay in a job I loved.

  40. Can’t think of a name today*

    I can’t tell for sure, but the salary benchmarking described doesn’t mention location. You can have fair compensation on the surface level for your industry or population served, but if your benchmarks are an aggregate across the US, for example, and you’re in NYC or San Francisco, then you’re likely not paying well at all.

  41. platypus*

    It’s hard to tell tone over a written letter, but might it be that they’re just genuinely venting and these are not passive aggressive complaints to the OP? I think only OP can answer that, and the answer could go either way, but it’s worth considering. Sometimes I’ll complain to my boss about how high rent is getting, but it’s not a veiled way of asking for a pay raise (and he doesn’t take it that way, either), it’s just me venting

  42. Skyblue*

    It actually doesn’t sound to me like these employees are expecting you or the organization to do anything about their financial issues, as evidenced by the fact that one became embarrassed when you brought up the salary review. Also, it seems unlikely that the employee whose husband lost their job was wanting or expecting the organization to help there.

  43. Double A*

    I think there are two types of complaints about money. One is someone who will always live at or slightly beyond their means no matter what their salary is and will therefore always complain about not having enough money, but they would never have enough money.

    The other one is when someone is truly struggling. (And a lot of people don’t complain about this but are truly struggling).

    In either case, though, it’s not really the employer’s job to address it individually. In every medium-to-low paid job there will be people who can live on it adequately for whatever reason, and those who can’t. You can’t pay people based on their financial need beyond offering as fair a salary as your organization can support. Yes, you may lose good people because of this, but that’s just the reality.

    1. YetAnotherAnalyst*

      This is kind of an unfair take. For comparison, I left a non-profit job in a “museums” field, where I was being paid competitively for the field. I had a relevant advanced degree and more than a decade of experience. I ended up taking an entry level call center job and my annual take-home didn’t noticeably change.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      At some point, no matter how good you are with money, you often just aren’t getting paid enough.

    3. Paris Geller*

      And many people, especially today, just don’t have enough money, no matter how good they are at managing what they have.

    4. Overit*

      Many nonprofit jobs simoky do not provide a living wage. It is common to see museum jobs require 10+ years of experience, highly specialized knowledge and MA/PhD but pay less than $35k with no benefits. In metropolitan areas with high COL. You can make a penney scream and still not survive on that.

      Which is why my husband tells anyone thinking of entering the profession to think again.

  44. Aspiring Chicken Lady*

    I think staying transparent about how salaries are set and raises are calculated is important — as a general practice. I wouldn’t try to link this conversation to a venting remark. But I’d want to put it on my agenda for the next team meeting – simply briefly give some feedback about how the industry stands in the economy right now, and the things that the org is doing to handle it.

    Then maybe throw it out to the team — what can we do to weather the storm of this particular economic year? Do you see any opportunities to cut costs or raise income? What about personally? Is there any way that as a team we could share ideas about how to cope, e.g., work from home an extra day a week to cut commute costs, see if there’s a discounted membership to Costco that the org could access, allow deliveries to the office for the local CSA or bulk grocery orders, use a group chat as a “buy nothing/garage sale” conversation?

  45. SpringIsForPlanting!*

    Let’s all blame the system! No, seriously. Do a little googling on rent increases and private equity, and get good and mad. Then call your congressperson/state rep/city council.

  46. N*

    I work in “Museums” and can say absolutely that the data in those benchmarking surveys does not take into account factors such as location. If you’re a curator in a small town in the Midwest, your cost of living is going to be a lot less than if you are living in a major city. Beyond which, “average for the industry” within an industry that is well-known for paying subsistence wages at best is not exactly something to aspire to. Your staff are telling you they cannot afford to live on what is being offered. Advocate for them. Museums claim to be such champions of equity, inclusion, and justice, yet they often chronically mistreat their own workers. Paying less than lives wages stifles diversity efforts and leads to low morale and a culture of fear. Look at other data beyond these surveys. What does HUD say is a living wage in your area? At my former museum, staff in up to mid-level positions who had worked there for 5+ years experienced food and housing insecurity constantly. I hope the staff of your museum read this and unionize. They deserve better.

