Do we encourage our employees to leave?

December 7, 2007 at 11:03 am 16 comments

If someone leaves your system for the same job in another (i.e. lateral move), that should get you thinking.

If the average new-employee retention is less two years before they move on to another position, you definitely want to take notice.

If your system sees people leave and then watches them flourish in another position, you shouldn’t brag that “they started off in this system.” It should raise questions as to why your system couldn’t seem to hold on to him/her.

Employee retention has always been difficult in our profession but, sometimes, we unknownngly encourage people to leave.

The list below is a compilation of reasons I’ve heard Librarians give for leaving their positions. If any of these sounds like a familiar complaint of former employees, you may want to consider it, especially from the employee’s perspective.

Pay– Bosses, Directors and Board Members tend to roll their eyes when this issue is brought up. However, this is going to be a key factor for applicants. If two positions are posted and one offers more money than the other it is no surprise which will get more applications. Furthermore, I know several people over the last two years who have earned up to ten thousand dollars a year difference in pay simply by moving, laterally, into another system. How much of a difference can that be? How about the difference of affording your own rent or having to live with someone else.

Vacation and/or Holidays– Some New Jersey Library systems offer 10 days of vacation a year while others offer 24+ days. This does not include federal, personal, floating holidays or sick time. If everything else is equal (pay, benefits, etc.) which system would you rather work for?

Hours and/or Nights– How many nights a week do you require your librarians to work? How many Saturdays and/or Sundays a month?
Yes, we are in public services but we are also highly educated professionals with families, friends and social needs. On the nights that I work I don’t get to see my children or wife. One night is tough enough but two nights a week would be nearly impossible and a bigger strain on my family as it means my wife would have to feed, bathe and put both kids to bed by herself. The effects of working multiple nights are further reaching than just the employee’s schedule.

Professional Investment– Some systems have a budget for training and others do not. Some systems encourage employees to pursue professional interests and others look for a homogeneous staff. Employees who feel invested tend to support their systems and be happier as they know they may not get the same treatment elsewhere. This can also be a big draw for new employees as it shows the system’s interest in professional development. And consider this; the more an employee can pursue their interest, the more they are noticed in the professional realm as an expert in that subject which, in turn, is good for the system’s noticability.

Advancement– A professor once told me that Librarians tend to have to promote themselves and that means they leave the system they are working in. Obviously, we cannot promote everyone as there are fewer positions the higher up we go. But, other than steady employment, what are we doing to encourage these people to stay?

If employees leave because of these reasons it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are in a bad system but it should rasie a warning flag. As systems, we are in competition with each other to employ the best possible professionals. Although we may hire that professional, what are we doing to keep him/her?


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  • 1. Kyle  |  December 7, 2007 at 11:50 am

    I’d be curious to see these reasons broken down by age. I.e. how many Millennial employees leave because of a director’s lack of investment in them (or pay).

    I think you’d see an interesting trend form.

  • 2. Talking Books Librarian  |  December 7, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Great analysis of reasons employees leave…. One thing I like about being a Talking Books librarian is that most TB library positions are M – F, 8 – 5, with no weekend or evening work. A nice perk!

  • 3. Jeff Scott  |  December 7, 2007 at 1:15 pm

    The system should be performing an annual compensation and classification study. This will ensure that pay is equitable. If you are not doing that, you can’t complain that people are leaving for better pay. I had someone leave from a part-time to a full time in another county. That one is tough because it wasn’t in the comp and class realm, but most of the people who work for me get the same pay as any other library in Arizona. Librarians make 41K same as Chandler, Arizona, Mariciopa County, etc.

    This is a common complaint and the burden of nights and weekends should be shared. How can one say one should do more than another? In some systems, everybody wants to work a night or a weekend and it works better for everyone. If one is unfairly taxed, that is a reason to leave, but if you do it along with everyone else, there is not much to say about that. If everyone is committing equally and there are problems, it may need a review of hours of operation.

