Boston Globe reports employee exodus at Kennedy Library

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.

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Related posts

The non-profit sector: So vital, but not all gooey feel-good (2015)

Myths and realities about working in the non-profit sector (2014)

Workplace bullying in the non-profit sector (2011)

3 responses

  1. Dear David,
    Abrasive leadership, and worse (like genuinely abusive and bullying behavior), resulting in difficult working conditions and additional management consultant and turnover expenses, should be seen, in part, as an unfortunate and unnecessary misuse of the entity’s funds. It appears the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is entirely privately funded, so the management problems that exist are the responsibility of the non-profit JFK Library Foundation and not of concern to taxpayers and the proper use of public funds.

    I have worked primarily for non-profits that were in part, or even largely funded by grants from public governmental agencies. I have experienced extreme abusive behavior, bullying, mobbing and a most vicious and behaviorally violent retaliatory discharge from one entity, even as I was the initiator of a bullying policy for that entity 10 years ago.

    With no union representation, and no money for an employee attorney to investigate and try and correct the situation, I sought every angle I could to file an EEOC complaint. Alas, I am not a member of a protected class, but I’m hoping the new EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment (in all its forms) in the Workplace, will come up with a way to protect everyone, every taxpaying citizen, from abusive behavior and bullying and malice and dysfunctional, abrasive leadership in the workplace.

    My question is: to what extent should an employee or ex-employee inform their elected representatives, at any or every governmental level, of their concern regarding the publicly funded entity’s misuse of public funds. What might be the better ways of informing one’s representatives?

    I don’t think I’m hopelessly naïve. I’ve always believed in, and have been an activist, promoting kindness and civility in resolving disputes. But there really are authoritarian and narcissistically disordered, power-abusing people in the workplace, who wreak damage and destruction of peoples’ livelihoods, careers, and lives. This isn’t right—it must not stand. Good, kind people must find a way to help those who’ve been victimized.

    Having been unnecessarily and viciously fired in the worst possible way after 10 years of providing service to seniors and people with disabilities, with my supervisor violently damaging my personal computers in the process, I am summoning all my strength to keeping debilitating despair at bay.

  2. Mr.. Yamada, Do you have any legal cases of toxic work environments? I left my position because of being threatened that I would be fired. I have a professional nursing license and I put in my resignation. I was harassed until I left. Can you offer any cases for me to research. Also an apparent suicide had taken place on this campus, one of the advisors who was young, whom I worked with occasionally.

    Thank you, Christina Hunt

  3. I honestly don’t think anything will be done in response to the apparent management issues glaring everyone in the face. It’s too late for much of anything to happen because any honest efforts would just emphasize the board’s lack of competency (or cohesiveness) in dealing with the issues.

    Ms. Campion became the new leader in March 2014. Six months later, according to the article, someone was brought in to talk with employees about the effects of the changes. It sounded like people were not shy in expressing their emotions. What did the board do in response? Not much apparently. The PR comments of the board are predictable. Most telling, though, is Carolyn Kennedy’s husband’s efforts in asking for support of Ms. Campion. I can’t imagine that Ms. Campion is happy that such a letter was perceived as being necessary. Not a great way to start her new leadership role. Short of something scandalous, life will go on and nothing will come of this other than some more PR comments as the new normal gets established. I doubt Ms. Campion will resign, but it’s a possibility, depending upon where her head is at with it all.

    Sad situation for everyone. I look to the board as being inept in supporting the transitions they apparently desired. As with most boards, they left it up to the new leader and didn’t have a clue that the old leader grew deep roots in how things got done.

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