Here at Fair Museum Jobs HQ, we’ve always been big supporters of front of house (FoH) staff in museums and heritage. We know first-hand how hard it is to work FoH, and how crucial FoH teams are to people’s experiences visiting museums. So we’re very excited by the Museum Association’s commitment to front of house staff, and their newly published Front-of-House Charter for Change. The blog reviews the charter section by section, and makes further suggestions from the FMJ perspective.
We agree completely with the principles set out in the introduction, FoH staff deliver experiences across museums on a daily basis; they are often the public face of their organisations. Given the core role FoH staff fulfil it’s always been disappointing to see survey results finding that over half of FoH workers feel undervalued and a similar number don’t see their future in museums.
We also see in our job challenges on a regular basis poor recruitment practice for FoH roles – unclear contracts, low pay, overly complex requirements and exploitative volunteering are consistent themes in FoH roles; so it’s clear that guidance is needed to improve the experience of FoH staff.
Some of the principles outlined for wellbeing equally apply to staff across the museum spectrum – at no point should any organisation put their workforce, visitors or collections at risk through minimised staffing levels; and all staff should be given enough time to deliver tasks realistically.
The points here that recognise the public facing side of museum work are key – all staff in public facing roles need support for demanding situations; including training and allyship, as mentioned; but also through support for downtime after dealing with a situation. Time to recover from a difficult interaction or event is often under-rated but can make a significant difference to personal resilience. This should be part of the risk assessments also discussed in the charter.
Comfort for FoH staff has been an ongoing concern – for example at National Museum Scotland in 2016. FoH is a physical job – standing all day is known to cause health issues; so we completely support prioritising this for FoH staff. Water and seating are the minimum to provide, staff should also be supported with appropriate equipment and things like supportive footwear/insoles and the ability to change working positions throughout a shift. Provision of good space for breaks also feeds into these issues.
We also completely support practices in place for late night working, like paid taxis. It might also be useful to think about this if any of your staff have early starts too; and considering how individual staff might travel to work and at what times to review any potential risks is beneficial. There’s also risks if you’re asking any staff to travel for work – for example if you regularly send staff to the local bank with money, this should be risk assessed.
Contract and Conditions
When we first read this section; the recommendation was to pay in line with the National Living Wage. FMJ immediately raised this with the MA and asked for it to be updated to Real Living Wage – we were pleased this change was made so quickly. It is important to note that Real Living Wage should be the absolute minimum any member of staff is paid. However, many FoH roles ask for more than minimum experience and skills and should be better recompensed. We completely support higher rates of pay and/or TOIL for unsociable hours. We also strongly recommend the MA publish a full review of the 2017 Salary Guidelines to include stronger statements about acceptable minimum pay across the board but particularly to help standards for lowest paid staff in museums. Enforcement of both the salary guidelines and the recommendation in the FoH Charter would also widely benefit the sector workforce.
We’ve thought a lot about casual contracts at FMJ; and while we recognise that they aren’t always used appropriately, we believe they can be used in ways that don’t exploit staff. Organisations must remember that casual contracts work both ways, and there should be no onus on staff to accept all hours on offer, and nor should they be penalised for turning down work when it’s next offered. Casual contracts should be mutually agreed; and should never confer any exclusivity of work.
It’s also at the crux of both wellbeing and contracts that shifts and work are organised in a way that benefits quality of life for FoH staff – as recommended in the charter, predictable shifts communicated early and clearly are a simple way to achieve this.
FoH staff do also often suffer from undervalued job titles and misrepresentative role descriptions. Recognising the actual work done; and valuing it correctly in role assessments, should help FoH staff feel valued, and should also contribute to staff retention. This cannot be done if all staff do not understand FoH and what they do, so we recommend that senior staff and board members work FoH shifts at least annually.
One issue in the recommendations of the charter in this section particularly is an underlying assumption that FoH roles are entry level; but this is not the case. Our panel at the #FMJSummit talked about this in more detail. While none of the recommendations specifically change when thinking about FoH careers; it remains important to acknowledge appropriate job titles and pay across the FoH job spectrum – and to retain proportionate job criteria in these roles when recruiting. This comes back to wellbeing- no-one should be recruited for a role that is quite literally unachievable due to the number of requirements.
If you recognise your staff, they will work harder, stay longer in their jobs and feel better about work.
When thinking about recognition we go back to the FOHMuseums blog We Never Need to Say “Just” – FoH cannot be “just FoH” if we agree it is core to the experience of visitors and the running of the museum on a daily basis. The skills and talents of FoH workers deserve equal recognition to the rest of the museum workforce – and we wholeheartedly support the recommendations in this section. Simple actions like ensuring staff celebrations are held at times FoH staff can be included (and indeed, senior staff taking FoH roles to allow this); asking FoH staff for their views on decisions that particularly impact them and the visitors they interact with daily; and remembering that FoH staff are individuals bringing unique experience and knowledge, will all contribute to improving recognition.
As we said earlier in this piece, FoH staff report not feeling valued; this is no doubt because in many organisations there is a big divide between FoH and back of house staff. FoH staff are often unable to feed into decisions that impact them directly, and are excluded from activities like all-staff meetings by virtue of the meeting being scheduled during normal working hours when staff are on shift. The FoH Charter suggestions should be easy to implement to include FoH equally in decision-making and organisational activities.
Similarly to the issues in the inclusion section, FoH staff often cannot equally access training and development during their working time – organisations can be reluctant to release staff from their shifts, or unwilling to pay for additional working hours to attend training. However, paid training opportunities should be open to all staff – not only for activities specifically relating to the current role e.g. health and safety or fire training, but also for wider career development.
FoH staff should be fairly assessed through appraisals – targets should be agreed together and not only relate to job activity like increased shop sales or selling a number of memberships. Time and space should be allowed in working hours for FoH staff to develop their knowledge of the organisation and its processes, and the collection – or indeed other areas of interest for development in the widest sense.
Back of house staff should also be encouraged to develop their FoH skills – using the knowledge of FoH staff to support the professional development of others and contributing to a better understanding of how FoH deliver their roles.
Ultimately, it’s a sad indictment of the sector that it’s necessary to remind everyone to treat FoH staff fairly and equitably. We hope this Charter will encourage change and improvement for FoH staff across the sector – and we’ll keep watching museums, heritage organisations and sector bodies closely to see if commitments match actions.