The Boston Globe reports that the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston “has undergone a mass exodus of new and longtime employees since a change in leadership last year.” As reported by the Globe’s Jim O’Sullivan (registration may be necessary), over a third of the staff has left or announced their departures — an unprecedented rate of attrition — since the arrival of new CEO Heather Campion.
The library’s board chair, while suggesting that transitional “growing pains” are at play, nevertheless “acknowledged that the heavy personnel losses were worrisome.” The Globe article suggests a deep level of employee discontent:
Several people who have worked at the foundation complained about Campion’s management style. A low point, according to three people familiar with the organization, came a few weeks ago, when a longtime employee in charge of marketing was terminated. Another departed worker was described as “a daily punching bag.” The coordinator of the library’s renowned forums and the director of its signature Profile in Courage award are also leaving.
Last year, about six months into Campion’s tenure, an outside management consultant came in to interview people about the change in leadership, resulting in a tear-filled group session during which several employees discussed the newly difficult working conditions, according to three people directly familiar with the meeting.
“People were sobbing,” one said. Another added, “He functioned more as a therapist.”
Workplace incivility or bullying?
It’s pretty easy to read between the lines here. When one departed worker is referred to as a “daily punching bag,” and others are in tears as they discuss “newly difficult working conditions” with an outside consultant, it suggests abrasive leadership, and perhaps worse. The Kennedy Library is a major civic institution in Greater Boston and home to a museum that attracts visitors from around the world. I can’t imagine such suddenly high employee attrition absent significant reasons.
For now, the library’s board leadership appears to be circling the wagons around its CEO, who is said to be on close terms with Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg. But perhaps the public spotlight on the employee attrition and low morale will prompt more pro-active responses to the underlying management problems.