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.
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.
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.
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.
Faculty Burnout: How to Rekindle the Flame for Teaching in Higher Education
Learn how mental health, community and tech can make a difference in preventing and reversing faculty burnout.
Kari is a Content Marketing Manager at D2L who focuses on the world of corporate learning. She enjoys using her research, reporting, writing and multimedia skills to tell impactful stories.
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