    1. Giant Kitty*

      This is my take on the situation.

      And I’m curious… on what industries is being paid “at or above the 50th percentile” actually a living wage? Because that actually sounds quite low to me in all but the highest paying jobs.

  47. Juggling Plunger*

    Do you have room to be creative with benefits? This won’t help everyone (and unfortunately won’t help the person whose husband was laid off in the short term) but can you offer a payment in lieu of health insurance? If you can shift some people to spouses’ insurance you can both make them better off with the payment and can reduce your cost to employ them at the same time.

    1. Festively Dressed Earl*

      +1. It might be worth having a frank conversation with the employees about non-salary benefits that would put more money back in people’s pockets.

  48. JMR*

    How much do your employees know about how salaries are set, and all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the benchmarking? I think that kind of transparency helps. I know exactly how our organization benchmarks salaries, what the salary range is for my position and how that range is set, and how the organization decides where I fall within that range. I am still slightly skeptical of the process – for example, the company benchmarks salaries against those of “comparable” companies in the area, and I do wonder how selective they’re being about the companies they choose to include on that list. Like, Google is not on that list. Overall, I still wish I was paid more, but at least I understand that I am paid fairly within the parameters set by the organization, and it no longer feels like someone pulls a number out of a hat.

  49. Formerly Ella Vader*

    An additional thing that you could do, having noted that some of your employees are anxious enough about finances that they talk about it, is to look at whether there’s anything your company can do to not make that stress worse.

    For example – if you have any expectation that people should spend money out of pocket for anything and then be reimbursed, look at ways to avoid it. For everyone, not just for the ones who admit to having trouble. Talk to your accounting people about how to do a petty cash fund. Find out if you can run an account with a taxi company, pay rental cars and hotels with a corporate card or invoicing, bring in the cream and doughnuts yourself rather than have an admin assistant do it, etc. Think about that recent letter where the principal-investigator expected everyone to take a turn bringing breakfast for the group, without realizing that was a significant hardship for the junior member.

    Also I wonder if there are other office customs that could be relaxed, thus saving people money if they choose. For example, saying “you know, I don’t care what you wear on days we don’t have visitors” and sticking to it. Or whether flexing hours/allowing more remote work might save people money on parking or daycare.

    You’re paying attention to what their comments about their lives mean for you – also be aware that some of them will also be paying attention to what you say about your own life. It’s tactful to be circumspect about things you are doing that might seem extravagant or unattainable to them. I didn’t like hearing about my boss’s home renovations, new recreational vehicles, or travel when I was in particularly difficult circumstances – I’m sure they didn’t realize that I wasn’t the audience for that.

      1. WestsideStory*

        Very good advice. Especially the part about Setting up a petty cash system to make sure no employee has to go out of pocket and wait till end of month to be reimbursed.

  50. Janeric*

    I think the advice to be very transparent about the salary-setting process is good, and the advice to confirm that you’re paying a living wage is good, but beyond that I think you need to sit with why your employees talking about money issues bothers you.

    It sounds like you have a close-knit team with a lot of open communication, and I think that, after doing the work you’ve done on salaries (and maybe scheduling periodic follow-ups?), you might want to put this in the “grousing about the weather” category. If your employees complain about working with a difficult group, you don’t swoop in and save the day, you trust that they, as qualified professionals, will let you know if you need to step in. I think you have to extend the same trust here.

  51. MCMonkeyBean*

    If your employees are really just venting then I think your responses of “that sounds stressful” etc are probably the right tone to take. It’s a bit more personal venting-wise then I would get with my boss, but your team dynamic sounds a bit more social and casual than mine.

  52. Tumbleweed*

    My industry is like this – are we well paid (ish) compared to the rest of the industry? Yes. Is that enough to live on comfortably vaguely near where the office is? Not really. Relatedly but somewhat industry specific: are we paid well compared to the required amount of education & training or the liability you take on? No, and that’s true at all levels.

