Front-of-house at the Ashmolean Museum

Are front-of-house staff undervalued by museums?

Rebecca Atkinson, 03.06.2014
Vote in the poll and have your say
As the public face of the museum, visitor services staff are vital in communicating information about displays and collections to visitors. They are also able to offer unique insight into audiences and how they engage with the museum.

Delegates to the Museums Association's annual conference in October will have the chance to discuss how the front-of-house experience can transform the wider museum workforce.

But do museums undervalue front-of-house staff? Are their experiences used to inform other areas of museum practice, from curatorial and design to marketing? And are there enough opportunities for people working in visitor services to move into other careers in museums?

Vote in the poll and have your say in the comment box below.


Poll

Are front-of-house staff undervalued by museums?



Comments

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Anonymous
MA Member
15.08.2014, 12:53
On holiday in Edinburgh I popped into the National Museum of Scotland and wandered around the galleries. There was something on display that caught my curiosity. I then made an enquiry with one of the gallery attendants who himself knew quite a bit about these particular items. What followed was an unexpected yet illuminating discussion. Visitor Services are generally undervalued but the experience I had is just one example in how members of staff can offer visitors that special touch.
Pam Walker
MA Member
Museum Officer, Shoe Museum
11.06.2014, 17:25
"And are there enough opportunities for people working in visitor services to move into other careers in museums?"

This very sentence undervalues Visitor Services as it implies the role is not as important as other roles in a museum that visitor services staff might aspire to!
Anonymous
MA Member
07.06.2014, 11:57
Yes, yes, and yes.

In a museum where I am working, front of house staff are hugely taken advantage of. The museum will often develop and staff events based on the historical outfits owned privately by interpretative staff. Allow enthusiastic FOH develop and design summer exhibitions and events for free as 'experience' but then never offer anything in the way of progression (meanwhile they monetise the exhibition by sending it out on tour).
Anonymous
MA Member
06.06.2014, 19:39
All I asked as a front of house worker was to be kept in the loop and valued for the job I did. Senior staff should set a good example- our old director made an effort to learn our names and acknowledge us or stop to say hello when he walked by. We were kept informed through regular all-hands meetings, and curators gave us tours of the galleries and their offices so that nothing felt secret or forbidden from us. I'm sad to say this changed when the museum faced financial difficulties and was taken over by new management. We felt like ghosts in our own museum and most of us lost our jobs to volunteers.
Anonymous
MA Member
06.06.2014, 13:41
I do think that FOH staff are undervalued hugely but the senior managers in the museums I have worked in have actively encouraged FOH staff to apply for secondment opportunities thus giving them the chance to develop. When I was able to take advantage of such an opportunity I was seen as a deserter that had gone over to the "dark side". This attitude of "us and them" is so ingrained in some institutions that staff that have been with an organisation for a long time are not willing to take these opportunities.
Anonymous
MA Member
05.06.2014, 17:01
Feel that we are often the last paople to know any changes when we should be one of the first?
Anonymous
MA Member
05.06.2014, 12:36
It is very disheartening to read a lot of the above comments. I have line managed Front of House teams for the past 12 years, both at a supervisor / on the floor level and currently at a strategic level within my organisation (I operate on the Senior management Team but still maintain direct line management of the FOH team). I believe it is down to individual managers and organisations.

I work very closely with my FOH team in their development within their current role and where they want to get to within their career. I support them on a one-to-one basis with their career goals in a more mentor-style arrangement as well as developing the team as a whole with input from other departments within the museum (such as curatorial and learning). We visit other museums as a team to share best practice as well as seeing what other museums are doing with their events and exhibitions...it's good to plan days out every few months.

Some of my team represent the FOH on working groups on issues such as diversity or sustainability where they work with other colleagues across other departments and take responsibility for implementing change. As the museum moves forward with some key capital developments over the coming years, FOH will be key to developing how any reconfiguration or new development might look like. They have already met the architect and one member of the team is on the project working group and will be throughout the works. Their input is vital right from the start to ensure that once we reopen the doors, everything functions properly and efficiently and only the people on the ground can do that.

I also ensure I communicate what is going on across the museum, filtering down from strategic level and ensuring they understand what part they play in helping the museum achieve its long term goals.

All visitor feedback is passed on to FOH and I make a point of thanking them and making sure they know how valuable they are. I also ensure they understand the results of their efforts, be it increased donations, or increased visitor satisfaction.

Managers and colleagues in the museums should never underestimate the value of FOH teams...they are the face of your museums and are often the only team of people who come into contact with the public...why would you not invest in them?!

