Three Ways to (Re-)Establish Clarity Between Your Work and Personal Life

Happy New Year, Renewers!

More of us are heading back to our workplaces this week – or have already returned and are anticipating a distinctive return to “pre-holiday operations.” You don’t have to rejoin/uphold expectations or implications of overwork (or the feelings of uncertainty or perfectionism that come along with them)! Here are three things you can do to reduce the blur between work and personal time. 

Get More from your Out-Of-Office (OOOM) Messages. You’re likely already using OOOM when you’re away for long periods of time; however, I recommend using them whenever you’re away for more than an hour or so (including overnight!), and you can customize them to fit shorter time periods. Doing so will free you from the drive to compulsively check your email and/or respond right away whenever you’re not in the office. RESULT: Because the OOOM tells recipients the boundaries of communication – including whom (else) to contact if assistance or responses are needed in emergencies (define what that means, if you like!)you are freer from worry about what’s happening at work when you’re not there – and you’ll get more comfortable with owning the idea that overpresence does not equal increased value (vocational awe, anyone?). BONUS: Remove your organization’s email app from your personal devices. If your organization uses Google or a similar “public” email platform, remove your work profile from your personal devices.

Schedule Time for Meals, Movement, and Rest Breaks. People suffering through low morale and/or vocational awe are more likely to forgo meal breaks and prolong deep work sessions – and less likely to recognize the drain of constant multi-tasking throughout the day. My work with Ione Damasco showed that BIPOC workers in particular are more likely to forgo basic physical needs (e.g. restroom breaks) while dealing with low morale. However, we know taking time for nourishment and rest will give us good energy which is also the catalyst for creativity. Taking care of yourself at work is just as important as that Outreach Planning meeting. If you find you’re regularly working through lunch breaks or not taking time to rest from screen exposure and people interactions, start scheduling these important meetings with/for yourself.  RESULT: Better mood (because you’re not hungry); Increased energy (also, from improved food choices). You’ll also set yourself up for better rest, which could help you set and keep improved sleep hygiene/rituals at your formal bedtime. BONUS: Get to a point where you identify and apply a regular “meeting free day” during the week.

Set a Shut-Down Alarm. Having trouble breaking away from work at the end of the day? Set an alarm about 15 or 20 minutes before your scheduled departure time. When the alarm sounds, begin your work shut-down activities. Write down your to-do list for the next day, finish up outstanding email responses (and set that OOOM!), straighten up your desk – and any other activities that increase your readiness for the next day. By the time your departure time comes around, you’ll be ready to head out of the building! RESULT: All the things you worry about when you’re not at work are already organized and attended to, reducing rumination and worry as you make your way home to your larger (real) life. BONUS: To increase accountability, identify a colleague to “walk out on time” with (get a person whom you know will give you stares and whatnot until you get up from your desk).

If you decide to try any of these (or if you’ve already implemented them), share your experiences with the Renewers community here, within our Facebook group, or on our Twitter and Instagram spaces.  Have a great New Year!

All Best,



Book Haul: Hustle Culture Resistance


Grace, M. (2018). How to not always be working: A toolkit for creativity and radical self-careNew York: Morrow Gift.

Harris, M. (2014). The end of absence: Reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of constant connectionNew York: Current.

Hersey, T. (2022). Rest is resistance: A nap manifesto. New York: Little, Brown Spark.

Jaffe, S. (2021). Work won’t love you back: How devotion to our jobs keeps us exploited, exhausted, and aloneNew York: Bold Type Books.

May, K. (2020). Wintering: The power of rest and retreat in difficult timesRider Co.

Pang, A.S.K. (2018). Rest: why you get more done when you work less. New York: Basic Books.

Renewals Reach: Toxic Positivity in Librarianship

Contextualizing the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, which have combined and augmented the previously established cultural, economic, and political gaps in library workplaces, Virginia Moran and Talia Nadir discuss the convergence of toxic positivity, resilience narratives, and vocational awe in their invited paper for the Association of College & Research Libraries’ 2021 Conference.

Noting the larger sphere of emotional labor that also frames their discussion,  the 2017 low morale study is referenced in the paper.