    (Well this org is mediocre-good pay depending on your level. Notably they paid the lowest rung very well for the industry which gets them a lot of good will from me even though I’m not in it and am probably in the bracket that compares worst to median pay elsewhere at the moment)

  53. AcadLibrarian*

    One issue with the benchmarking is if other orgs underpay, you’re going to look fine in comparison. And you get low pay across the board in the arts or female-dominated industries. So benchmarking against other peer orgs isn’t the only thing you should do. Benchmarking against orgs/positions in your area where a similar level of education or expertise would be needed would be a better way to view your salaries in comparison.

  54. CLC*

    There’s a lot here about whether the employees or the industry pays enough, what COL increases are appropriate, and what the LW can and/or should be doing about that overall. That is all good and important but there is so much going on in this letter that goes beyond that. First, a lot of people who were getting along fine a couple years ago no longer are. Inflation and salary increases are only part of that. Even if just looking at inflation, it’s 8% across the board on average—necessary expenses like housing and transportation and heating and medical bills have increased by much more than the average rate of inflation. On top of that, people are now facing lay offs, many people have had to cut out things they enjoy and make life livable, and even a trip to the grocery store can cause anxiety for people who never had that problem before. Some people have had to quit their jobs because the cost of childcare makes it completely out of reach, or they can’t get childcare at all. My point in all this is that regardless of salary increases and industry standards, more people are more financially stressed than they used to be. When you are financially stressed, just like any other form of undue stress, it can affect work performance. Maybe these employees very well know that their organization can’t offer higher salaries than they are, but they are coming to their manager because they need other forms of support at work. Maybe they don’t even know exactly how to talk about it and what to ask for, but they know they have to say something. I think the LW has to offer a little more than just “that must be stressful for you” and move on. For one thing, that separates themselves from their reports financially, which isn’t great for a manager to do. At the very least this manager could say something like “yeah times are really tough right now.” It shows a lot more empathy than “that must be tough FOR YOU” implying “fortunately I don’t have that problem.” But a really good manager should ask what they could do to make things easier while they are going through a tough time, whether that tough time is financial in nature or not. More flexible hours, comp time, remote working, reallocating work—whatever might be feasible and appropriate.

    I also might add that the higher ups in this organization should make sure they are not inadvertently flaunting their relative financial privilege or higher salaries. That is a great way to destroy morale, especially in hard economic times. I’ve seen people do this and they don’t even realize it—for example having their gorgeous, enormous vacation home with the view of the lake behind them on screen during meetings or talking about vacations or their cleaning services. It’s really important to remember that even people who are all paid on the same pay scale have all different financial situations and just to be mindful of that.

    1. Overit*

      The last paragraph is an overlooked but critical matter in staff morale at nonprofits.
      The board at the last nonprofit at which I worked were all wealthy. I mean, born into wealth, never struggled kind of privilege.

      Staff would be eatinf their PB&J in the breakroom and board members would come in raving about the lunch they had at Overpriced Bistro (where the cheapest item on the menu was more than staff made in a day). And urge staff to go there, “It is SO wonderful! Way better than PB&J.” Really? No kidding?
      Or the day I was carrying baskets of goodies in for a fundraising auction. Board predident saw me look longingly at one of them and told me, “You know staff can bid too! Ypu ahould go for it!” I did a slow turn, took a breath and said, “The opening bid is more than 15% of my take home pay.” Pause. Silence. I let it stretch out. She finally said, “Well if you wanted it, you would make it happen.” I walked away. Never ever forgot it.
      Lots of resentment towards the board..who set the priorities and salaries.

  55. Workfromhome*

    All of the suggestions are good. Understanding where their salaries are in the industry, having (what I consider exceptional) cost of living increases to be able to support the idea that they are being fairly paid for the industry.

    but it doesn’t address the real issue they are dealing with. now I’m not saying that the OP can SOLVE that issue. Just that may not be understanding or acknowledging the real issue.
    that issue is can they afford to live. For understanding only look outside the organization and industry. What does the data say is a “living wage” in your area?

