In the summer of 2014 I created a survey to ask my colleagues about workplace culture in their museums. I was pleased to hear from just under 200 of you from across the country. Thank you for lending your voice to the study!
Worst. Job. Ever?
Below are highlights from a presentation I gave at the New England Museum Association annual conference, November 2014. It highlights the results of my 2014 survey of museum workplace culture.
Unhappiness at work is not just a museum problem– let’s be clear. Many people are unhappy at work. A recent Gallup poll says only one in eight workers are likely to be making positive contributions to their organizations. While there is lots of bad news in the survey results, there is also good news. We work with people we like and we want to work together. And while we want an increase in pay, some of our most fulfilling moments at work are when we are working with our teams, are recognized for our hard work, and when we see the mission being carried out. The below results are interesting because they show that engagement is perceived as important, as well as enjoying coworkers. Also, flexible benefits are perceived as less important even though they are often mentioned as tangible “perks” in the workplace. This was a sliding scale-type question. Most people fell in the middle of the spectrum– not too good, but not too bad. Just an “average” workplace. (Isn’t that uninspiring?) When analyzed for age, those who said they were happy at work were either under 35 (Gen Y), or over 48 (Boomers). The answers to this question were the most interesting and enlightening. They tell us that workplace culture is an issue workers are thinking about. By the nature of the responses, not only are people thinking about it, they are also wanting to take action, or they already have. The answers to this question are heartbreaking. These actions are inexcusable. I was prepared to see “People not getting paid what they are worth”, but not being appreciated? Recognition and appreciation are free. What is holding us back from appreciating our colleagues? The personal stories of harassment, intimidation, and bullying were simply terrible. Museum workers should not go through this. However bad the workplace may seem, there is hope because of strong collaboration and friendship within the museum workforce. (This comes as no surprise to me, as I have met incredible friends and mentors during my time in museums.) Unfortunately, positive communication strategies and efforts to create work/life balance are not as widely seen as they should be; perhaps this is why we see the negative experiences mentioned earlier. We shouldn’t be surprised that pay is a sore point with museum employees; the majority of respondents said it would solve a problem, if not more than one problem. However, almost equally important is appreciation and transparency in making the culture better. I believe this is something museum leadership should investigate to improve their culture. Unfortunately, almost half of respondents think a change of leadership is in order, and 5% think that nothing can be done. Do we really feel that helpless? Where do we turn for help? Unsurprisingly, the majority of us will speak with a colleague about our concerns. Encouragingly, just under half of the respondents feel like they can share concerns with their boss, although the effectiveness of this was not asked. Unfortunately, only 12% of respondents feel comfortable speaking with HR. This came across strongly in the free-form questions, where respondents said that HR departments don’t exist in their museums, they are poorly staffed, or the persons responsible for the HR role are perceived as poorly trained and unprofessional.
These results show there is HUGE waste of time and talent because of negative workplace culture. What a waste! From looking at jobs “on a daily basis” to “not trying,” we are doing a huge disservice to our audiences we love and our coworkers we equally love. Just imagine how much more effective we could be in changing the world if we weren’t going on 2 hour lunches, gossiping, or hitting refresh on the NEMA jobs page!
Although this survey showed unhappiness in many museum workers, all is not lost. I firmly believe that with some understanding of the issues and a sincere intention to improve our situations, we can make work better for all museum workers. To get started, I’ve compiled tips for museum leadership, and some for the rest of us. Follow this project on Facebook and Twitter and let me know how you are making the museum world better.