Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Dreaded Golden Handcuffs of Academia

“Not All Staying is the Same: Unpacking Retention and Turnover in Academic Libraries” by Samantha Guss, Sojourna Cunningham and Jennifer Stout is a fascinating piece that explores some of what the golden handcuff by delving into the intricate dynamics of why academic librarians choose to stay in their positions despite being dissatisfied or unhappy.

The authors extend beyond the conventional exploration of reasons for job satisfaction and fulfillment, dissecting the complexities of what drives individuals to remain in roles where their needs are not met or where they experience toxicity or discontent.

Part of the conundrum is that the academic librarian job market is challenging to navigate, characterized by job scarcity and fierce competition for positions. Additionally, geographical constraints and familial responsibilities often limit the mobility of librarians, making it difficult to pursue opportunities elsewhere. Career advancement within the academic library sphere may necessitate relocating or changing organizations, posing further challenges, especially for dual-career couples.

The concept of "job lock" highlights how employees often feel constrained to remain in their current roles due to various factors, including non-portable benefits, limited job availability, and emotional connections to their workplace and colleagues. Vocational awe and passion for the profession also contribute to librarians' reluctance to leave, despite facing exploitation or dissatisfaction.

Often, the triggers that prompt librarians to consider leaving their jobs come down to toxic work environments, bullying, and low morale. Toxic leadership and organizational culture are identified as significant factors driving turnover in academic libraries. While many studies focus on reasons for leaving, this research investigates the transition from voluntary to involuntary staying, where librarians remain in their roles despite experiencing discontent or toxicity.

Through qualitative interviews with academic librarians, the authors uncover the journey from voluntary to involuntary staying, shedding light on the coping mechanisms employed by individuals to navigate challenging work environments. Functional coping strategies, such as seeking validation and setting boundaries, are contrasted with dysfunctional strategies, including disengagement and resentment. The nuanced interplay between individual and organizational perspectives on coping mechanisms is explored, emphasizing the complex nature of retention and turnover in academic libraries.

This piece provides valuable insights into the factors influencing academic librarians' decisions to stay in their positions, despite facing challenges or dissatisfaction. This piece certainly resonates with me. An academic librarian colleague once raised his wrists showing his imaginary shackles and said he was wearing the golden handcuffs, explaining the discord of the job but too comfortable with the stability to quit their tenured position. As I grapple with how I am doing in my own career, I don’t see the shackles as heavy anymore. I enjoy the work tremendously, and I’ve learned to grow with the position and the institution. Things change all the time, and if we don’t change as well, we stay stagnant and hence the “job lock” becomes more unbearable.

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