Museology Master of Arts Program

November 13, 2019

Human resource management in small-staff museums : a case study approach

Thesis by Katelyn Johnson (2019)

The purpose of this case study was to discover the Human Resource Management strategies employed by small museums without a designated Human Resource manager on staff. Historically, Human Resource Management (HRM) was a low priority in nonprofit organizations. Within the past decade, museum professionals called for reform to best practices regarding labor issues in the field. While large museums with ample resources easily adopted HRM policies based on best practices, small museums had greater challenges in accomplishing the same. The two primary research questions guiding this study were “Were small museum’s utilizing best practices laid out by experts in the field, or were they crafting their own policy?” and “What efforts did small museums make to promote Quality of Working Life and good staff ecology?” Data was collected through three methodologies at the Issaquah History Museums in Issaquah, WA: participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and document analysis. Four major conclusions resulted from this case study: employees at small institutions worked outside their job position responsibilities to fulfill the needs of the organization; employees limited their working hours per week and/or telecommuted from home to ensure a healthy work-life balance; employees needed the economic support of a second income earner in their family to permit them working in a small museum; and strategies employed by employees indicated weaknesses in the museum’s human resource practices, which could perpetuate burnout. The primary limitation of this study was that case study research findings were not generalizable to the field at large.

Keywords: Class of 2019, museology,museums, museum studies, human resources, human resource management


Johnson, K., & O’Donnell, Wilson. (2019). Human resource management in small-staff museums : A case study approach. Seattle]: University of Washington.