Photo by daitoZen via Getty Images

Museum Social Media: Burnout or Moral Injury?

I’ve been really inspired by the conversation, both past and present, around social media manager self-care and burnout. It’s lit a fire under me to get the word out as much as absolutely possible. Then, Ella Dawson made sense of all of the thoughts swirling in my head with her in-depth article documenting her unemployment journey, the problems with burnout, and how we can change the system. But it was Dr. Zubin Damania’s viral video on healthcare worker burnout and Moral Injury that hit me like a bolt of lightning.

I’m compelled to take Dr. Z’s video point-by-point and compare the burnout of the healthcare industry with that of museum/non-profit social media managers. This is when I make the proverbial statement, “We’re not saving babies here, people.” …unlike actual healthcare workers. However, we need to stop saying this, because our work is important. Look at the authority that our museums give to social justice issues or scientific concerns like climate change. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Museums matter.

Let’s start with some definitions.

BURNOUT: When we aren’t doing a good enough job taking care of ourselves.

So let’s be real…the term “burnout” is victim shaming.
Why? Because instead of the impetus being placed on the employer to provide ample time for self-care, it’s instead expected that the employee solve this on our own, without resources. If we can’t deal with it, we are seen to fail.

MORAL INJURY: When our moral ideals meet the cruelty of the real world.

More real talk… Moral injury is when we’re forced to bear witness to things that are against our core beliefs, our innate love for other humans, and we simply break down.

Screenshot: Dr. Zubin Damania | YouTube: ZDoggMD

What does MORAL INJURY look like?

For healthcare workers, Dr. Z shares how these beautiful people enter the field with an evangelical zeal, thinking they’d be part of something much larger than themselves. (What’s your vision of a typical nurse?) The moral injury happens when they can’t do their job when they’re faced with the structural failures of the healthcare system: the insurance industry, out of touch administrators, lack of resources and autonomy. And most importantly…computer screens instead of looking into faces.

For museum and non-profit social media managers, we enter the field with the same level of zeal for the mission of our organizations. We sacrifice a hefty salary for a career focused on the greater good. Then we’re faced with the vitriol of the internet. Here are just a few examples if you can’t fathom what we mean: A faceless troll who says horrific things about that LGBTQ gallery installation, a tone-deaf bigot who turns your well-thought-out post into their personal political commentary, an unnecessarily rude and hurtful review against your organization, or a community who turns on you because you happen to have an object in your collection that’s now tied to a controversy. (There’s also just the run-of-the-mill complainers every. single. day.)

How do you deal?

So when you work so hard to get into the field, how do you deal with this sudden confrontation with reality? Dr. Z says simply, “They can’t change the system, so instead they have to adapt, and adapt, and adapt. That’s not burnout, it’s moral injury.”

Social media managers obviously know to not feed the trolls, we understand the basic customer service premise of responding to a complaint and then attempting to take it off-line, or using community guidelines and other methods to block or hide comments that are inappropriate. But sometimes our organizations — or our governments — have rules that go above our heads, or our supervisors are misguided and insist on other processes for managing these issues. On any other given day, the politics of donors or board members may require us to not take a stand on certain issues, when we know there’s an opportunity to make an impact that’s in line with the museum’s mission. We often have to adapt, against our better judgment. That can turn you into burnt toast real fast.

Screenshot: Dr. Zubin Damania | YouTube: ZDoggMD

Changing the system, but how?

One thing that struck me about Dr. Z’s thoughts was that he had a structure for moving forward. For his field he called it Health 3.0, and it requires the goals of all the competing “masters” getting in sync, because now they’re all at odds. Currently for healthcare workers they’re working against the goals of their patients, their employer, and their own self/family/finances. If all the goals aligned, we could move forward.

For social media managers, this is certainly the same story. We are constantly balancing these three aspects of our lives:

  1. Our Employers: What are the goals of all of the promotional content that needs to be shared? What are the messages that will go out? Was the social team involved at the beginning to ensure that the traditional marketing message actually will make sense for digital/social as well? (Jury’s out.) Our employers want it all, but don’t consider the resources it requires.
  2. Our Online Community: What content will actually resonate with them to ensure they stay engaged? How do we build an authentic tone and true online community dialogue, especially if the content we have to share from our employers means nothing to them? On the other hand, what they truly need is our customer service support, often at times of day that are most convenient for them…and not convenient for us.
  3. Our Own Lives: The financial piece is laughable. Moving on. How about that “family time” when we’re supposed to be monitoring our online communities from 6 a.m. until 11 p.m. every day and on weekends? We can’t count how many family birthdays or outings have been interrupted by a menial social media customer service question, or possibly something bigger like a crisis communications scenario. (Don’t even think about asking us about hobbies.)

How do we bring these three things into sync? Let’s start with the basics: appropriate tools, resources, respect, support, appropriate compensation…then let’s keep the list going.

The front lines

Have you ever described your work as “front line digital customer service” or something similar? I know I have. So it struck a chord when Dr. Z made the parallel between nurses working the front lines, just like soldiers at war. With social media customer service, we’re seeing the worst of the worst as we work in the trenches of the internet. We also get no reprieve.

What’s more, administrators aren’t on the front lines and don’t know our digital communities. They can’t do our jobs. It’s why we exist. And it’s why they should trust us.

Screenshot: Dr. Zubin Damania | YouTube: ZDoggMD

So here’s Dr. Zubin Damania’s call to action:

“We on the frontlines need to stand up to our leaders and demand that they lead. We need to demand they recognize that moral injury is something that needs to be taken into account.”

He put it even more simply,
“Stop putting bandaids on burnout. Stop victim shaming.”

My biggest takeaway? The more language that the social media professional community has around the issues of burnout, self-care, (and now moral injury), the stronger we’ll be. Progress is being made every day. So let’s keep the conversation going.



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