If the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us anything, it is that libraries are not going back to the way they were before and that it is time to reevaluate.
For some people experiencing burnout, the solution has been quiet quitting, the phenomenon of employees doing the absolute bare minimum. The quitting part is a misnomer. Individuals aren’t quitting their jobs; they are setting clear boundaries. Quiet quitting is about self-preservation. A January survey found that more than one-third of US workers have disengaged (up from a typical 13%–18% between 2000 and 2022). The phenomenon’s popularity is a sign that workers have higher expectations of their employers and workplaces.
My suggestions here are meant to help create a more sustainable work model for libraries and those who work in them, as well as other organizations. Some ideas for change include:
Assess your environment. Quiet quitting is a direct result of overwork, neglect, and low compensation. When people don’t feel cared about, eventually they stop caring. Individuals and organizations need to take an honest look at their financial situation, staffing patterns, and employee workload. Using this information, they need to create sustainable environments. This doesn’t mean giving up; it is, rather, a new beginning and an opportunity to get rid of preconceived ideas of what it means to be successful. It can be exhausting to live up to unrealistic ideals.
Prioritize health. The physical, mental, and emotional health and safety of individuals at all levels of the organization must be a priority. We need to create systems that heal.
For example, granting flexible schedules allows workers to spend more time with their families and balance childcare and other life commitments. What’s more, diversity policies need to be integrated into all job duties, and everyone should be allowed adequate time during their workweek to move these objectives forward. Institutions need to have a robust medical and mental health plan for employees. A good benefits package can help with recruitment and retention, demonstrating that organizations care about their workers. Further, institutions and managers must nurture collective care, which is the duty to advocate for colleagues and their departmental work. It is our obligation to champion coworkers’ health and wellness because we are all interdependently connected.
Pave paths for advancement. Many library professionals talk about administrative bloat, or the increase in the number of administrators in higher education and the large portion of institutions’ budgets dedicated to those salaries. That bloat, however, is often a racialized hierarchy. Many people of color in paraprofessional roles are expected to perform librarians’ duties for half the pay, and support staffers have fewer opportunities to advance without obtaining an expensive master’s degree. Leaders need to readdress relationships with historically marginalized employee groups by focusing on pay equity, promotion or tenure, and workload distribution.
Create a clear vision. Administrators need to view their institution’s future in the long-term, instead of just focusing on the current budget year. This planning instills a sense of purpose and motivation in library workers at all levels, encouraging them to go the distance.
Offer support. A workplace needs to be designed to improve over time. It can’t simply be yearly staff training. There needs to be a continuous loop of feedback for improvement. Leaders must look at relationships that enhance psychological safety, empathy, vulnerability, and peer support. This will align structures and processes with institutional values and purpose.
Quiet quitting is a response to low morale, but libraries and other organizations can make concrete changes to turn morale around. With workers reevaluating job satisfaction, institutions must reevaluate their policies too.