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Red Flag: Insularity

Photo credit: Zachary Keimig.

In my low morale studies, participants shared observations that their organization’s culture included the characteristic of insularity. Employees exhibited insularity in several ways – from being obviously suspicious of new employees (e.g., “outsiders”) to actively performing disinterest in updated practices or  promoting behaviors that invite cronyism. 

In addition to making conditions ripe for a plethora of abusive behaviors (e.g., neglect, relational aggression – “mean girls”), insularity can interrupt an organization’s attempts to improve retention. Here are illustrative data points from my studies. 

“[My coworkers] were not very welcoming to people who are not from there. They think they are; they are not…So imagine you’re going to a place where most of the people are from the state; they went to the university, they got a job here; they never left…I think it’s because they sort of functioned in a lot of ways, like a Mean Girl culture where, you know there are people who are directors; there are people who are deans; there are people who are managers. So there seemed to sort of be this core group of people who amassed this sort of sphere of influence – and not just in the library but sort of on campus. So, even though there are people who are doing creative things and doing outreach and doing their jobs. It seemed as though, regardless of what happened, everything had to go through these five people. It didn’t matter what department you were in; it didn’t matter what you were doing, but at some point, if these five people didn’t sign on, it wasn’t happening.”Low morale in BIPOC Librarians study participant (archives/instruction), circa 2018

“…all of these people know each other. From the library, to HR, to the chancellor’s office. They’re all in the same churches. You know, the children are going to the same little programs and stuff. They’re doing all these same little activities and stuff. So there’s this sort of culture there that you need to know somebody to get somewhere.  And if you are not a part of that little group, then you’re not getting in. And this is an HBCU- … and you’re just not going to get anywhere if you are not going to church with [coworker] tomorrow, or… you know what I’m saying? Or if y’all not having little dinner parties together, or selling Tupperware or whatever, there’s all these little, I guess nooks and crannies where people go to cram up and gossip and talk about each other, and plot about how they’re going to get this job and move this one out…”Leaving Low Morale study participant (administrator), circa 2020

BONUS: as you consider low morale frameworks and impact factors and enabling systems, what else comes up?

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