Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Precarity in the Nonprofit Employment Services Sector

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Precarity in the Nonprofit Employment Services Sector

Article excerpt

THIS ARTICLE ADDS TO THE GROWING BODY of literature exploring the experiences of organizational and workplace precarity within nonprofit employment services agencies. It considers how precarity in nonprofit workplaces in a mid-sized Canadian city is connected to neoliberal reforms in funding and performance-based outcomes, and how workers seek to manage their own sense of insecurity while providing employment support services. Existing literature documents the rise of employment precarity in the nonprofit sector in Ontario and Canada, connecting this to the processes of marketization and government devolution. Drawing on original interviews and focus group data with frontline staff and managers in the employment services sector, this article addresses a pervasive sense of precarity in relation to organizational sustainability and workplace insecurity, and connects this sense of precarity to a shift away from core program to contract-based funding. Our findings also show how the parallel movement away from process measurement to outcomes-based funding has detrimentally impacted service delivery as greater resources are consumed to meet data tracking requirements.

Overall, our study's results demonstrate how employment precarity in the nonprofit employment services sector is amplified by top-down and centralized relationships with funding partners and policymaking divorced from the employment experiences of frontline staff. The resulting transfer of responsibility without additional power over funding streams to the nonprofit sector intensifies organizational and individual precarity, while state actors continue to exert considerable power while devolving responsibility. Our research also shows how workers attempt to manage their own precarity via engagement in required outcomes-based techniques while, at times, also taking risks that may make their own work more precarious in efforts to address client needs. For our study's participants, managing precarity appeared to have important implications for the emotional and mental health of workers, who must not only cope with their own sense of workplace precarity but also with their clients' difficult emotional situations. We subsequently contend that it is important to work against rising precarity among frontline staff of nonprofit employment services to ameliorate organizational and workplace conditions and create environments more supportive of optimal employment support services. Our analysis points to the need for more holistic measures of so-called positive outcomes and worker-centered reforms that enhance and strengthen both service delivery and workplaces within nonprofit employment services organizations.

METHODOLOGY

Data for this article were drawn from a multisited, cross-national collaborative ethnographic (Lassiter 2005; Lassiter and Campbell 2010) and community-engaged (Aldrich and Marterella 2014) study of long-term unemployment. The study utilized a critical occupational science perspective (Laliberte Rudman 2010, 2015; Njelesani et al. 2013) that drew on both governmentality theory (Brady 2014; Soss, Fording, and Schram 2011) and critical political economy approaches (Baines 2006; Evans, Richmond, and Shields 2005) to understand how everyday activities (or, occupations) are shaped by possibilities and boundaries embedded in discursively shaped social support services. This four-phase study generated data with organizational stakeholders, frontline service providers, and people experiencing long-term unemployment in Ontario, Canada, and Missouri, USA. These international regions were investigated because of their comparability in relation to both being mid-size cities (populated by ~300,000 residents) that have undergone economic transformations following reductions in the manufacturing industry and have comparable average durations of unemployment following the 2008 recession (Statistics Canada 2016; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016). …

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