    Professional investment
    Every library should have a training budget. It should allow as many library staff as possible to go to training, explore their interests, and pay for their trips to conferences etc. Most libraries can only afford to send a few people, and then only higher up, if it can be opened up to everyone, the results are interesting.

    This one is the toughest. Most libraries are fairly flat institutions. They allow pay increases and there is some room for advancement, but not substatial. This has been an issue for me in the last three months. I lost a library assistant to a bigger system with more pay, I lost a librarian to become a library director in a neighboring town, and a I lost a senior library assistant who became a youth librarian in another neighboring city. There is no room for advancement at my small one library system. The only choice is to go to neighboring communities. It will change, but slowly. In the meantime, I will bleed because of it.

  • 4. Peter Bromberg  |  December 7, 2007 at 1:28 pm

    Great post Ty. I think you hit all the biggies!

    I agree with Jeff’s comment that part of the problem is that libraries are fairly flat organization. Often times the only way to move up is to move out. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

    I recently read (sorry no citation) that money is usually not the reason that employees leave. In fact 50% of employees who get a better job offer, and then use that to get a raise from the current employer, end up leaving within a year anyway. Which tells me that money isn’t always the issue.

    As for how do you retain employees? The basics: Some combination of decent pay, decent benefits, decent work environment. Having HR conduct (anonymous) exit interviews and provide summaries to management can be useful in determining whether there are systemic problems that influence employees’ decisions to split. I’m somewhat surprised that exit interviews aren’t more standard.

  • 5. Anonymous  |  December 7, 2007 at 1:47 pm

    Another thing that I’d point out with the hours is the flexibility. This may become even more important with the millenials. I think libraries need to offer more opportunities for things like telecommuting and flex schedules. That’s one of my issues with where I work. I commute 80 miles one way and would love to be able to telecommute one day a week. And we are expected to work a 8-5 or 9-6 schedule.

    As to the evenings and weekends, I wouldn’t mind a bit more pay for being in a position that requires different hours. While I realize that by choosing public services, I would have a more varied schedule than someone in tech services, it does mean that somehow our lives must compensate for this. We cover full weekends, which can be difficult when I want to spend time with my husband or do something personal.

    I have also read that about the pay issue. But enough money can make up for some things sometimes. I’ve worked enough places to know that there isn’t likely to be the perfect workplace and will say that if you pay me enough, I’m more willing to put up with some of those imperfections for a long time.

    I don’t see that there is really much to be done about advancement. The point about there only being so many positions is true. And I wonder if this is such a big issue for all librarians. Perhaps this issue could be remedied somewhat by giving people more responsibilities in their current positions or offering opportunities to work on new projects. I’d be happy to work as a reference librarian for the rest of my career and not be management as long as I continue to have chances to try new things and can take lead on projects that are suitable to my skills and interests.

    As for professional development, some places simply aren’t going to have money in the budget to send people places. But providing on site training opportunities can also alleviate some of this. Online workshops and conferences can also be another idea. Or if there is some money, rotate who gets to go to things each year so that every so many years, your librarians and staff get to go to a conference.

    I think if administrators are willing to use some creativity and work with their staff, much can be done to keep people happy despite limited resources.

  • 6. lemasney  |  December 7, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    Great post!

    I agree that these elements are very often the reason that people will consider a change in position, but I noted that all of these elements are extrinsic in nature. I wonder how many employees who left citing these reasons would have stayed on if they felt intrinsically rewarded?

    How many felt appreciated in ways other than money or time?

    How many felt that the work that they were doing was important, meaningful, and improved life for others?

    How many felt that their feelings were not being considered?

    How many were encoding and sending, but not receiving in terms of communication and intent listening?

    While many will cite money as the reason they’re leaving a job, many of those same people would do the same job for the same money if they were able to adequately sustain their lives while greatly improving their feeling of well being due to their occupation.

