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The “Happiness, Sustainability and the Museum Professional” conference session engaged a standing room only audience at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) annual meeting in Seattle on 21 May 2014.

The session proposal promised:

Within the field, it is widely acknowledged that museums can have a positive influence on public well-being — even being “happiness engineers,” as Jane McGonigal says. As museum professionals, we want to — and believe we can — make the world a better place through our institutions.

But at the same time, we’re experiencing a “more, faster, better” climate like we never have before. We find ourselves sometimes scrambling to adjust practices to meet the rapid pace of change – and we’re losing people, or burning them out, along the way. How do we continue to strive for innovation, while also maintaining our sanity and the sustainability of our workforce?

Panelists from this session take a moment to reorient our external focus to our inward well-being. How does the happiness of the people who staff museums influence our institutions’ effectiveness and relationships with the public we serve? How does happiness fuel innovation? . . .

. . . participants will create individual happiness inventories, mapping their own course from personal well-being to meaningful, sustainable, and innovative work.

Your blogger Paul C. Thistle spoke briefly to this session on “Time Balance Solutions: The Role of Museum Organisations” by means of the following narrated PowerPoint.  The idea of ‘time balance’ has been used by session organiser Andrea Michelbach in her Recent Research on Museum Worker Well-Being: Are Museum Professionals Happy? reviewed on this Blog.  In my own work, I employ the related concepts ‘task saturation’ (Murphy 2000:130-3) & ‘time poverty’ (Schor 1991: 5) to explain the time balance deficits facing many museum workers.

The presentation below is based on this blogger’s strong belief that professional museum organisations are—wittingly or not—significant among a myriad of Post-Modern forces that help to create museum worker time balance deficits caused by ever escalating expectations & resulting task saturation.  I maintain that professional museum organisations should not expect to be exempt from critical muselogy (Ross 2004: 84).  I have attempted to present a full argument about the role of professional museum organisations in generating increased & detrimentally unresourced expectations elsewhere (Thistle 2013).¹

Key points of the “Time Balance Solutions” AAM conference presentation at the link below include:

  1. Within museums, rising expectations combined with flatlined resources create a recipe for inadequate time balance, resulting in unsustainable levels of stress among museum workers.
  2. Professional museum organizations play a significant part in generating these problematic rising expectations.
  3. Professional organizations must acknowledge time balance/stress problems and focus on how to help museum professionals ameliorate the resulting difficulties that reduce the quality of their working lives & endanger their health (Posen 2013: 65 passim).

The presentation recording can be accessed by opening the PowerPoint file below, going to the “Slide Show” tab & clicking the “From the Beginning” tab on the far left in order to hear my narration accompany the slides.

Thistle Solutions FINAL Narration

My full list of sources used to prepare this presentation as well as resources from fellow Happiness session presenters are available on-line at the AAM Happiness, Sustainability & the Museum Professional session handout page.

Please also take time to refer to Andrea Michelbach’s Exploring the Well-Being of Museum Professionals web site. It is a resource prepared in conjunction with the “Happiness, Sustainability and the Museum Professional” session.  It focusses on the unexamined relationship between museum worker well-being and the ultimate ability of museums to achieve their goals to impact their visitors successfully & significantly. The site has been created by Andrea Michelbach (2013) who carried out her M.A. thesis research on museum worker well-being reviewed on this Blog at the link provided above.


1. Sadly however, this article “Overworked and Under Stress” was published in a form that was editorially truncated without consulting me—the author of the piece after all—for approval of significant changes to my submission much less being afforded the basic courtesy of inspecting the blueline final proof for an error in a footnote.  Stay tuned for a future Blog post that will critically review my own work published in a form that—had I been asked (as formally requested 3 separate times)—I would have refused to allow.

References Cited:

Michelbach, Andrea N. 2013. “Are Museum Professionals Happy? Exploring Well-Being Across Domains and in the Workplace.” A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts. Seattle: University of Washington. https://digital.lib.washington.edu/researchworks/bitstream/handle/1773/23533/Michelbach_washington_0250O_11485.pdf?sequence=1 (accessed 11 June 2014).

Murphy,James D. 2000. Business is Combat: A Fighter Pilot’s Guide to Winning in Modern Business Warfare. New York: Regan Books.

Posen, David. 2013. Is Work Killing You? A Doctor’s Prescription for Treating Workplace Stress. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc.

Ross, Max. 2004. Interpreting the New Museology. Museum and Society 2(2).

Schor, Juliet B. 1991. The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure. New York: Basic Books.

Thistle, Paul C. 2013. Overworked and Under Stress: The Critical Role for Museum Management & Professional Organizations in Quality of Working Life Issues. Alberta Museums REVIEW 37(1): 22-27.