Read the paper.

Report: Keynote at the Society of Georgia Archivists Annual Meeting (October 2022)

Late last month I offered a virtual keynote to the Society of Georgia Archivists at their 2022 Annual Meeting. Their theme, “Sustaining Practices: Practical Solutions for the Future” included attendee interest in the rise in burnout, and not surprisingly, the connections to self-care. I wanted to gather and share some context of what’s going on in archives workplaces, so I turned to Ithaka S+R’s A*CENSUS II All Archivists Survey Report. The report covers topics from archives worker compensation to job duties, and also sheds light on broader and deeper issues centering job security, equity diversity, inclusion, and employee retention. 

During my keynote, I asked attendees to share some data with me, which I then compared with the A*CENSUS II data.

What is your general employment status (n=23)?

SGA1Results (1)

  • 87% are full-time employees
  • 4% are part time only and looking for full-time work
  • 4% are part-time only and not seeking full-time work
  • 4% are volunteers

Generally, SGA annual meeting attendees tracked with the A*CENSUS II report (81% employed full-time).

If you work full-time, in which range does your salary fall (n=23)?

SGA2Results (1)

  • 74% between 40K – 79K
  • 22% 80K or more
  • 4% 39k or less

SGA data reflects A*CENSUS II respondent trends: 61% of that respondent group made between 40K-79K; 10% of respondents made 39K or less.

Do you plan to stay in the Archives profession (n=28)?

SGA3Results (1)

  • 64% Yes
  • 32% Maybe/Not Sure
  • 4% No

This result also reflects A*CENSUS II responses – 54% of participants shared they don’t plan to leave archives in the next five years. However, that also means that the percentages of those who aren’t sure also track – and that’s over a third of the respondent group. Finally,

If you plan to leave (not due to retirement), what’s the most likely reason (n=18)?


  • 39% Limited career advancement
  • 22% Compensation
  • 17%  Burnout
  • TIE: 11% Work-life balance and Pursue a different career

There was some variation between the SGA group and A*CENSUS II responses (burnout and compensation tied at 35%, followed by limited career advancement (32%).

During the rest of the keynote, I discussed various aspects of low-morale development, connected frameworks like job precarity and burnout, and ended with established and emerging countermeasures. I asked the group to pick three countermeasures they’d consider trying or expanding if they are dealing with low morale:

SGACountermeasures (1)

  • TIE, 52% – Assertive Communication, Rest
  • 45% Self-Compassion
  • TIE: 42% Continuing Education, Creativity

These data offer an on-the-spot/real-time glimpse into some aspects of job security and other factors for archives workers, along with their own reflections with regards to cultivating positive responses to low morale in their workplaces.  As I continue my work, I hope to delve more deeply into the experiences of archives and special collections workplaces.  Thanks to the Society of Georgia Archivists for inviting me!


Renewals Reach: Pleasantness in Libraries

A phenomenological study was created to discover user expectations of academic libraries and compare them to consumer behaviors in shopping malls. The authors found similarities linking pleasant experiences in both spaces. The 2017 low morale study was noted for its methodology.

Read the article (paywall).

Red Flag: Problematic Leadership Behaviors

Photo credit: Zachary Keimig.

The 2017, 2019, and 2021 low-morale studies all reveal and/or validate that the behaviors of formal leaders often are central to the onset and/or proliferation of low-morale experiences in modern workplaces. There are particular leadership styles that are more likely to cause or exacerbate workplace abuse and neglect; the following qualitative data highlight tactics of authoritarian, toxic, or laissez-faire (ambivalent) formal leaders. As you review these data, what kinds of abuse are being perpetrated? What might the impacts be on the target? Their work? Those who witness these events? Moreover, how might you respond in a similar situation? As the target? As the observer?

