One of the hottest topics in the museum space is the great resignation.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, over 8 million US employees quit their jobs in August and September.  Over 10 million jobs are currently available in the US.  While the museum sector has not seen the level of employee resignations that some other industries have, we are not immune to the trend.

Most museums are small businesses.  We have fewer than 30 employees and most of our team members juggle many diverse roles every day.  Due staff limitations, our number of programming hours, and the overall number of tasks it takes to run a museum, we demand a lot from our employees compared to many other industries.  Making things more challenging, most museums face financial limitations that make it difficult to compete against larger companies for talent.

So how do museums retain our best employees and recruit quality new employees during this challenging time.  Find out what is truly important to each of your employee.  Generally speaking, the way employee overall compensation and incentives is managed is tremendously inefficient.  We provide employees a package of salary and benefits the same way Henry Ford thought about cars, “You can get whatever you want as long as its black.”  Instead of offering cookie cutter incentives, find out what is important to each employee and customize each plan to the individual.  Ironically, there is nothing new here.  This is what small businesses have done when competing for customers for decades.  They create products and services that match a defined customer base’s functional, emotional, and social need.  This is simply a different application of the same theory.

Think of employment as a partnership, not a superior-subordinate relationship.  I worked with an amazing team member for years whose most important incentive was picking which days of the week she worked.  I gave her flexibility in her work schedule, and she was one of the hardest working and most loyal employees on my team.  A good friend of mine that works at a larger museum in Florida highly values the ability to leave for 45 minutes every afternoon to pick her son up from work.  She has told me that she would never consider leaving the job because her museum has gone out of their way to respect that she is a single mom and sometimes needs to take care of family issues during the day.  Simply customizations like the ones listed here can make the difference between an employee staying or moving on.  The step is engaging meaningful conversations with your key team members.  Find out what matters to them.  In some cases, what matters most is actually being heard even if you can’t fully offer what they need.

Remember more than anything else that people want to be inspired.  They want to do work that makes a meaningful impact in the world, and they want to feel fulfilled by their work.  Sources differ on the exact percentage, but a high number of the people that make up the current great resignation are leaving their jobs for reasons other than compensation.  They are leaving for work environments that better match their lives.

As a museum leader, you may not be able to be competitive with other organizations when it comes to financial compensation, but you can be competitive related to overall work experience.  Follow these tips and you will become an employer of choice even if you can’t offer the same financial compensation as other organizations.

Article by Frank Bennett

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