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MuseumsToday 2020 - Human resources management in museums and keeping museum staff in the profession


For the first time in the Hungarian museum sector, the “Múzeumok Ma 2020” research project has undertaken to assess the basic issues of human resource management, a problem that gave rise to many anecdotal hypotheses and a lot of dissatisfaction, and thus to help museums, among other things, to retain and motivate their employees in the long term. The results of this research will allow us to assign data to previous assumptions, which we hope will inform future professional decisions by maintaining authorities and museum directors.


Staff development


The scope includes two groups of employees: middle management and general employees. One of our main findings is that the development of staff, and in particular the development of leadership competences of middle managers, is an internal need for both individuals and organisations.


Of the 13 areas for improvement listed in the online questionnaire, human resources was ranked third by museum directors and middle managers. The three areas most in need ofdevelopment for museum professionals are: digitalisation and IT skills (according to 53% of the respondents), strategic planning (according to 46% of the respondents), and communication skills (according to 42% of the respondents). At the same time, 38% of the respondents mentioned the development of professional skills, and 37% indicated the development of cooperation skills.


According to the results of the questionnaire, the majority of middle managers (41%) consider development opportunities in their own institution to be effective or fairly effective (36%). All 29 museum directors who participated in the focus group interviews stated that their institution supported the professional (non-university) training of key staff with financial contributions and release time, with 14 of them mentioning support for doctoral degrees and 3 mentioning support for master's degrees. 12 heads of institutions mentioned the need to learn about best practices in other museums and to participate in conferences, with six of them explicitly encouraging the acquisition of experience abroad. Several institutions have 1/5/7-year training plans with a dedicated budget, but this is not common.


The research confirms that the appointment of middle managers in museums is typically just another step in their career path that is not preceded by any significant leadership training, and most of them would admittedly like to develop their management skills and knowledge.


According to the questionnaire responses, 43% of middle managers feel that they need up-to-date leadership knowledge first and leadership skill development second (36%). However, senior managers believe that middle managers should develop their leadership skills and attitude first and second, and their leadership knowledge should come only third. These weaknesses also explain why more than half of middle managers do not give feedback to their staff on their performance.


It is interesting to note that the length of time spent as an employee in the institution before being appointed as a manager shows a downward trend with age: 3 years for managers aged 20-35, 5 years for managers aged 36-45, 10 years for managers aged 46-55 and 13 years for managers aged 56-65.


The figure below illustrates the three categories of development directions (knowledge, skills, attitude) identified by senior and middle managers during the in-depth interviews.



Workplace motivation and staff retention


The research also investigated the role of wages in motivating museum employees and what keeps them working in Hungarian museums despite the unfavourable pay conditions.


According to the responses to the online questionnaire, 72% of museum directors and only 63% of middle managers and employees think that wage levels are the main factor that motivates them at work.


In the online questionnaire, we asked managers to indicate what support they expect from the maintaining authority to help them retain staff. Of the 125 museum directors who responded, 70 indicated the need for a pay rise.


Some museums aim to retain multicompetent staff by offering salaries close to those in the market, for instance, to project managers, or by redistributing the salaries of those leaving, giving time off, or offering opportunities for extra income in the case of projects or tenders.


Inaddition to wages, the following were highlighted by managers in the focus group discussions: predictability, support for individual interests, workplace atmosphere (a united and caring work community with a manager who listens to their colleagues), and conscious selection of personalities that fit in with the team.


The situation of young staff was a special focus of the research, and the exit data confirm that the issue of the replacement and maintenance of staff in the museum profession is particularly pressing, although their motivation is not influenced significantly more by wages than that of older staff.


For the purposes of the research, young workers are defined as those aged between 20-35 and 36-45. 50% of entrants are aged between 36 and 45, while the entry rate for workers aged 20-35 is only 34%.  Two thirds of those leaving the museum sector are under 45, and nearly 40% of those leaving are aged between 36 and 45, which means that they are still young but they have significant work experience.


In the focus group discussions, the issue of motivational factors was raised, suggesting that young employees need to be given a transparent, predictable career path, where the first promotion can be achieved within a foreseeable period of time, i.e. one or two years, otherwise young people will only see the museum as a stepping stone.


However, the managers interviewed consider it problematic that young university graduates tend not to think in terms of institutions and complex systems, where the interests of their own field are not the only ones that matter. This could be helped by early involvement of young people and their “socialisation” to museums, as well as by early access to young people starting their careers, for example through the School Community Service, volunteer or internship programmes, and partnerships with universities and departments.


When completing the questionnaire, respondents were asked to rank 12 motivational and satisfaction factors (Herzberg scale).


Of the five most important factors for staff, four were hygiene factors (lack of hygiene factors leads to dissatisfaction) and only one was a motivator (presence of a motivator increases satisfaction):


1. Work that can be done well and successfully (M)

2. A good boss (H)
3. Rational organisational rules, procedures, and principles (H)
4. Good working conditions (H)
5. Safety at work (H)


In contrast, middle managers selected only one hygiene factor and four motivators among the top five: they are highly motivated by successful and interesting work, recognition and responsibility, but the lack of rational organisational rules and procedures dissatisfies them.


The majority of managers agreed during the in-depth interviews that the number one determinant of employee satisfaction is the feeling that they are where they are supposed to be, and that this requires competence, leeway and the provision of information. Most middle managers ranked recognition and appreciation of work as the most important thing for staff. This is in line with the responses of directors during the in-depth interviews: more frequent feedback, evaluation by management and the introduction of self-evaluation. Middle managers have recognised the importance of this, but it is not reflected in day-to-day practice as only 42% of middle managers say that the staff is given some form of performance evaluation, and even that is mostly verbal.