“[The library dean] pitted staff against each other; she purposely kept us apart, she did not allow us to speak to anybody outside of the library unless we went through her…She called people stupid, including me. She made us do things a certain way, and then when we do them that way, she would yell at us and say, ‘well why did you do it that way, that’s really stupid, obviously you don’t know anything.’ She never made me cry, but she made everybody else cry.”Low Morale in Academic Librarians study participant (public services librarian), circa 2016

“I was there six years total, but I worked for this woman for two years, and then she was replaced with a very ineffective, ineffective dean that was, like, that’s another whole story –  that wasn’t abuse, that was just somebody who was ineffective and didn’t care.”Low Morale in Academic Librarians study participant (public services librarian), circa 2016 (Renewals note: Neglect is a form of abuse)

“I had been told [by my manager] that we had enough money for all of the subscriptions from last year, plus $20,000. So I was interested in using that $20,000 for print materials. When I couldn’t get approval for that from the library committee, I had a subsequent meeting with my boss, and at that meeting, she told me that they didn’t want to allocate funds to the library because the students didn’t need one. So that was extremely disquieting and disappointing and discouraging. (And where the $20,000 went, I don’t know. I was so shocked at what she said that I really didn’t follow up on that conversation.” Low Morale in Academic Librarians study participant (reference and instruction librarian), circa 2016

“I realized that a lot of things started happening – reoccurring – towards me. So, for instance, she would criticize me in front of everyone; she would send these really bizarre emails, very critical of other people….as time went on, it kept making me think, ‘ok, I don’t know if it’s me anymore, but it’s maybe the director,’ where I just feel like I can’t work under this situation, these conditions where I’m being criticized, being mobbed, being stalked by my director at times, like when I went to the restroom, I would come out and then, there she was, waiting for me! [Laughs] And then she would start criticizing me! And it’s so funny, it was really bizarre, and I’m just like, ‘oh my gosh, does this happen anywhere else’? Actually, this was my first academic position, and I was just really confused, and then I realized that it’s happening a lot…”Low Morale in BIPOC Academic Librarians study participant (outreach librarian), circa 2018

Report Update: Share Your Story (September 2022)

I continue collecting low-morale experience narratives from people who work in various types of library workplaces. Below are updated data (n=127). You may also review an earlier report of this dataset.

  • 37% of respondents are experienced librarians/archivists; 26% are mid-career librarians/archivists; 31% are new librarians/archivists.
  • 64% are currently dealing with low-morale.
  • 35% of these incidents are happening at four-year public colleges/universities; 18% are happening at urban/metropolitan-based public libraries; 15% are happening at four-year private colleges/universities.
    • 87% of respondents experienced emotional abuse; 74% experienced negligence; 56% experienced verbal/written abuse; 31% experienced system abuse.
  • 73% of abuse was perpetrated by library administrators; 68% was perpetrated by library supervisors/managers; 55% was perpetrated by colleagues.
  • During their experiences:
    • 76% noted reduced productivity
    • 64% avoided co-workers (even those whom they used to be close to)
    • 62% increased their procrastination on projects
    • 54% created rigid work schedules or protocols (e.g., “I only do what’s required”)
    • 48% rejected or reduced outreach and collaboration opportunities
    • 47% were absent from work more often
    • 42% rejected committee or service work
    • 38% were late to work more often
  • Respondents reported the following emotional reactions/impacts of their low-morale experiences:
    • 94% Anger (this includes the spectrum of anger – from minor irritation to rage)
    • 83% Sadness
    • 80% Disappointment
    • 75% Despair
    • 65% Confusion
    • 55% Shame
    • 55% Shock
    • 51% Embarrassment
  • As a result of their experiences, respondents most often developed
    • 62% Anxiety
    • 46% Sleep disorders
    • 35% Clinical depression
    • 32% Gastrointestinal disorders
    • 26% Post-traumatic stress disorder
    • 26% noted that the experience exacerbated symptoms of previously diagnosed conditions
  • The most popular coping strategies are:
    • 79% Talking with others 
    • 51% Formal counseling
    • 50% Mental activities (e.g., mindfulness, meditation)
    • 46% Physical activity
    • 45% Self-talk
    • 39% Creative activities (e.g., painting, building)
    • 38% Recording activities (e.g., documenting abuse)
    • 36% Reflective activities (e.g., writing, journaling)
  • The most popular mitigation methods are:
    • 69% Looking for a new job
    • 31% Talking with Human Resources
    • 24% Leaving the LIS field


Book Haul: Somatics

Low-morale experiences are predicated on long-term exposure to abuse and neglect, and this exposure also impacts the body.  From the flight-(freeze) or-flight response stemming from the trigger event and acute stomach knots connected to work dread, to long-term weight gain, muscle tightness, chronic fatigue, or sleep loss, the somatic connections from this phenomenon are undeniable. 

