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I'm new to posting to the forum and this was rushed, so I welcome you to point out any obvious improvements to the way I've asked this question/formatted this post in the comments. I'm posting anonymously so I'm kindly requesting that you don't ask me if this is me if you think it's me. 

TL;DR

I'm concerned that there are no/very few roles at EA-aligned orgs that don't lead to you feeling like you're working all the time. I feel like I need to be available to community members at all times of the day on everyday of the week as a community builder. Ops people have expressed that they feel they need to be always on call. Many EAs I know work more than 40 hours weekly and some also work on weekends. I want to transition away from what I'm currently doing partially because of this feeling, but it seems like I might not find a role that escapes it.

Ideally, people would answer this question with either:

  • Some reassurance that they are in a job role where they don't have to be on call all the time, with a description of the job role
  • Reassurance that they are in a role where they could be on call all the time, but it's been possible to set up their work environment with the right boundaries/norms such that they don't feel like they're on call all the time. How? Do you experience any negatives from doing this, e.g. judgement from others, bottlenecking others, etc.?
  • Maybe contributions from people who also feel that this is an issue they're facing - this might be an imagined issue on my part, I wonder if there are others who are also worried/experiencing similar?
  • Opinions on whether it's normal to expect certain roles to feel demanding in this way
  • Maybe some advice

Extra context

What am I concerned about?

My current role would probably be considered a meta community building role. One of the things that has made me update against this being a suitable style of role for me going forward is that (amongst many other things) I have felt quite uniquely worn out by this role. 

Don't get me wrong - this is not the worst job I've ever had and I've learnt a lot and feel good about any potential impact I might have had in my role. My problem is that I often feel like I need to be available to community members at all times of the day on everyday of the week. This is not sustainable for me and even if it was, I don't want to live a life centred around and tethered to my job, even if I believe my job is important and impactful.

I understand that for many EAs, working on something that is positive in expectation (and also acknowledging that it's reasonable to expect that more hours spent on something impactful = more impact in many cases) is a fierce driving force and means that a life spent mostly at work feels net good for them. And I also think it's really admirable - I expect that even someone who loves working long hours near daily probably has to work through some resistance to this, too, on some days.

***(INTERLUDE/EDIT: the paragraph above makes it seem like the problem is long work hours. I think I've confused my point slightly but I'm leaving the paragraph in because I still endorse it. To be clear/more accurate, though, I think my problem is more specifically how I've phrased it above: feeling like I'm needed at all times. It's unclear to me (because I have no experience in such a role) if a role where I could do e.g. deep work for long hours would make me as unhappy as my current role has; I'd be interested to test this, tbh.)***

But for me, I don't think this is healthy. Or at least, it doesn't feel net good for me.

Therefore, I've been scrambling to find a new role in something else. I've been quite eager to explore operations because I have enjoyed operations style work in the past. But I was somewhat alarmed reading this recent post about problems in operations at EA orgs. It seems that they also feel like they're at work all the time: "Employers have unrealistic expectations for ops professionals. Ops people are expected to do too much in too little time and always be on call."

I'm really worried that I'll never be able to find an impactful job that doesn't require me to overwork myself. I understand that there are some other fun dynamics at play here - competition for roles, signalling about seriousness/commitment to doing good, social dynamics[1], etc. These dynamics might mean that I'm just not the right kind of person to be working at an EA org altogether - perhaps we want only the people who are dedicated enough to be happy to be on call always? Maybe the capability/desire/willingness to do this is a proxy for "talent"? I see echoes of this sentiment across the forum and I welcome you to express this in a comment if this is your opinion because I'd like to hear more of these opinions (I think people suppress what they actually think about this sometimes - "this" being the suitability of EA and EA org roles for different kinds of people). 

What exactly am I looking for reassurance about?

Ideally, people would answer this question with either:

  • Some reassurance that they are in a job role where they don't have to be on call all the time, with a description of the job role
  • Reassurance that they are in a role where they could be on call all the time, but it's been possible to set up their work environment with the right boundaries/norms such that they don't feel that they're on call all the time. How? Do you experience any negatives from doing this, e.g. judgement from others, bottlenecking others, etc.?
  • Maybe contributions from people who also feel that this is an issue they're facing - this might be an imagined issue on my part, I wonder if there are others who are also worried/experiencing related issues?
  • Opinions on whether it's normal to expect certain roles to feel demanding in this way
  • Maybe some advice 
  1. ^

    So the social dynamics bit is really interesting to me. I have (too) many thoughts on this and I'll write some real posts in the near future detailing some observations from doing meta/community building stuff first hand. I wanted to add a footnote to explain: I have a few (actually many on reflection) wonderful EA friends who support me a lot and encourage me to set more boundaries and I have and it does help somewhat. But man, do I feel a strong sense of judgement from some others when I do this. It's hard for me to know whether this is a me-issue or a them-issue or whether there's even an issue here. Regardless, I do think the feeling of judgement from others is actually a fairly common motivator within EA and I'm unsure how I feel about it. Where it's useful I guess it's good. I do sometimes wish that we were a little nicer/more considerate to each other within the community, though. 