A successful motivational tool for many of the focus group interview participants, especially those aged 36-45 or above, is that staff in their museums are not just responsible for sub-tasks but they may be in charge of complex projects as well.


According to the museum directors, retention would be fundamentally supported by their maintaining authority if:


a, recognition of the museum profession would be expressed in the form of awards, as well as through respect for professional autonomy, development of partnerships, popularisation of the profession, and by increasing the appreciation of staff and the attractiveness of the museum sector.

b, professional partnerships would be encouraged at tourism, community, tender, and city level.


A large proportion of directors report a desire for methods of retaining human resources that could be adopted from other organisations (e.g. performance management systems, flexible working hours, development training, team building programmes, individual mental health and development opportunities (e.g. coaching)).



Recruitment and employee turnover


The museum sector is characterised by an increasing employee turnover rate. (Figures show that 77% of museum staff have been replaced in the last 7 years.) There is a tendency for those with competitive knowledge and skills to not stay in the museum profession in the long term.


An exit turnover rate of around 5-15% indicates a healthy level of renewal in the organisation. Data on the last seven years show that the average annual exit turnover rate for the different types of museums ranges from 4.75% to 12.13%, with the highest rates in national museums. However, the 35% rate shown in the service sector is particularly worrying. It must also be noted that in country museums, the lack of local job opportunities reduces turnover.


According to the responses, 50% of middle managers are concerned about staff turnover in some areas, while only 36% of museum directors are worried about it, and 62% consider staff turnover to be negligible. While 10% of middle managers say that the high exit and entry turnover rates also interfere with day-to-day operations, just 2% of museum directors feel the same way.


Compared with data from previous years, it is clear that the rate of worker outflow has increased, while in the 2013-2019 period, on average, there was an increase in the number of staff in all types of institutions based on entry and exit data.


Main reasons for leaving:

1. the employee could not cope with the pressure and stress of the job, 2. a better offer was made by another organisation, 3. dismissal of the employee, 4. termination of the role, 5. other reason. In addition to changes in personal circumstances and low wages, other reasons expressed and most frequently cited by middle managers include the lack of perspective, workplace conflicts, as well as burnout and the problem of setting and managing individual priorities (many people put all their energy into work without realising it, which eats up their reserves).


It is important to point out that at least 40% of the staff is perceived by respondents as “enervated or worse” in their institutions. According to the data collected, this situation could be helped by improving the flow of information and communication within the organisation and by improving support systems (strategy, work organisation, HR).


With regard to the management of loss of staff, it was also found that in the case of a retiring employee, the probability of not replacing the colleague with a new employee in the organisation is at least 35%, and in the case of an employee on prolonged leave, the probability is at least 56%, since such situations tend to be solved by reorganisation or internal replacement.


Responses from the in-depth interviews confirm that overwork is a real and genuine phenomenon in Hungarian museums: 53% of the respondents think that it is caused by lack of staff, and also 53% think that it is the management’s fault (wrong priorities and deadlines, lack of team members’ knowledge, inapt assignment of tasks).


In the in-depth interviews, 70% of directors said they were satisfied with the staff selection process. However, a total of six museum directors and ten middle managers believe that this area could benefit from significant improvements. The questionnaire for middle managers assessed the selection process in detail. When advertising new positions, 42% of middle managers select from their acquaintances and those among the contacts of the organisation, while only 11% of respondents use multi-channel advertising, and 66% of the time the advertising process is assisted by an experienced colleague who also helps with the selection process in 23% of cases.  32% of managers update job descriptions for new advertisements, while nearly 20% only ask applicants for CVs. 10% of the respondents make a single-person decision on the selection as the candidate’s future superior, while in 45% of the cases, it is the head of the institution who decides.


In the focus group discussions with the directors of national museums, it was expressed that above a certain institution size, it is necessary to create an HR department and to adopt an HR approach. In the other groups[1], it was also suggested that museums need to have HR skills that should be applied not only at the level of senior management, but they would be equally important for middle managers to learn so that they could be relied upon by senior managers.





Csordás, Izabella: HR kérdések a múzeumi szakmában I. – Fluktuáció és a fiatalok pályán tartása (HR issues in the museum profession I – Turnover and retaining young professionals)


[date accessed: 03/10/2022]


Csordás, Izabella and Nagy, Magdolna: HR kérdések a múzeumi szakmában II. - A munkatársak megtartása (HR issues in the museum profession II – Staffretention)


[date accessed: 26/09/2022]


Csordás, Izabella and Nagy, Magdolna: HR kérdések a múzeumi szakmában III. - A munkatársak fejlesztése (HR issues in the museum profession I – Staff development)


[date accessed: 26/09/2022]


Csordás, Izabella: HR kérdések a múzeumi szakmában I. – Fluktuáció és a fiatalok pályán tartása (HR issues in the museum profession I – Turnover and retaining young professionals)


[date accessed: 26/09/2022]


Nagy, Magdolna: A minőségi munkavégzésért – A munkatársak fejlesztési irányai (To achieve quality work – Staff

development directions)


[date accessed: 26/09/2022]


Csordás, Izabella: Mennyiben befolyásolja a bér a múzeumi munkatársak motivációját 2020-ban? (The influence of wages on museum staff motivation in 2020) Mit jelent a 37% és mit jelent a 63%? (The relevance of 37% and 63%)


[date accessed: 03/10/2022]



[1] focus groups: 1 group comprised directors of the largest national museums, 2 groups comprised directors of large and medium-sized museums and 1 group comprised opinion leader museum managers.