    For example, the living wage in my area is roughly $23 an hour. The minimum wage is less than 14 $ an hour. so its very conceivable that a non profit might say. Hey most nonprofits pay minimum wage. we pay 17 per hour so we are 20% above the “industry.

    but that person is still far short of being able to live. You probably cannot change that and the jobs at our organization may simply be more suitable for people who use it as a 2nd income. but at least you can know that and acknowledge that in your conversation. Rather than appearing to be defensive (Hey we are in the top 50% we are better than most) it might sound more like “I understand your concern our industry simply doesn’t provide the level of pay to meet that living wage. As much as we might advocate for it its not likely to happen so people have to make a choice between supporting our mission (which you obviously share) or looking for something that may not be as fulfilling but better meets their economic needs. Its not a great choice but unfortunately its the reality.

  56. It's Marie - Not Maria*

    Sounds like the LW has made diligent efforts to ensure their organization is paying as fairly as they can, given the ongoing financial constraints of the mentioned industry. My Spouse works in an adjacent industry, and you can’t go into that field of work and expect to make big bucks, unless you happen to snag a high-level position at one of the high-profile organizations within that industry. It is the nature of the industry, and probably isn’t going to change any time soon. This is something they don’t tell you when you go to college for those fields/industries, and I wish they would.

  57. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    Kudos to OP for empathizing with the employees.

    There could also be a guilt factor on his/her part — as a manager, you’re (in most cases) paid more than those who work under you. You’re doing better. You may have no problems paying your bills, making ends meet, and it might be a different situation for the subordinates.

  58. Former Retail Lifer*

    I worked in retail as a manager for many, many years and I had ZERO control over what I could pay my employees or what their raises could be. We always paid entry-level employees close to minimum wage. Several higher positions received “competitive” salaries…competitive for retail. They still weren’t easy to live off of. My employees regularly vented to me and I told them I understood, as I wasn’t paid much better. There was literally nothing I could do, so eventually, we all moved on when we found something better. It sucks, but sometimes that’s the only thing you can do.

    1. I forgot my old name*

      I also wanted to add having worked in retail. I used to tell my employees how much I valued them and didn’t want them to leave. But I wouldn’t hold them back if there was better opportunity because I wanted them to succeed and be paid accor5.

  59. YetAnotherAnalyst*

    Having worked in a “museums” non-profit, it’s entirely possible that wages are as high as you can reasonably make them, and that the majority of your staff is struggling to make rent. If you’d like to help them, a few things besides wages you might consider:
    – Does your organization expect employees to pay for things that could reasonably be business expenses? Tools, references, educational resources, job-related travel, grant writing time, “nice” clothing for that once-in-a-blue-moon media appearance?
    – Is the scheduling consistent enough that folks could pick up a second job? Is it inconsistent enough that they’re paying a premium for childcare?
    – Are your employees paying student loans? If you’re in the US, can you help them qualify for Public Service Loan Forgiveness? Can you offer tax-free payments towards their loans under the CARES act?
    – It sounds a little absurd, but can you provide snacks, or have some meetings catered?
    – Are there any opportunities for your team to help each other, and can you in any way help facilitate that? A “free” table in the break room? Fridge space for an office cow share? A bulk discount on a local daycare or dog walker?
    – Is the insurance you offer actually serving your employees’ needs, or are there options that would cover more and cost them less?

    1. Coco*

      I know that “offer flexible scheduling so people can get second jobs” sounds fundamentally terrible… but it would honestly help a lot of folks. My job is really strict about business hours being from 8am-5pm. If I could, I would gladly work 7-4. That would give me the ability to get a serving job like I had in college. (most restaurants want you there before the dinner rush starts). Never mind that I already have a job that I work on the weekends. People need 2-3 jobs just to survive these days. It breaks my heart.

  60. Sunny*

    OP, I think being transparent about salaries – how they’re determined, where you rank within the industry, and what the possibilities are for future increases – is the best you can do.

    Though I’d also add that when you’re talking to your staff about these things, it never hurts to be clear that if they feel they need to leave the industry, due to these realities, you’ll always support their job hunt, be there as a reference, etc. That’s a major stress point for people too, and just knowing their boss won’t punish them for leaving, and that they can get a reference, is helpful. And it’s something very much in your control.

