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Associations Now

Grieving the Loss of Half of My Staff

ASSOCIATIONS NOW, February 2011 Small scale

By: Jenifer Grady, CAE

Summary: How one association executive went from mourning the resignation of her only staff member to celebrating the hiring of a new employee.

Half of my staff resigned in one day. This would be catastrophic for any association, but the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association (ALA-APA) has just two half-time employees. While we are part-time employees of the American Library Association, we are the only two who work for the 501(c)(6) that manages ALA certification programs.

We worked together for four years. There were challenges and flaws in the relationship, as in any other, but my research associate (RA) was a sounding board and tester as we built the Library Support Staff Certification program, created a website and marketing materials, and chose an online portfolio vendor. She was the point of contact for inquiries from support staff and education providers. And now she was leaving. While I was trying to find a replacement, I discovered that not only was I mourning the loss of a coworker and friend, but I was also progressing through the five stages of grief.

Denial

After my RA gave notice, I asked myself, "How hard can it be to perform both jobs for two months?"

I should have been asking:

  • What is essential to keep current, and what can be put on hold for several months?
  • Which of these tasks do I want to carry for the next two months?
  • Which of my tasks will be on hold while I act like the full staff?

Anger

I was never angry at her; I celebrated her following her dream. I knew that despite her competence in this position, the requirements were outside of her comfort and personality zones. This led to frustrations, but it also revealed the skills required for the next person.

Instead, I was angry at the applicants. I train others how to respond to job postings, so I am sure my expectations were too high, but I had typical gripes about the cover letters and resumes. It appeared that some applicants did not read the description, and I was so frustrated that I posted a reminder on LinkedIn for job seekers to tailor the application and learn about the employer. The good part: I was not so angry that I missed seeing qualified applicants in the pool.

Bargaining

Our human-resources specialist grounded me in reality about what to ask and expect for a part-time position. This was the first time seeking candidates for this position, because the RA was originally hired under a different description. I bargained with myself every step of the way. I remembered it wasn't about me, and the most important question became, "What skills should the candidate have that would help us meet our goals for the next year?"

Depression

You might wonder, "Why next year?" I had to be more strategic in my approach. In a way, I am already pre-grieving.

The other source of what might be called depression is that I had trouble making the final decision on who to hire. I eagerly seek the opinions of others and weigh them before determining my next steps, so I sought counsel and—with some hesitation—made my choice.

I also asked myself how I need to change to make a person stay. After all, in loss, you ask yourself what you did to cause the loss. The circumstances leading to the RA's resignation were not related to the job, but it was a good reminder that no one is perfect.

Acceptance

The interviewing and selection process has been exhausting. I realize that the position description probably did not, could not, and should not have conveyed how much I will rely on this person. I will try not to overwhelm the new person with this pressure, and I will try to be welcoming and patient as the next RA gets comfortable. After all, I want the new RA to redefine how this role will be played and contribute extensively to our team of two.

Jenifer Grady, MSLS, MBA, CAE, is director of the American Library Association-Allied Professional Association in Chicago. Email: jgrady@ala.org

Small-Staff Stats

Name: American Library Association-Allied Professional Association
Location: Chicago
Staff size: Two part-time employees
Members: None, but committees are populated by and services and products are provided for the 66,000 members of the American Library Association and other library-related professionals.
Budget: Approximately $200,000

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  Ginny Sutton , April 21, 2011
Interesting perspective on handling both loss as well as added responsibility.
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  Vinay Kumar , March 27, 2011
Wonderful write-up Jenifer. I so enjoyed reading it and could relate to it. Thank you for your very thoughtful piece.

Vinay




 

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