The following short list includes books that illuminate the mind-body impact associated with the trauma of low-morale experiences. Share your suggestions, as well.

Grain, K. (2022). Critical hope: How to grapple with complexity, lead with purpose, and cultivate transformative social change. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books:

Menakem, R. (2017). My grandmother’s hands: Racialized trauma and the pathway to mending our hearts and bodies. Las Vegas: Central Recovery Press.

Nagoski, E. & Nagoski, A. (2020). Burnout: The secret to unlocking the stress cycle. New York: Ballentine.

Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York: Penguin.


Report: Low Morale at Unionized Library Workplaces – Part 2 (August 2022)

In an earlier post, I shared the latest quantitative data from my data collection project on the role/impact of library/organization unions during low-morale experiences. This post shares quantitative data from the project (n=26).

(52% of respondents did not report instances of abuse or neglect to their union rep). If you did not report the abuse, share why you did not report:

  • “It’s a lot of little things that would add up but happens subtly over a long period of time; Process towards resolution is long; fear of retaliation when I need tenure.”
  • “I am part of the non-bargaining unit staff at a unionized library.”
  • “There isn’t an established protocol for dealing with neglect that I am aware of. It seems to be very common in higher ed.”
  • “Our employee association (union) is non affiliated and tiny and my abuser has been here decades longer than I have.”
  • “It can be emotionally draining, I do not want to take it on at this point of my job. I am looking for a way out.”
  • “Union leadership is lazy old white men.”

What was your union’s response to your report of abuse/neglect at work?

  • We filed a grievance for the contractual system abuses that were occurring and I received remedy. The negligence and verbal abuse was brought to other administrator’s attention and discussed in labor management meetings where my administrator was told to receive career/leadership coaching from the Provost.”
  • “My union (REDACTED) treats librarians and councilors like we are ‘second class’ union members. We do not get the same schedule flexibility as the disciplinary faculty. When we complain about overwork or even file grievances, it feels like we are treated like an inconvenience.”
  • “Our rep met with me and gave me some suggestions about how to respond/proceed.”
  • “They were unable to help because my abuser and I are both faculty and we belong to the same union.”
  • “As a union rep, I’ve responded by providing information about other worker’s rights, keeping detailed notes of folks’ experiences, and making myself available to attend meetings as a witness for other workers.”
  • “They investigated the matter, held meetings, called mediation.”

How does/did the resultant action impact your work, practice, or career?

  • “It made me feel even more hopeless about our bad situation. It made me feel like I was overreacting to the situation or imagining how bad it was.”
  • “I’m disconnected, I am angry at my union. I do not feel that they have my best interest at heart.”
  • “Isolated and given more diversity work.”
  • “I withdrew from my obligations at the library, no longer do more than the bare minimum, and focused on work in other spaces at the university.”
  • “I am planning on leaving. I’m not sure if I’ll leave the profession, but I think I will. This is the second academic environment that has been extremely abusive and toxic and I thought having a union might be a way to mitigate the abuse, but it’s not…”
  • “If there was any result, I have not seen any, I am in a toxic work environment, but it doesn’t help with management is part of the problem.”
  • “The most important impact has been dramatically improved relationships with colleagues and some improvement of my own mental health because of being able to make a minor difference in supporting others.”

How does/did the resultant action impact your relationship with or perception of the union?

