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San Francisco Symphony Reviews

Updated July 17, 2017
25 reviews

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25 Employee Reviews

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  1. Helpful (5)

    "You've been warned"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Marketing in San Francisco, CA
    Former Employee - Marketing in San Francisco, CA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    I worked at San Francisco Symphony (More than 5 years)

    Pros

    + Access to amazing music
    + Working with people who are incredibly passionate about their work
    + World-renowned institution that looks good on your resume and gives you a unique edge

    Cons

    - The Symphony banks on the fact that so many people who are passionate about music and the arts would love to work there. I was told shortly after I was hired that over 300 people had applied for my role. Did it make me feel special? Sure. But Symphony management does not promote from within, does not willingly give raises or recognition to employees who do good work, and make no effort to retain quality talent because there are thousands of people out there who will do the same job for less money just for the ability to work at the San Francisco Symphony. I worked there for several years and saw incredibly talented, passionate people leave because they were burnt out and couldn't sustain a life (not a lifestyle. a LIFE. bare minimum.) on Symphony salaries. Employees would ask for well-deserved raises and be turned down, and the Symphony would cast their net again and start with another bright-eyed talent who was "just happy to be there." It's a vicious cycle.
    - There is no work-life balance. Your social life is the Symphony. At first it's very exciting and glamorous. Your friends will think it's special when you get to invite them. But when your social calendar revolves around dates meeting you at intermission for the last half of a concert, or friends coming to a performance and grabbing a glass of wine at 10:00 after the show, that's not a life. You are expected to attend performances. It may seem optional but if you don't ever go, it will be noticed.

    I wouldn't let my best friend work there. This isn't a hypothetical: my best friend wanted to apply for a job there a few months ago, and another (current) SFS employee and I talked her out of it.

    Advice to Management

    Listen to your employees. No one works there for the money. They work there because they care deeply: either about classical music, about performing arts, about culture, about the city of San Francisco, or about bringing something beautiful to other people's lives, especially during these trying times. Everyone is smart, everyone is passionate and no one is there for the money. If you won't trust them, trust that.


  2. Helpful (3)

    "difficult place to work"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at San Francisco Symphony full-time

    Pros

    Decent benefits and the opportunity to see a select few concerts for free.

    Cons

    A few folks on the leadership team need a lot of management training. The turnover at the organization is ridiculous because of the poor way employees are managed and the lack of appreciation for the people on the front lines.

    Advice to Management

    Invest in your employees. I've seen some very smart and dedicated people leave the organization because of the lack of investment the organization has made to show employees that the leadership team cares.

  3. Helpful (6)

    "I wouldn't, if I were you"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at San Francisco Symphony full-time

    Pros

    Working at the Symphony is a joy if you love classical music and are stimulated by a fast-paced environment. Things change and move quickly and sometimes it’s a challenge to keep up, but the employees are a passionate and resourceful bunch. They are, for the most part, deeply invested in the organization’s mission and come to work knowing that they’re doing something they love.

    Cons

    Lack of Communication
    Decisions are made from on high with no explanation or rationale offered to employees. This is made more problematic when the decisions seem to directly contradict the Symphony’s mission. Leadership has been reticent and even patronizing in light of employee requests for more transparent communication.

    Musicians v Administration
    Although they work for the same organization, musicians and administrators do not interact. They are unaware of how the other group operates or what it does, leading to an infuriating degree of miscommunication, misunderstanding, and noncooperation.

    Staff as Second Class Citizens
    The staff is not allowed to park in the Symphony lot unless no musician needs to park. The staff is not represented by any union and has little recourse to management while the musicians are protected by their union and sit down with management to renegotiate their contract every few years. For the first four years of employment, staff get ten days of vacation time, musicians get ten weeks. And let's not even talk about salaries.

    General Panic
    When it comes to putting out fires (of which there are many) there is no long-term planning on the part of management, just day-to-day survival. This leads to chaos and a sense of utter futility for the people trying to implement each half-baked, myopic idea day in and day out.

    Staff Morale
    The staff is an eclectic bunch and together they try to keep each other engaged and happy. The fact that staff-lead initiatives are begrudgingly tolerated by leadership is rather demoralizing. Even as employees accept low salary and very limited vacation time the powers that be can’t see that a few initiatives dedicated to lifting morale could actually make a huge difference for the organization as a whole. Emotional intelligence? Nada.