  61. Overit*

    My husband retired from a highly successful career in museums. He graduated from a sought- after program and was 1 of only 2 who stayed in the profession for more than 10 years. Why? THE PAY. He was only able to stay in the field because he has a working spouse. He has told people for 20 years not to go into museum work because of the low pay.
    OP: If I were you (and I have been you working in an adjacent profession), I would be honest with my staff. Tell them there is no more money to increase wages and they need to do what is best for them, including leaving for a better paying job.

    1. NeedRain47*

      You hit on the problem here but not the solution. There IS no better paying job. Not in their field anyway, and switching fields often leads to needing to take a lower or entry level job, which is not financially feasible for people that don’t have partner for support.

      1. Overit*

        Oh, most certainly not in the field.
        I helped a lot of staff consider how their skills could translate into jobs in the for profit world.

  62. Audrey*

    If I had received 7 or 8 percent COLAs in my previous job at a large humanitarian nonprofit, I’d still be there, doing work that gives my life meaning and making a huge difference in the lives and health of those less fortunate. Instead I made the jump to tech where I’m compensated incredibly well, but lost and miserable. It’s a tough tradeoff. Wish there was a better solution for NPOs and I empathize with the LWs situation and the plight of her reports.

  63. Anonynonybooboo*

    Hopefully I’m not rehashing, but since their salaries seem to be in line, can you offer instead:

    1) Flexible schedules (so that a car or childcare crisis is more manageable in the moment)

    2) Additional income opportunities, or at least *access and permission* for these?

    By that I mean, if your non-profit is say, art related – if an Art Fair is looking for labor Thursday through Saturday some weekend, post that opportunity in the breakroom and let folks know they can flex their schedule the week of the fair if they are working it as well.

    Or, if someone needs a second job evenings/weekends – do you make that possible, or are events taking that time on a regular enough basis it’s impeding that ability?

  64. Helena*

    I had a manager/friend say to me once, “Just checking, do you want me wearing my manager hat now or my friend hat for this conversation?” It was great because I wanted to be able to complain to my friend, and it gave them the context. Perhaps that’d help you.

    1. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

      Yes! Something like this is needed if they used to be peers. I sometimes will talk to my coworkers that have moved up the management chain, like we show up 15 min early for a meeting and we’re sitting in the conference room, and I’ll make an offhand remark about something that’s annoying me. I don’t necessarily want her to fix it, I’m just talking like we normally used to before she became a manager. I don’t want to have to have my guard up every time I talk to her to not mention something personal or something not actionable.

  65. KN*

    OP, I think there’s a lot of good insight in the comments here, both about the potential difficulty of your employee’s situations and how you may just need to accept hearing these comments.

    On the latter point, these lines from your letter stood out to me: “This seemed to embarrass the person and they backpedaled, saying they were just venting. But a few months later that same person was making those same comments.”

    The “but” there makes it sound like you think that either 1) the person’s embarrassment at your response should have made them stop venting, or 2) they weren’t actually just venting. I don’t think either of those necessarily follows from what happened. From their perspective, maybe they were embarrassed that *you thought* they were doing anything more than venting, but since they clarified their intentions, they assume that you now understand that these comments are just venting, so there’s no issue.

    Basically, it sounds like you meant for the question to hint to them that the comments weren’t okay unless they were making a request… but they might just not have heard it that way. And as others have said, I’m not sure there IS anything wrong with them making those comments, especially if they truly don’t mean them as accusations.

    I think you’re taking the right approach of behaving as if they’re not accusations. All you can do now (regarding these conversations) is work on actually believing they’re not accusations.

  66. Acronyms Are Life (AAL)*

    I think that since you all were co-workers before you became director it blurs the line between ‘are we talking as peers’ or ‘is this a boss/employee discussion’. I’m a little bit more relaxed and open around people that were once my peers and are now in a leadership role than someone who has always been in a leadership role from my vantage point. I can see being more personally vulnerable with someone that I used to have a peer working relationship with especially if we talked about non-work-related items before.

    Also, I think the coworker who was short with you wanted to provide context that they recognize that they were and there is rationale for why they were (and may still be) short.

    Maybe you could ask if they are wanting to discuss this from your boss vantage point or a peer vantage point? Or like you said mentioning to people ‘hey I’m willing to discuss this formally from my manager vantage point if it’s something you are interested in?’.

