Report: Leaving Leadership Roles due to Low Morale – Part 2 (September 2023)

This is part two of a two-part report sharing the initial data from my data collection project about about how formal library leaders decided to leave a workplace where they were experiencing low morale. The first part of this report shared quantitative data. This second part offers selected qualitative data (n=51).

Briefly share the tipping point or event that solidified your commitment to leave your leadership role:

  • “I think dealing with the insanity and uncertainty caused by the pandemic was the beginning of the tipping point. I felt entirely alone, left to make decisions I had no ideas how to make, in a deadly pandemic, without any help from the library’s board or library system leadership. I became the scapegoat for the staff and community members who disagreed with my decisions, made to keep everyone as safe as possible with the often conflicting and ever changing information. The final tipping point was that my body gave out. I started experiencing stress-induced medical problems that were debilitating. I realized that my job was literally killing me.”
  • “It was clear that I was hired as a token BIPOC so “Senior Leadership” could say they were developing diversity. After 5+ years, I remain the sole BIPOC member of administration.”
  • “I was constantly roadblocked when trying to start discussions about new projects. It made me realize they lied about being excited to try new things. And that they actually weren’t data driven.”
  • “I told my director I was experiencing a hostile work environment which curtailed my work and responsibilities. He responded by saying he didn’t know what to do.”
  • “Discovering that no one had my back when I had a harassment/stalking accusation occur between two hourly employees. I was instead scapegoated and accused of bias. I asked for help and support and got very little. It was a complicated situation: it had union, disability discrimination and other elements that required very careful and circumspect care. I learned that not only did I have no real authority, I also would be thrown under the bus when things got hard.”

In retrospect, what (other) signs / signals indicated that stepping down or leaving your leadership role is/was the best course of action?

  • Other people were leaving as a direct result of toxic leader with zero empathy.”
  • “The choice to not fill important leadership positions that were desperately needed for operation. Our parent org wanted to save salary money, so they deliberately left leadership positions vacant for extended periods to see if we would adjust. It unfairly burdened junior staff with duties outside their job description and qualifications.”
  • “At the time, I failed to acknowledge the physical impact of staying in such a toxic place for so long. Once I left that organization, I felt better and had a better outlook on life in general.”
  • “Feeling like though I have authority in terms of title and place on the org chart, the specialized library that I direct is undervalued and not seen as significant to our broader unit.”
  • “That the staffing of the library there continues to erode and more and more hats are being placed on the remaining librarians, showing the lack of respect the institution has towards library and its staff over all.”
  • “I was frequently neglected. My supervisor was constantly rescheduling or canceling our 1:1 meetings. I would go months without seeing them. I now have a supervisor who is the exact opposite so it’s helped to reinforce that I made the right decision in leaving.”
  • “People in my personal life were recognizing my stress and burnout. I was beginning to fantasize at work about being injured severely enough to give me time off work. It was starting to become difficult to care about anything.”

If there’s anything else you’d like to share about your decision, please share it:

  • “it was my intention to leave for over a year, but I felt that gaining more years of experience would help me find a better job…after over a year of searching and interviewing for other positions, i revealed to my boss that I had been looking to get out because of the working conditions. He then used this as cause to terminate me (I wasn’t a contract employee, despite having “faculty status”) along with other flat out falsehoods about me and my character. I was not allowed to leave my job on my own terms, and it was abuse all the way through my termination. However, that experience has permanently kept me away from assuming and supervisory or leadership roles ever again. no amount of money is worth reliving that trauma.”
  • “BIPOC leaders need to receive equal respect for their unique perspectives and experiences. Centering colonialism is a barrier and leaders need to dismantle systemic oppression instead of doubling down.”
  • “I think that finding the right organization was key. To jump out of the pan into the fire would have been worse than staying. I was fortunate I was able to find a place where my low morale has been short-lived in periods of very high stress, and then I re-stabilize. I also know that I brought a history of profound trauma from childhood into my leadership as demonstrated by high achievement, high pace of work, and high commitment.”
  • “By staying so late, I now have poor relationships with colleagues whom I trusted and liked. The new dean’s abuse has me questioning whether I should have trusted any of those people, or they were part of the backstabbing and gaslighting that the dean encouraged. I also have to regularly remind myself that I’m not a terrible person or a terrible library administrator, based on proof from that position and my new one…”
  • “There were very few leaders of color at my organization and we all left around the same time. We all knew of each other’s plans, while no one else did.”
  • “People questioned my decision to take a pay cut to leave, but it ended up being negligible with take home pay. This was the best decision for me, and two months into my new job, my friends and family can tell a difference. I feel like I have my life back.”

If you are a formal leader who has left a position due to low morale, participate in this ongoing study. I’ll periodically share updates. See other data collection projects or data collection reports.


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