  • “I know the union supports me and they have my back as far as contractual grievances go. I have a positive perception of the union that I’m a part of and recommend contractual grievances to other colleagues as a result to receive remedy.”
  • “I definitely seem them as less effective.”
  • “I used to want to be active in the union. Now, I just try to ignore them.”
  • “The union is powerless in departmental issues and the union believes librarians to be at the periphery of their priorities as non-traditional faculty.”
  • “It made me lessen my trust of them.”
  • “I understood their position.”
  • “The most recent event has convinced me that the union doesn’t see librarians as worth fighting for when times are hard. I get that they are over worked, and it’s a tough time, and we are heading towards a rough part of contract negotiations, but this behavior is a continuation of bad behavior and is representative of behavior, or even an evolution of behavior, that librarians had sought union help for for years. Some action was taken earlier, but it never really came to a full resolution.”
  • “I become more pro-union with every passing day. Being able to stand together and share empowering information and protect each other’s rights and dignity is phenomenally helpful.”

If no action was taken, how does/did the lack of action impact your work, practice, or career?

  • “Nothing – just bearing with it.”
  • “The lack of action made my work situation feel worse.”
  • “I feel a bit checked out. Most librarians I know are overworked. The union doesn’t seem to care.”
  • “Made me not want to keep putting in effort, experienced severe depression and anxiety.”
  • “I’ve continued to work beyond what would normally be expected to get tenure.”.
  • “Not motivated, looking for other jobs outside of librarianship.”
  • “I didn’t report to the union, and the neglect continues. I feel that my job-related depression is worsening by the day: I can’t focus, I’m no longer excited about work, and don’t feel like I have a future in my workplace or in the profession.”
  • “I expend more energy than I have to spare managing my own frustration and and anger both following and in anticipation of interactions with this person.”
  • “I became suicidal; but it was not only the Union that could not/would not help. I was failed by everyone I turned to.”
  • “I stay because I need the job.”
  • “I see the job I used to like as “just a job” due to bad leadership of Supervisor.”
  • “I will leave as soon as I find other work. Maybe before. My health is suffering.”

Please share any other thoughts or concerns you have about dealing with a low-morale experience in a library or organization with a union.

  • “The union has made my low morale experience bearable for the time being. It gives me a way to proactively fight to make working conditions better and gives me hope that the abuse will stop at some point.”
  • “Low morale is so often related to behavioral issues that can’t be regulated by a contract, and that seems to be the only area where a union has purview or power.”
  • “Unions need to realize that they CANNOT treat workers in the same exact class differently. It’s gross.”
  • “I think that although the Union is supportive, there are limits to what they can do. If something is clearly in violation of the law or Collective Agreement action can be taken, but some cases of neglect are not illegal/against [state] or do not violate policy.”
  • “Unions compromise a lot to be “on good terms” with admin when they are supposed to challenge admin to be on good terms with staff.”
  • “It’s difficult to know how union representation should ideally function as an early-career librarian with no real point of comparison. It hadn’t even occurred to me to report ‘neglect’ which is exactly what I feel from library administration, among other concerns.”
  • “Unfortunately having a union seems to benefit tenured and tenure-track FTers more than PTers (like me). In theory, PTers could benefit from the advocacy of their FTers, but instead we are left behind. When FT librarians talk about issues they are facing, PTers are entirely left out, which also leads to low morale. The union leadership strongly favors FTers and often speaks to PTers in condescending ways.
  • “I have found that the union is very helpful in mitigating my own low morale experience. I’ve become significantly more active, and have seen many of my colleagues who might otherwise never have become union activists getting involved. By becoming more active in our union, we’re able to have a much louder voice in our attempt to influence our workplace for the better. Knowing that worker’s concerns are being heard at the highest levels of our organization because of the ongoing meetings between our union leadership and institutional leadership makes a huge difference – it feels a bit like we’re not screaming into the void, but have a chance at actually being heard.”

This survey remains open, so please participate if you are dealing with low morale while working at a unionized library workplace. I will offer more updates periodically.


Renewals Reach: Rejecting overcommitment

Katrina Spencer’s in-depth guide helps readers recognize the characteristics and behaviors associated with overcommitment. It includes a checklist of countermeasures to systematically reduce or respond to expectations that ignore human capacity or exploit/augment systems that promote or perpetuate overwork, over-functioning, and associated physical and mental health outcomes.

The 2017 low morale study is included in further readings.

Read (and be sure to download and apply) the guide.