  67. Ellis Bell*

    I don’t think all of these complaints are equally concerning! There are very few people wealthy enough that they could take a loss of their partner’s income in their stride, at the same time as the rent going up. That’s not necessarily an indication that their pay sucks. The other comment about not being able to make rent, just because they ran out of money, is a bit more concerning as to their salary, without additional context as to what’s going on there. The car comment could fall into either category: is the car essentially totalled because the comparable cost with a new car makes it unrepairable? That’s going to be a tough month to cover for anyone. Or is it a mid to low level repair that most people on a decent wage would expect to be able to cover? I think it’s worth paying attention to these comments, but you need to distinguish whether it’s evidence of bad wages, or bad luck.

  68. bmorepm*

    Acknowledging that it’s a difficult situation but want to clarify that there are next to no situations where, “Yikes, that sounds stressful,” would be received as a truly empathetic or compassionate response. It sounds pat and uncaring. Just “that sounds stressful,” or “I’m sorry to hear you’re dealing with that” would be more appropriate.

  69. Mehitabel*

    All the market data in the world is useless if you’re not paying a living wage. Comparisons aren’t helpful if all you are comparing to are other organizations that are also not paying a living wage.

    I’ve been through this in the nonprofit sector and I know it can be really tough. But I’ve had to re-think how I approach compensation. I still rely on market data for my sector, but in addition I’ve researched what constitutes a living wage in my area, and have set a floor for all staff compensation. My new rule of thumb is, every full-time employee needs to earn at least enough to be able to afford either a studio apartment, or a private room in a shared apartment. Salary ranges start, and go up from, there.

  70. Former public librarian*

    Although your data might be accurate, the organization may not be paying a livable wage. I once worked in a school in a high cost of living area and EVERY teacher in our small independent school had a second job.
    When I worked in a small museum and complained about my salary to my supervisor, she said that these positions were expected to be “starter” and people who needed more income moved on.

  71. AnotherSarah*

    I used to work in a similar sector in NYC. It was awful, even though I was being paid “standard.” The differences between the bad and the less bad jobs (financially, that is) were:

    -employer-covered premiums
    -transit benefits (pre-tax MetroCards)
    -FSA accounts that the employer funded
    -summer Fridays
    -Christmas-New Years off
    -a health plan that actually worked for people (ie covered what we needed with low copays)

    Is there a chance, LW, that you can offer any of these things? Agreed that 50th percentile or better in terms of benchmarking isn’t necessarily sufficient pay, but if you’re right that you can’t adjust salaries higher, can you look into other benefits? Some of the above were just nice to have (I didn’t take another job on those summer Fridays), but some made a real difference in my COL.

  72. km85*

    I was thinking there might be something else going on here. Specifically, tone deafness?

    Perhaps OP is being a little liberal with her discussions of her OWN finances and spending habits, and it’s creating resentment? OP, have you spoken about vacations, purchases, home improvements, dining out, etc. in a way that could be creating the impression you’re rolling in dough?

    Maybe just watch how you speak about your own spending, in case you spoke too breezily about something you were able to afford, (even if it was a hardship for you, like having to replace a totaled vehicle,) at a time when the employee you were talking with was experiencing hardship. If you happened to be talking with an employee who’s taking public transportation and saving up for a car, that kind of talk could rub them the wrong way.

    I once had a really good work friend I was ready to punch if he complained ONE more time about his multiple mortgages, California boating vacations, guest house needing repairs, etc… On his six-figure/part-owner-of-the-company salary, compared to my $55,000, which didn’t even let me save for a down payment.

    Just something to think about!

  73. handfulofbees*

    Hey so question: What’s a formal salary review? Is it something every workplace should be doing on a regular basis? How does it help employees?

  74. raida*

    if your place of work has an EAP, I’d suggest pointing your staff towards it.

    They can be an incredible resource for just talking things out, financial planning, mental health, stress, everything.

    If your place of work does not have an EAP, I’d suggest looking into the options for one – better to know it’s truly too expensive than assume the business cannot offer staff this kind of support.

    1. LJ*

      I see the good intentions here, but there would be a delicate balance to deliver the message that there’s a supportive EAP service available while not edging too close to the classic bad-boss example of telling employees to look over their personal budgets when they say they’re underpaid.

