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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

We love and loathe working in the third sector

This feature is over 9 years old

Susan Smith examines a new major report into the third sector workplace, which reveals the worries and triumphs that come with working for a charity

People working in Scotland’s third sector are inspired by their jobs but low pay and lack of job security are major concerns, according to the first research into working conditions in a decade. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) 2015 workforce research included a survey of more than 1,000 people working in the third sector. Nine out of ten people said they were happy with the nature of their work and three quarters generally enjoy their job and environment. However, despite this, high levels of dissatisfaction about pay and job security mean that half of staff are looking for a new job in the next 12 months.

This is significantly higher than the average in other sectors of around a third. And despite liking the ethos of the third sector, only one in five people are looking for a new job in another voluntary organisation.

The biggest gripe amongst third-sector workers in Scotlandis pay, with 39% of staff saying they were dissatisfied with theamount they are paid. Analysis of jobs advertised in Goodmoves over the last year revealed that average salaries continue to remain below other sectors.

Although the average UK salary is £26,500, a typical third sector development worker is paid on average £23,987. And despite mainstream media stories about fat cat chief executive salaries, the average salary for the top job in Scottish charities is just £46,756.

The survey found that staff recognise that the third sector does not pay well, as only a fifth reported that their wage was unfair compared to others in the sector. However two thirds said it was unfair in comparison to other sectors.

Around half of people surveyed said that they believe their organisation currently pays the living wage and half of respondents had been awarded a cost of living increase in the last year. However, of those that hadn’t received an increase in their salary to reflect inflation, 17% said they hadn’t received a cost of living rise since 2009 or earlier.

Job security came a close second as a cause of complaint amongst third sector staff, with 38% saying they are dissatisfied in this area.

Staff blame short-term funding in the sector for creating job insecurity which means that even those on permanent contracts worry every year if they will still have a job. John Downie, director ofpublic affairs at SCVO, said: “Working in the third sector, we are surrounded by passionate and driven colleagues who clearly love their jobs. Therefore, I’m not at all surprised by how happy people are with the work they do and the ethos of the sector.

Survey response: “Working for Penumbra is the most satisfied I have felt in my work”

“It is disappointing however that so many feel underpaid and are left worrying about whethe rtheir job will still exist in a few months.The days of the third-sectorbeing seen as a cheap alternative should be long gone – the sector is continually proving that it provides professional and successful solutions to social problems.“SCVO has also been campaigning for as long as anyone can remember for funders to help provide the sector with more security by committing to at least three-year funding for successful organisations. This research once again demonstrates that failing to support the third sector is undermining its ability to deliver quality services with quality staff.”

The research revealed an overall picture of a predominantly female workforce in the third sector. However, while 64% of staff in the sector are female, just 43% of charities are led by female chief executives and chairs. Just 8 of Scotland’s biggest charities are run by women chief executives, who have an average salary of £98,400 while managing average annual budgets of £37m. People in the third sector appear to enjoy supportive working environments, with 87% saying they are satisfied with their relationship with their colleagues and 73% satisfied with their relationship with their employer.

Three-quarters of people were also pleased with the level of training their organisation provides although poor career progression was one of the key reasons people gave for looking for a new job

The general British culture of working long hours is also echoed in Scotland’s third sector with half of staff reporting that they work extra unpaid hours often or all of the time. A fifth of staff went so far as to say they were expected to work extra hours all of the time. Just over half of staff said they were over-stretched at work and nearly two in three people said their work load had increased inthe last year. Worryingly, given the sector’s reputation for respecting
principles of working life, 40% were not satisfied with their work-life balance. Those surveyed blamed cuts to staffing, increased demand for services, organisations taking on more work but without more staff and unreasonable targets from funders for the pressure they feel they are under.

Shelagh Young, Family Friendly Working Scotland co-ordinator,said that although the third sectoris not alone in struggling to create a good work-life balance for staff,it can do more. “A recent survey of over 1000 families UK-wide, published by Working Families and Bright Horizons last month, showed parents in all sectors are putting in extra hours just to get the job done.

Survey response: “I’ve worked in the third sector for 15 years now, and the relentless, continual, search for funding is really beginning to get me down. It’s demoralising to feel that all you are doing is fundraising, rather than doing the work you’ve raised the funds to do! This is part of the reason I will be leaving the third sector later this year to train for a new career in the public sector”

“Forty-one per cent of parents said that work life is becoming increasingly stressful and we know that stress has negative health impacts which can be costly in terms of family wellbeing and lost workplace productivity.

“Third sector managers and their teams can take steps to change the culture and offer the kind of flexibility that keeps skilled people at work but funders also need to be aware of false economies that undermine positive policies around wellbeing by asking too much of too few people.”

From the SCVO survey findings, staff in Scottish voluntary organisations do appear to be suffering from a worryingly high level of stress. A third of those responding to the survey said they feel stressed at least half of the time at work and one in ten reported having to take time off from their current role due to stress.

Unison Scotland is the biggest trade union representing staff in the third sector, and has said it's aware of lots of staff suffering from stress. Deborah Dyer, Unison regional organiser for the voluntary sector, said: “Without doubt, we meet some good employers in the sector and some lead the way with decent wages and conditions, and have genuine equal opportunities policies.

“However, there are also deep seated problems in the sector. It does not surprise us at all that so many are looking to change jobs.

“For example there are thousands being paid less than the minimum wage in the social care sector, many others have no job security and are on zero hours contracts, and we have lots of members contacting us for support because of the stress.

“We would urge everyone in the sector to join Unison so we can continue to campaign for better pay and conditions in the sector together.”