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I’m really sorry you’re feeling this way!

I wanted to add my personal perspective. I joined CEA in September, after a career in journalism. One of the things I was most delighted by when I joined was just how good the work-life balance was — so, so much better than in any other job I’ve had. I didn’t feel any obligation to work evenings or weekends, and indeed was actively encouraged not to (my boss, Max, didn’t have Slack on his phone and left his work laptop at the office when he went home — which set a really good example for the rest of us). I also really liked the flexibility to build my work schedule around my preferences — I much prefer starting work a bit later and working later at night, or taking time off during the week and making up for it at the weekend, and I was able to do that here. I think those first couple months at CEA were the best and healthiest work time I’ve had.

Then… FTX collapsed, and everything got awful. My experience here was not representative of the average, but me and some others were working a horrific amount — there was a period of a couple weeks where I was doing ~18 hour days, 7 days a week. That wasn’t fun. My motivations here were a real mix — there was an endless mountain of stuff that needed doing, and I felt like I had to help do it both because it was my responsibility, because of my job, and also because I thought it was important for the world, because I care about EA. I did think about quitting back then, and I think people would have understood if I had; but I didn’t because I felt it was worth sticking around.

But as bad as that period was, I don’t think it’s at all representative of most people’s experience, or even my experience most of the time — in December/January/February things were a lot better, though I was still working a lot. I’m hoping that we get back to the September state though, and March has been promising so far. I just bring up the November period because it would feel disingenuous not to.

Even through the horrific crisis period, I’ve felt extremely supported by CEA. Caitlin, our head of people ops, actively encouraged me to drop down to four days a week for a while, which was a very good idea (my pay remained the same); she also pushed me to take a proper holiday as soon as I was able to (I’m taking next week off, and plan to be completely work-offline). When I’ve had similarly stressful periods in other, non-EA jobs, I received ~no support.

All of which is to say: in my experience, work-life balance has been very good at CEA, and even in the worst-imaginable periods, people have been looking out for me.

Hi! I've been working full time in operations at EA orgs for 6 years (3.5 years at the Center on Long-Term Risk and 2.5 at the Legal Priorities Project). I rarely ever work past 6 pm and ~never on weekends, and have had colleagues with similar boundaries. Everyone I've worked with has been extremely respectful of those boundaries.

When deciding whether to take a job, I think it's possible to tell your potential employer something like "I'm willing to work X hours per week, I'm not willing to do Y, etc. Do you still want to hire me?" And let them decide. Similarly, I think recruiters should always share the worst parts about the job before hiring someone (more on this here). And if they don't, you can always ask.

Good luck!

Thanks so much for your answer! It's quite reassuring to hear and also, I have thought about being quite forthright with employers as you've suggested, but have kind of squirmed at the thought of actually doing it - this is a little confidence boost to exercise some agency for me, so very grateful you took the time to answer!

Thanks for your question, seems like a good discussion to have here!

To give some background on my role: I work at 80,000 Hours as head of 1on1 (which means managing a team of 7 people working on a few different products) and I’m a grant manager for the EA Infrastructure Fund. Right now 80,000 Hours’ CEO has been seconded to EV, so I’m pitching in with some misc 80k things like running this year’s funding round.

I’ve definitely had times of feeling the problem you describe acutely. I think the drive to help people, and to do so as much as we can, can make it feel like all your time should go to it. And then being surrounded by likeminded people who are ambitiously trying to do good makes it feel like even if you’re switching off, others might need something from you.

Right now, I feel pretty good about where I’m at. I have pretty explicit ‘on’ and ‘off’ times. My ‘on’ times are on the long side. I definitely work more than 40 hours a week. But that works for me - I used to work long hours as a grad student too. I’ve had roles where I worked fewer hours not because there was less to do but because I found the work less enjoyable and so wanted to curtail my hours. Whereas now I feel energised to work longer hours. One thing that really helps me is having colleagues who understand the importance of people both working the hours they endorse, and knowing they can get away from everything while they’re not working.