  75. CeeBee*

    ugh, can we reframe what is being called “complaining”? seems to me that “complaining” is sometimes shorthand for “Shut-up-about-what-is-bothering-you-because-it-makes-me-feel-uncomfortable-or-like-I-have-to-do-something-about-it.”

  76. WorkForYourPay*

    Others have suggested comparing your wage bands to what MIT reports is the living wage for your city. Highly encourage you to do so. Benchmark information means nothing for your nonprofit if it can’t attract and retain employees because they cannot afford to live on what you pay.

    That said, it’s the perfect time to CEO this mother:

    C – Cut costs: Just like a business needs to contain costs to remain viable but controlling their costs…so to do your employees. Review your benefits, do you have any way of offering ways for your team to better control their costs? We allow staff to join our cell phone plan to get our group rates, most employees have saved 75%.

    E – Earn More: This may mean they leave you if you can’t offer living wages. You can’t necessarily offer more money to the roles as is, but perhaps you could increase wages for a few roles by outsourcing some work to a BPO and reducing your overall head count.

    O – Optimize Spending: Are you offering things like FSA, HSA, and dependent FSA (great for childcare) accounts? Depending on their tax brackets, this can be an effective way for them to push more of their gross income to things they need. In a similar vein, are you offering tax-advantaged retirement accounts so that there less pressure for planning for the future? Could you swing a financial literacy course that could help them get a better handle on their income management?

  77. Mothman*

    To add on to the financial review part, that’s definitely not something to bring up in the moment when someone is venting a frustration. It could read as “well, if you’re so upset about it, I guess we need to have a little talk about your future here,” even if not intended that way.

  78. Anonymouse*

    I think it’s important to remember that different people have different costs going on that can make what seems like a reasonable salary be very tight. Just a few examples off the top of my head:

    1) If an employee or someone they support is disabled or has other medical issues, that can eat up a lot of your salary. For a big example, I’ve known disabled people who have comparable salaries to me but who can barely afford rent because their medical bills eat up most of their income. For a smaller example, my spouse recently had to start eating a speciality diet for medical reasons, and our grocery bills have gone way up because of it

    2) If an employee is financially supporting someone, that can eat up a huge chunk of their salary. And while you probably know if your employees have kids or not, you might not know if they’re supporting, for example, a sibling going through a mental health crisis or a retired parent or a niece whose mom just got arrested (all real life examples of people I’ve known)

    3) Debt can also be a huge factor. I’m currently struggling to pay off a bunch of credit card debt that I incurred having to charge basic living expenses to credit while I was unemployed a few years ago. My monthly payments eat up an unfortunate chunk of my paychecks. On top of that, I have student loan debt and a car loan to pay off (getting around in my area necessitates a car, so it’s unfortunately not something I could have put off until I was better paid)

    I’m not saying any of this to say that you’re paying people unfairly or that you need to adjust their wages based on their life circumstances or anything, but just to illuminate that there might be legitimate reasons why they say they’re struggling despite being paid fairly for the field.

  79. Concerned nonprofit development manager*

    Hi thank you for being caring. I think u should work to paying at the 75 to 100 percent of jobs in your area. Or more. Museums in nonprofit industry in my understanding pay significantly less than other nonprofit industries and nonprofits in general don’t pay enough. Luckily some states are getting better are requiring things like posting salary ranges on job description and not allowing employers to ask applicants about salary history (both of these are in California). So more and more people might leave the nonprofit industry unless we pay people a little more fairly. Passion for the job doesn’t pay the bills and is not fair long term (and is totally against DEI work given those who will stay in the nonprofit industry will be skewed to having more economic resources and pushing out those that don’t). How to pay for it? Maybe reorg where if u take away one or two positions u distribute the income from those positions to the remaining staff (ideally thru normal attrition and not layoffs). Or find a way to add more revenue (hard to do I know but if u invest in more fundraising staff maybe u will be able to do this. Are u using the latest tools in fundraising? There is a lot of cool technology in fundraising that makes it easier to raise funds. With the right fundraiser (paid enough to get a good person) that person could potentially generate more revenue for nonprofit. It won’t be in year one so it’s a long term plan but I got to start somewhere

