But why are we so accepting of these lies? Is it because it isn't just our museum-field leaders who tell them, but we ourselves? Certainly white museum workers, who have benefited from the power and privilege of the current museum model (even as many of them are themselves exploited by higher-ups), are complicit in the web of workplace lies about plans, goals, feedback, and potential.
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Lie #1: People care which company they work for Lie #2: The best plan wins Lie #3: The best companies cascade goals Lie #4: The best people are well-rounded Lie #5: People need feedback Lie #6: People can reliably rate other people Lie #7: People have potential Lie #8: Work-life balance matters most Lie #9: Leadership is a thing
Of course some of these are a matter of degrees, but the list gets more interesting and counterintuitive, and therefore more subversive, as it goes on. Keep in mind that these lies were developed by leaders and the consultants who serve them. Yes, people do have potential, but when defined in a corporate context it's a way to rank workers and thus divide them. Same with work-life balance. Read this deeper dive into the book and then check out the full title.
What this means for museums: are your workplace beliefs generated by you, or by the institution and HR? Even the optimistic ideas like about potential, for instance? If a list were instead generated from the bottom of the org chart up, starting with front-of-house or from audiences (and not just wealthy members), how would it be different?
4. We’re perpetuating exploitative and oppressive practices: Our sector has talked a lot about “burnout,” which does result from all of us working too much. On Twitter, disabled union organizer Maggie Levantovskaya (@MLevantovskaya) wrote “Why I prefer using the term exploitation over burnout: Burnout makes it about worker feelings. Exploitation draws our attention to employer practices and policies which require structural solutions.” The more we put up with systems that chew us up and spit us out, the more we normalize these exploitative practices.
We have to stop with the productivity obsession and the "laziness lie." Any workplace setup based on institutional, not worker, needs is going to be a lie. For more, read this piece from Anne Helen Petersen's excellent substack Culture Study.
What this means for museums: why do you have jargon? Is it necessary? What would you like to teach your colleagues from different teams and departments?
Enjoy the links!
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