Burnout has become so common that many people can relate to or identify it without needing a definition.
The World Health Organization classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon. Caused by continuous unmanaged workplace stress, burnout includes the following symptoms: having low energy or feelings of exhaustion; experiencing dislike for or disinterest in the job at hand; and being less productive.
According to an Indeed survey of employees, 52% of workers admitted to feeling burnt out in 2021. What’s more, 40% of employees said burnout was the top reason for leaving a job, as reported in a Limeade survey of 1,000 employees in the U.S.
But what does this have to do with faculty in higher education?
Understanding Faculty Burnout
Just as common as burnout is the understanding that faculty wear many hats, work long hours and are often committed to a variety of responsibilities.
Faculty design and teach courses, mentor and coach students, and grade assignments and exams. They perform and write unique research, support their peers, and seek professional development.
Outside the lecture hall, faculty also have personal lives, friends and families they’re accountable to and for.
On top of all this, many educators who did not have experience in the world of online learning felt the stress caused by the quick pivot to this way of teaching as a result of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic.
Research done by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Fidelity Investments found that in 2019, fewer than a third of over 1,000 higher ed professors surveyed felt extremely or very stressed. In 2020, that amount more than doubled, as over two-thirds of respondents reported feelings of high stress.
The American Council on Education runs Pulse Point Surveys that examine the response of college and university presidents to COVID-19. In the April 2020 survey, the mental health of faculty and staff ranked ninth out of 14 options for the biggest issues presidents faced. In the fall of 2020, the mental health of faculty and staff jumped to being the third most pressing issue. In the most recent spring 2021 data, it is second only to the mental health of students.
Faculty burnout is a slippery slope higher education is stumbling on, based on what’s being revealed about burnout and the data surrounding how higher ed faculty, staff and administrators are feeling.
The passion for teaching can start to fade, impacting course delivery and student success. With the continuing drop of enrollment in U.S. colleges, preventing faculty burnout is crucial to maintaining the value of higher education for future generations.
To prevent further faculty burnout, its existence needs to continue to be acknowledged, and steps need to be taken to get faculty back on solid ground.
Preventing Faculty Burnout
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, but focusing on these three areas can help address and prevent faculty burnout:
- Mental health: Recognizing and closing the gap in mental health support for faculty could improve feelings toward the workplace. This could include higher wages, more flexible workloads and better tech support.
- Community: Building a support system from within higher education could help faculty feel less alone. Using peers and colleagues from within and outside institutions could create a variety of communities for faculty to lean on and learn from.
- Technology: The right training and support for commonly used technology could help faculty adjust to teaching online. Another way to help reduce workload through technology is to take advantage of a powerful learning management system.
Supporting Faculty in Higher Education
If the failing state of the mental health of faculty in higher education continues to go unchecked, institutions will feel the impact. After all, a lack of investment in faculty well-being could likely limit student success.
By protecting faculty’s passion for teaching, the material students learn and the experiences they have will continue to show the value of postsecondary education.