  80. Not watching the superbowl*

    I also wanted to mention the employee assistance program (EAP).
    Some credit unions give on-line presentations on budgeting and other financial topics. (They aren’t just thinly-disguised ads for the company.) You could see if they are interested in giving a lunchtime presentation to all staff.
    I think there are non-profits that provide classes in budgeting. (You could put up flyers for these programs, rather than directly approaching the staff members.)
    Good luck

  81. One HR Opinion*

    These types of conversations can be very draining because you cannot control many of these things any more than the employee can. Depending on where you live your answer can point them to other resources. For instance, after empathizing with them I often say, I’m not sure if they can help with your particular situation, but you may want to reach out to United Way’s 2-1-1 number to see if they or another organization may be able to help you.

  82. Skippy*

    I worked in “museums” for 20 years, and what you are describing isn’t unique at all to the industry. I would caution you against using the industry’s salary surveys as your only source of information for determining what to pay your staff, as the sample size is generally quite small. It also doesn’t help that the surveys perpetuate a bit of a vicious circle: one year the survey says the median salary for a research assistant is $X, so everyone in the field pays their research assistants $X — and then the next year’s survey says the median salary is $X, and on and on it goes. Given that your competition for workers is probably coming from outside the field, as so many people are leaving “museums” for different industries at the moment, I would suggest benchmarking against other nonprofits, higher education, or government jobs in your area.

    Regardless, your staff is providing you with an important data point: they are finding it difficult to live on the wages you pay them. That means that it’s highly likely you may lose them in the not-too-distant future, and that these jobs may end up seeing a great deal of turnover in the coming years. As the director, you need to decide if you and your organization are okay with that. Perhaps it’s fine — many “museums” have simply come to terms with the fact that high turnover is inevitable, particularly when unemployment is at 3.4%. But that does incur a cost to the organization in lost productivity and institutional knowledge, not to mention the time you need to spend covering for departing staff and hiring/training their replacement.

    One thing you didn’t mention in your letter, or in your subsequent comments, is anything about your board. Presumably they had to approve the budget with the wage increases, but are they aware of this potential problem? Boards can be maddeningly out of touch on these issues, but a good board could work with you on a plan to raise wages over time, including raising the funds to support that plan.

  83. An Arts Opinion*

    I work in the arts, and I have friends in museums, and the sectors are very similar.
    It is likely that your whole industry is wildly underpaid. This is not really a you-problem, but all benchmarking across an industry does is… well, determine that none of you are paying well enough.
    In my industry, that means anyone without another source of money–whether that’s “husband in tech / finance” or “trust fund”–leaves for better-paying pastures when they decide they want kids or a house or a car.
    This problem isn’t on you to solve, but if you happen to be (as many leaders in these orgs are) someone with another source of money… be careful how you present that and yourself. As an example, at my last organization, the president “complimented” me on my “cute” habit of using salsa jars to bring in my lunch. She has a very wealthy husband and family money.
    To me, she was reminding me that she couldn’t be bothered to pay me enough to afford real tupperware, let alone go out for lunch.
    To her, my stern-faced response of “I can’t afford anything else” seemed like a wild overreaction to what she perceived as a compliment.

  84. Deidre Barlow*

    The cost of living crisis is impacting people who ‘shouldn’t’ be feeling the pinch- I’m on a relatively decent wage for the area I live in, but I’m the only wage earner in my house and even a decent wage can only stretch so far when prices are going up and up. I mention it as little as possible at work- mostly because senior leaders at my organisation are all on 2-3x what I earn and very dismissive of staff concerns about pay.

  85. SaffyTaffy*

    If I may, I’d like to expand a little on what Alison said about how competitive wages and living wages aren’t always the same thing. I make more than other people in my position in the same organization, and more than others in other orgs in the same area. I’m also unmarried, so the money I make is the only money I have. And my competitive wage, which is above my colleagues’, isn’t enough. I stopped being able to save money over a year ago and am now going further into debt every month.
    Living wage standards matter more than competitive wage standards.

Comments are closed.