    While we should surely consider the relative valence of each of these extrinsic elements for our workers, we should verbally or concretely validate and assess them with workers regularly, and give opportunities for workers to determine and achieve valence for themselves, including intrinsic rewards.

    Thanks for the forum!


  • 7. GeekChic  |  December 7, 2007 at 7:55 pm

    I definitely agree with all of the issues that you have raised – but at some places there is a larger issue: the exhaustion that comes from chronic underfunding and lack of support (this is somewhat larger than the library itself obviously).

    Even though my pay is higher and I get double the vacation (to name just two of the difference between my old job and my current one) – what really drove me out of my last job was being asked to fill 5 positions. It is such a relief to work at a place where funding is definitely not an issue and staffing levels are more than adequate (both are public libraries).

  • 8. Anonymous  |  December 7, 2007 at 10:36 pm

    Why would “Millennials” have any different reasons for leaving that anyone else?

    I’d love to see more people in admin pitching in and helping staff reference and circ desks ESPECIALLY on weekends. This would of course help with the hours issue but it would also help build employee morale and improve communication within the library.

    Would this help with employee retention? It couldn’t hurt.

  • 9. Anonymous  |  December 8, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I almost took a new job (leaving my current job after about a year) in another system (lateral move) for relatively equal pay and benefits simply because my current success went unappreciated and unsupported.

    As a young adult librarian, I had great success in turning a bland and empty teen area into the regular teen hangout. I spent many of my own hours (and money) working to get those kids in and to provide outstanding programs. But admin responded poorly and trouble with noise and typical teen behavior balooned. Soon, the programs I once enjoyed holding, became a nightmare. One librarian for over 50 kids on a regular basis. Ultimately, I left the position to work in a different, better-supported department.

    My super said I was a victim of my own success, that I would have to “cut back” on programming. Why anyone should be a victim of success is beyond me. Why stop something that is so clearly working? If I had been supported or compensated for my acheivement, perhaps I would have stayed. As it is, my former position remains vacant.

  • 10. Anonymous  |  December 8, 2007 at 10:19 am

    Pay is such an interesting question. We have masters degrees; is it too much to ask that salary support a lifestyle that no, doesn’t include designer duds and far out trips, but does support renting a decent place and being able to save for a home without outside help (ie partner or parents)? How many people in management (bosses, directors, board members) know the cost of renting in their area, or care? In terms of pay, I’ll add another pay concern: staff paying for things out of their pocket (food for programs or craft supplies), and libraries both encouraging and allowing it. Adding a further financial burden to those who rely solely on a library paycheck for bills, and giving an edge to those with another source of income.

    Hours/Nights. It’s one thing to go in being told hours and workweek. It’s another to have that changed, either formally or informally, so that you have staff working more nights/weekends than other staff for the same (or less) pay. Not to mention the pressure that can be put on to work “over” the minimum hours and not record it.

    Professional Investment can make a big difference. But, unless its clear how this works, it can turn into favoritism.

    Advancement: I also think some people pursue advancement not because they want to but rather because it’s the only way to increase pay. Worst case scenario for that: staff advancing into positions that they are not really qualified to do. Plus, a person may start at a library that appears to have room for advancement, only to have “reorganzation” remove those opportunties.

    I think the respect shown to staff also matters; and all of the above can be a reflection of how staff is valued and respected.

  • 11. Anonymous  |  December 8, 2007 at 11:43 am

    Interesting to me how many comments on this are coming in as anonymous. It shows just how sensitive this topic can be in many cases.

    I work at a library that has relatively good pay (I say relatively as it is still not enough, but it is more than most). The problem with being at a library that has better pay is that you generally can not leave to go elsewhere without taking a pay cut. If you are unhappy, you just tough it out as most people can not take a pay cut (at least in my experience).

    I have been unhappy for quite some time, but feel trapped and feeling trapped is not good.