A few general thoughts on this that you might find helpful:

  • I’ve actually found that in some ways working at an EA org allows for more switching off than when I was volunteering. As a student volunteer, it was hard to have designated times for doing EA things, and they felt more important than my studies. So I was less in the frame of mind of figuring out how to switch off from them. Whereas it’s more natural to need time properly away from your actual job.
  • I’ve generally found it easier to switch off from roles that are more junior in whatever organisation I’m in. That means working somewhere as an employee can work better than being a community builder, even though the latter sounds more flexible. The reason is that as a junior person in an organisation, there’s always someone else who can handle questions etc while you’re away, unlike if you’re the leader of your local group.
  • Having particular norms can also make a difference: for example 80k has a clear expectation that Signal rather than email/slack is used for urgent communications (and it’s only used for urgent communications), and also that everyone notes on the calendar and also on slack if they’re going on holiday. That means that while I’m away I don’t feel I need to check slack or email - I know that everyone knows I’m away and that they’ll signal me if there’s anything urgent.
  • I try to bear in mind when managing people the importance of work life balance, and also that that looks different for different people. I don’t expect them to work the same hours I do, and have directs who do a wide variety of hours. I aim to have a sense of which hours they work and their communication preferences. Eg some people are happy to get emails etc whenever I want to send them knowing they don’t have to look at them, others would prefer only getting messages during their working hours. With email it’s easy to schedule messages to go out at times people will be fine getting them, with slack I try to pay attention to when I send them. I try to keep a rough track of how much time off each of my directs is taking and whether that’s the amount they endorse, and if it isn’t to prompt them to book holiday.   

Thank you, Michelle, for your detailed answer! It’s comforting to hear that you’ve felt this but currently feel good about where you’re at, gives me some hope!

 

Your general thoughts are extremely helpful, you’ve really hit the nail on the head:

  • I have wondered if this issue might be quite closely tied to the fact that I’m a student and most of everyone I’m working with is also a student. I’ve found it difficult sometimes to get buy-in on certain norms and think this would possibly be easier in a context where people are actually employed as opposed to
... (read more)

Hey! Cristina here. I work as a Special Projects Coordinator (which is an ops role) at Rethink Priorities providing ops services to internal and external new projects. I'm not only not required to be on call all the time (unless I'm providing events support on the ground in which case I'm asked to take time off afterwards to balance that off), it's in fact discouraged at RP, my team (Special Projects) and more specifically with my manager.

Thank you for your answer! Quite encouraging to hear (what in my opinion is) a really healthy attitude coming from the top down at RP!

I work as a project manager for property projects in the US for EV Ops. The nature of my work (dealing with construction contractors, furniture installers etc) means that I often have to work before 9am or after 5pm, as well as on weekends (and generally be willing to take calls at anytime of the week without notice). In general I've worked more than 40 hours a week for the past year, but at no point have I felt like that was expected of me (and on multiple occasions my manager asked me to stop working more than I need to and to take more time off/rest more). My observation of work culture within EV orgs is that people are super encouraging of colleagues taking time off and that most people do take time off in a regular and healthy way.

Thank you, Kaleem! If you see this comment and are ok with sharing, what was it that prompted your manager to ask you to stop working as much? Was it just the sheer number of hours flagging to them as above "normal" or are there some concrete signs we can use to tell when others should take a break of some kind?

My impression is that if people work on weekends or after hours, it's often because they want to - I personally find it very exciting and gratifying to be able to contribute to other EA projects in my free time and interact with so many altruistic, like-minded people! I have rarely heard of this being a hard expectation though.

If anything, the EA community is more encouraging of people taking time off and taking care of their mental health because we want people to have more impact in the long-run rather than have burnout and basically 0 impact after that.

Lastly, my sense is this depends heavily on the role. As a charity entrepreneur, you might need to work longer hours especially in the beginning, but there are plenty of "normal jobs" out there where time is tracked and overtime is the exception, not the rule. :)

P. S. : Reach out to me if you want to chat about this or would like some support. ❤️

Thank you, Moritz, for your answer! I'd agree that I don't really see this as anyone setting hard expectations - for this reason I think that at least part of an effective solution for me here is to do some personal work; why do I feel some sense of external pressure even though when I ask most EAs, they're supportive of healthy working habits? It's possible some part of me (maybe the part responsible for impostor syndrome) has over updated on the opinions of very few people about how much I should be doing and ignored the vast majority of EAs who encourage a healthier approach. 

P.S.: thank you for offering this, if I can figure out the whole anonymity thing, I may well reach out!