    Advice to Management

    Plan more than one day in advance. Stop letting all your best employees leave prematurely but also don't assume that they will stay forever. Encourage job growth and development. Listen to the people under you. Take an honest look at the numbers and try to get to the heart of what's going on (regarding ticket sales, turnover, fundraising, everything!).


  4. Helpful (5)

    "In pretty bad shape right now..."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I have been working at San Francisco Symphony full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    free tickets; staff who are passionate about the work they do

    Cons

    lack of leadership; director-level employees with little or no management experience; lack of mentorship; limited opportunities for growth; no strategic plan or vision

    Advice to Management

    take the time to hire qualified individuals; don't promote people just for the sake of plugging holes - you're setting them up to fail; invest in your staff and provide opportunities for professional development


  5. Helpful (6)

    "Great orchestra with huge community impact, in spite of poor staff morale/poor leadership"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook
    No opinion of CEO

    I worked at San Francisco Symphony full-time

    Pros

    --The orchestra is fabulous, high profile, and doing great things for the wider world of music.
    --The organization pursues innovative projects and new directions in a moribund industry.
    --It will certainly look good on your resume, especially if this is the industry you want to work in.
    --There are perks like free tickets, attendance at rehearsals and other events, etc.
    --Most employees are smart, cultured, motivated people who are enjoyable to work with.
    --Unlike other reviewers, I think there is room to grow your career and find new opportunities here. The Symphony is pretty good at this. Several coworkers switched jobs while I was there, moving into better paying roles with more/different responsibility. I was promoted while I was there.

    Cons

    --The staff morale is very, very low. The heads of the various divisions are, for the most part, not effective leaders, and managers don't seem to care if their reports hate the place or their jobs.
    --Turnover is constant and very disruptive. Some teams (including marketing and development) turned over almost in their entirety in the few years I was there - something like 30+ people.
    --Flipside of the career advancement opportunities - the Peter Principle is definitely at work. I have seen people promoted beyond their competence, and there were a small handful of really bad hires while I was there. The best employees tend to leave.
    --Entire teams are shoehorned into poorly designed office space (or closets serving as office space). The development team is located in a satellite office which is just flat-out terrible for their morale and job effectiveness.
    --My pay was good but other pay is very low. The fact that the orchestra itself was willing to strike a few years ago because the annual guaranteed raise on their 6-figure incomes wasn't big enough was a huge slap in the face to the staff who work like banshees to ensure the musicians can get paid in the first place. More generally, the musicians are aggressively clueless about the staff's work and conditions. It is infuriating.
    --The organization has no idea how to fix its financial difficulties. People are continually working at cross-purposes with one another. Departments do not collaborate the way they have to. The attitude that "this is just how this industry works" is beyond absurd. I hasten to add that this is an existential crisis in the whole industry, not just at the SF Symphony.
    --It's hard to deal with the paradox of being at an org that's recognized as an industry leader, and that is taking on innovative new projects and winning awards left and right, yet simultaneously feels like a totally outmoded/backwards workplace with low morale, high turnover, etc.

    Advice to Management

    The org is supposed to get a new executive director in 2017 and that will certainly change things. I'm sure everyone is hoping it will. Management is in a really tough spot, I recognize. The bifurcation between the staff and the orchestra (in terms of pay, job satisfaction, level of awareness/education about the working conditions of one another, etc) and the puzzling silos all of the staff occupy are big problems that will not easily be solved.


  6. Helpful (6)

    "Program Manager"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook

    I worked at San Francisco Symphony full-time (Less than a year)

    Pros

    So many passionate, dedicated people in the organization; free concerts

    Cons

    Terrible staff morale - Management is aware and yet many choose to do nothing about it; bad vacation policy


  7. Helpful (8)

    "Long hours, low pay, bad management"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Former Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Positive Outlook
    Disapproves of CEO

    Pros

    Great orchestra and interesting repertoire, including world premieres and excellent programs for families. Dedicated hardworking staff. Good location in Hayes Valley.