Anonymous
MA Member
07.06.2014, 14:53
You say that you have line managed Front of house staff at "floor level". Does that mean you did that job or trained in it? Do you now stand in for staff when staffing levels are low? This is something I would like to see FoH managers doing more if they have "risen from the ranks". You also suggest that your staff get regular training and support, as well as visiting other museums to see practice elsewhere. Has your institution not been hit by budget cuts and job losses like many other, or do you still cling to a day or two when the institution is closed?
05.06.2014, 10:12
It shouldn't be about pay, it should be about pride. I've always had the greatest respect for Front-of-House staff but as a freelancer I can stand back and see the great knowledge and enthusiasm that most of them have. I recently completed a consultation report for a major museum service which highlighted the most important aspect of the visitor's experience was the relationship they had with front-of-house staff. They provided the mood, the interpretation and the essential directions to the nearest toilet :)
Anonymous
MA Member
04.06.2014, 23:30
Front of House usually get the thin end of the wedge, though I have worked with a few front of house staff who appear to have no interest in museums or heritage at all. Saying that with a pay freeze and demands for more and more from fewer and fewer people with less and less money, if you are expecting to be valued, you have joined the wrong profession!
 - This comment has been reported
Anonymous
MA Member
04.06.2014, 19:32
I imagine this depends on the museum. I wonder if someone working front-of-house in a large organisation might feel less valued than a small museum where front-of-house often get more roles and opportunities.
Anonymous
MA Member
04.06.2014, 17:21
Yes, yes, yes!
Front of house are the first point of contact for visitors to museums and yet they are notoriously underpaid, undervalued and relegated to the sidelines of museum work. Independent thought is unwelcome and ideas ignored in favour of following instructions and rules laid out by senior management who likely have no real experience doing the job. Moreover, there is no real training to progress into a museum career and when educated and knowledgeable FoH staff apply to internal vacancies they are often passed over for outside candidates.
Anonymous
MA Member
04.06.2014, 16:28
personally no, front of house staff are essential to the running of a museum no matter what type of museum it is. Motivated, trained and properly utilised front of house staff are the life blood of a museum. Unfortunately this is rarely appreciated by senior management and parent organisations.
Anonymous
MA Member
04.06.2014, 13:13
I will have to remain anon, but work in Education "Front-of-house" on Merseyside. Yes. We work with visitors and schools, help to deliver the offfers inexperienced managers ask us to develop (and watch while they take the credit for it) ,put up with increasing numbers of visitors on a low staffing level and take abuse, at the same time as trying to maintain standards of display and conservation (I hate cheesy Quavers!). It is even worse for colleagues who work as gallery assistants.
Anonymous
MA Member
03.06.2014, 20:15
I work really really hard & support virtually everything across my museum to enable it to operate successfully. My senior managers never include me in programming or team meetings or give myself & other FOH colleagues any credit for the work we do. We are treated like 2nd class workforce members & yet often put in much longer hours than our line managers and are usually the ones who step up in a crisis. Worse of all, we are constantly reminded that there are lots of MA grads who would jump at our jobs, so therefore we should be grateful rather than campaigning for CDP.
Anonymous
MA Member
03.06.2014, 19:24
Often front of house are retired & therefore have vast experience in a high level job. When they try to give suggestions to the manager, they are ignored.
Anonymous
MA Member
03.06.2014, 19:17
When I used to work as a Gallery Attendant for a well-known regional museum, we were not only not offered any training in other areas of museum work, but volunteering in our own time was prevented. Conservation and junior curatorial staff were advised directly not to let us volunteer with them. When a situation arose for a new team to be formed to engage visitors proactively in a temporary exhibition, we were not told in advance, there was no application process and suddenly a team of students from the local university were brought in. Surely this was a development opportunity missed. Of course there are not enough positions in museums to offer existing staff new experience on a permanent basis, but it is wrong for an employer to actively stop its staff from trying to develop themselves in their own time. Museums should encourage all of their staff to learn new skills and enable them to make an active contribution to their museum - afterall a happy employee is a more effective employee who will provide the best level of service to the visitor.
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
03.06.2014, 17:06
Lots of comments on Twitter about this, some of which I'll share below...

www.twitter.com/simonianbrown
Yes yes yes yes yes.

www.twitter.com/mia_out
It's really hard to work with shift supervisors to get FoH time, I'd loved to have worked with them more

www.twitter.com/visitsunlimited
Families say welcoming front of house staff are a priority for them when chosing accessible venue

www.twitter.com/gumballgary
Yes esp. when they check 990 on Guidestar and see CEO making $250,000 a year while they make $20,000.

www.twitter.com/‏georgeus1975
Yes very, after a zero hour contract working full time for 2 and 1/2 years!