    People stay and people go for all sorts of reasons. What really helped me stay before at a different library before this one was that I was repsected for my contributions. I no longer feel this is the case and the better pay does not make up for feeling like my opinions do not count.

  • 12. Jeff Scott  |  December 9, 2007 at 12:16 pm

    Wow, there are some fantastic comments here. Good stuff from anonymous people who can feel free to tell it like it is 🙂

    Money isn’t so much the motivator. If you are allowed to innovate or adjust what you are doing to really meet the needs of those you serve, morale goes up.
    It isn’t so much money as “Do I love my job?”

    However, money becomes and issue if you can’t afford decent housing in the area. For my area, a librarian’s salary couldn’t pay for decent housing. A majority live in a
    neighboring community and commute. They still make $41,000 which is what librarians make in bigger systems, and the average according to Library Journal, but that’s not
    enough to live on with one income.

    I agree that directors need to work the front lines more for morale. It isn’t always easy if you are always going to meetings, but it will keep you more engaged and understand
    what is going on. Nothing worse than a director who doesn’t have a clue what is going on in their own library.

    I would say the biggest detriment at any job is working hard and getting things done (to much success) with no recognition. I am surprised by the power of thank you and how little
    it is used. Unfortunately, this isn’t just a library issue.

  • 13. Janie L. Hermann  |  December 9, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    Good point Jeff on the power of a thank you for a job well done or for someone putting in extra effort.

    My first year of teaching I had a principal who visited our classrooms regularly both while we were teaching and after hours just to chat. He was not being intrusive, just interested. About once every 6-8 weeks I would receive a quick handwritten note from him complimenting on something that I had done recently. Sometimes it was just two sentences to say he liked how I had done a bulletin board display and other times it would be a paragraph or two summarizing several things he noticed that he liked. I loved working in that school and for that principal. I have never worked for anyone like that again, but during a stressful first year as an 8th grade teacher it help me keep my sanity. I still have those thank you cards tucked away.

  • 14. Anonymous  |  December 12, 2007 at 1:17 pm

    I think it’s important to remember when it comes to professional investment, it’s not just about money or providing opportunities. It’s about support for the staff that take those opportunities from all levels of the library, from the top all the way to the part-time clerk, and including your peers both in your department and in other departments.

    At a previous job, we were required to participate in committees, conferences, and other professional development activities. Admin supported it financially, with release time, and with verbal support and encouragement. This did not, however, extend all the way down through the system. So while I did have support from admin, and many of my peers, my supervisors actively made my life a living hell for doing it.

    I was required to engage in professional development activities, but if I did, I was punished by my supervisors. And who would want to work in an environment like that?

    You have to have support from ALL levels for such things to be successful.

  • 15. The Eeyore Librarian  |  January 1, 2008 at 1:43 am

    An excerpt from my blog about my thoughts on this post: “What I really want is an opportunity. Or at least I want to feel like I’m going to have opportunities at this organization. My current position does not give me any opportunity to succeed or fail, it’s mostly clerical. And there is no staff promotions or development of any kind. If there is a position open, it’s available to anyone in the public. Not that that’s necessarily a BAD thing (you want the best people), but I’ve seen them make the most heartless choices between people who are otherwise perfectly qualified and capable.”

  • 16. librarylass  |  January 3, 2008 at 4:48 pm

    I am a director of a small public library and MY pay doesn’t allow me any extra at the end of the month, espeically when you figure in student loan payment for myself, plus I have two children in college and I’m a single mom. But I wished that everyone wouldn’t claim that admininstration isn’t caring. I’ve been in the trenches and know the issues (yes, I know what rentals go for!) and after working long and hard with my board and city gov’t, I got my staff a 6% increase last year that didn’t include me. (I now make barely more than my assistant) I’ve also got their benefits package increased and got the Friday after Thanksgiving off for them! 🙂 (yeah, yeah…I get it off too! *LOL*)

    and I want to know how a librarian could telecommute?

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