    Cons

    Management does not fill vacant positions for years and expects staff to do all the extra work. Sometimes even working 12 hrs days with no extra compensation or thanks. Insult to injury is that leadership micromanages most employees. Hence, exceedingly hire turnover and little institutional knowledge remains.
    Everyone is reinventing the wheel.

    Senior level staff sexist. Would rather hire less qualified males for senior level jobs than to hire a qualified female.

    Programming appeals mostly to affluent, white, San Francisco seniors and families.

    Advice to Management

    Appreciate staff and hire qualified females and males for open positions. Recognize when employees go the extra mile and compensate them. Hire temp employees to help out until positions are filled. Pay employees better salaries for their hard work and dedication. Stop micromanaging and trust staff that you hire!

    Program fewer concerts as there is more supply than demand and most concerts require multiple discounts to fill seats. Too many concerts to effectively fundraise for or market well. Program more contemporary music and programs that will appeal to more diverse audiences.

    San Francisco Symphony Response

    Aug 4, 2016 – HR Business Partner

    Thank you for this feedback. We appreciate that you took the time to express your concerns and we’re very sorry this was your experience. We want to specifically address your concern about the... More

  8. Helpful (5)

    "Please listen to your staff."

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend

    Pros

    Super smart, enthusiastic co-workers. Access to fantastic concerts. Casual dress.

    Cons

    Lack of vision, no one ever references the mission statement, staff morale is at an all-time low. Turnover is a SERIOUS problem because retention doesn't seem to be an important issue. There's an overall lack of communication between departments that requires upper management to get involved. An overall feeling that upper management isn't concerned with their employees' career path or work/life balance.

    Advice to Management

    Listen to your staff. Let's be honest, the people working here aren't doing it for the "spectacular" pay check. They are here because they believe in the Symphony and know that it can be so much better than it is. Your staff has incredible ideas and suggestions, but they are never asked. Encourage better communication between upper and lower management, and please help cultivate a better working environment. Help your employees feel important and help carve a career path--whether or not it's with the Symphony. The people here want to be here, but not if they don't feel important and especially if they are not given the opportunity to grow within the company. Your staff is your most valuable asset but it never feels this way.


  9. Helpful (4)

    "wish I can recommend this place"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Current Employee - Anonymous Employee
    Doesn't Recommend
    Negative Outlook

    I have been working at San Francisco Symphony full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    Access to one of the top orchestras and artists in the world, SoundBox, close to many forms of public transit. MTT is a great leader in the music field, and it is a treat to be able to hear him speak sometimes.

    Cons

    There's a reason for the high turnover. The people in upper management couldn't care less for any staff member who isn't part of the orchestra or part of a wealthy social circle. It is sad to see this organization run so poorly with ineffective, unqualified people with director titles who seem to be here just to be associated with an organization with a prestigious name. People leave because there is no chance for job and professional growth. Upper management stay because they know that no one can fire them even when they are performing badly. (Departments with 100% turnover still have the same director in charge.) I have seen so many good and talented people forced to leave this place, just because there is literally nowhere to go from the job you initially applied for, and there is no leadership of any kind to make things right. To make things even more interesting, there is also no job training from HR so most new staff are set-up to fail from day one.

    Advice to Management

    Perhaps consider trying something new—maybe some attempts to retain and trust the staff? Let go of people who have been at the organization for one too many years who have not contributed anything significant to the organization; let go of how things used to be, and start looking into the future. There are still plenty of passionate staff here who want to make things better, and want to see this organization succeed. It's hard, we know. This is why we are in this field, and are still trying to make it work. Don't take the "if it ain't baroque, don't fix it" phrase too literally. Because it's been seriously baroque-n for years.


  10. Helpful (6)

    "Coordinator"

    StarStarStarStarStar
    • Work/Life Balance
    • Culture & Values
    • Career Opportunities
    • Comp & Benefits
    • Senior Management
    Former Employee - Coordinator in San Francisco, CA
    Former Employee - Coordinator in San Francisco, CA
    Doesn't Recommend
    Neutral Outlook

    I worked at San Francisco Symphony full-time (More than a year)

    Pros

    music is fantastic as they draw some of the best talent in the word. Smart co-workers and overall enjoyable work environment

    Cons

    low pay for long hours, work/life balance needs improvment


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