This matches my experience working at CEA and Founders Pledge. I used to work at a startup and a bunch of my friends work in startups and the experience seems similar.

I agree that it mostly depends on the role, the culture of the org and individual but it’s very possible to not work evenings and weekends.

1
anotherEAonaburner
1y
Thank you, Ben, for your reassuring two cents!

Hi! As background, I work at CEA's as their Head of People Operations. I've been with CEA about six years.

First, I'm sorry you are currently having this experience. Second, I want to echo other people's sentiments that there are roles and managers within EA orgs where the expectations not be the stressful "on call all the time" setup.

My aim for everyone who works at CEA is that they have a work structure that's sustainable for them, where sustainability means "starts each week feeling energized" not "is able to physically continue doing this." I can't claim that we always meeting this goal for all staff, of course, but it's certainly the aim. Different people need different work setups to thrive and I think a minority of people can sustainably work in the "always on call" mode you describe. I try to support all of our teams in helping people figure out what structure will be ideal, and I'm much more frequently in the position of encouraging people to take more time off, be more protective of their weekends, etc. than the reverse. Many people at CEA have strict work-life boundaries as you describe. I am personally protective of my evenings and weekends.

I think Alfredo's advice of being clear with prospective employers about what you are and aren't willing to do is great. I'd generally respond positively to someone communicating clearly about that in a job interview.

Hi, sorry to hear about your experience.

I've had several EA roles, mostly community-building: Co-founder (Giving What We Can: Oxford), Director of Community (Giving What We Can), Executive Director (The Life You Can Save), Logistics Manager (CEA), Communications Officer (LEAN, Rethink Charity), Strategy Director (EA London), Personal Assistant (various), Founder (Pineapple Operations).

As far as I can remember, the only times I've worked more than full-time are when I've decided to take on different roles simultaneously or when I've been my own boss. I don't recall feeling constantly on-call in any role except when I've run retreats, and I don't recall feeling pressure from others to work more than full-time or to be constantly on-call.

I hope that being able to point to some of the answers here helps you establish healthier boundaries going forwards.

Hi, sorry to hear about your experience! I work in a research/project management-type role. My workload fluctuates a huge amount by week, and I do typically work long hours, but even when I have a particularly heavy week, it hardly ever feels like I'm "on call." Within a week, I can largely organize my work as I see fit and I believe this is mostly true for my colleagues in similar roles; the only time we behave as if we are on call is for major deadlines. I occasionally take meetings at weird times due to international partnerships, but always with plenty of advance notice.

And actually, when it comes to ops roles, our head of ops is very encouraging of people protecting their vacation time. I give her a ton of credit for being thoughtful and intentional about how to develop a healthy culture around working hours/protected time, especially given that we're an international organization spread out across time zones. Of course it mattered that she's one of the co-founders and could lay out reasonable expectations--ie, she wasn't going to always be on call, and wouldn't expect anyone else to.

I think unquestionably certain roles are more demanding in hours, responsiveness, or both, but that should be made clear in job descriptions or interviews, and hopefully allow you to make an informed decision--eg, one former colleague was hired for a comms role explicitly described as involving "rapid response," so you can predict that would put you more on call than other roles at the same org.  

So basically, my sense is that:
a) roles in ops & events management will have more "fires to put out" than other roles in the same organization, but also 
b) ops will have more "fires" at some organizations than others, and
c) if someone at a high enough level cares, they can just lay out norms, and that will shape org culture. 

Thank you, Gavriel! 

Kind of random question if you see this: in your role, how many meetings do you expect to have in a typical week and what is the nature of these meetings? Are they long/short, can someone book a meeting with you at any time during your working hours?

0
Gavriel Kleinwaks
1y
My typical week has 4-6 meetings. I usually have 3 standing meetings: staff meeting, a check-in with my boss, and a meeting with a project collaborator. Then each week I usually wind up having 1-3 extra one-off meetings related to projects, like a check-in with a contractor, an informational meeting with a researcher, or a brainstorming session with a colleague. Internal meetings tend to be 60-90 minutes whereas one-offs with external parties tend to be 30-40 minutes. If eg project schedules sync in a weird way, I might get up to 8 meetings, but that's uncommon. (Some of my colleagues have much more meeting-heavy schedules; it depends on the project and what stage they're on.) In terms of booking: I find my existing meeting schedule very easy to handle, and place a high value on personally being helpful and accessible to others. So I've intentionally set up my Calendly to show slots at any time during my working hours and to be book-able on fairly short notice. But that's totally self-motivated! (Due to working fully remotely, I actually legitimately like having a meeting to break up the day.)
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