How college leaders can bring about culture change to stop burnout

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Amid the Great Resignation, higher education is facing particularly high burnout rates and potential staff turnover. But there are concrete ways college leaders can transform workplace culture and increase employee retention a new report from the American Council on Education.

Offer competitive pay, benefits, and work schedules

One of the biggest concerns across the higher education sector is staff pay. The average salary increase for all highly qualified professionals was the same less than half the inflation rate in 2021-2022. And just 37% of college workers said their salary allows them to live the lifestyle they want, per a survey by consultant Grant Thornton.

College leaders can address salary issues by offering competitive pay that keeps up with the cost of living and by providing salary ranges when posting jobs, the ACE report says. To fully understand the job market they face, colleges may need to conduct salary analysis based on their geographic area, type of institution, or both.

It is also important that colleges promote all available benefits and encourage employees to take advantage of them. College-specific benefits, such as access to campus gyms, meal plans, or tuition for employees and their dependents, can go a long way in retaining employees, the report says.

Another highly requested benefit is a hybrid work schedule with the ability to work remotely. Nearly 70% of college staff surveyed would like to work remotely at least partially, but nearly two-thirds work mostly or entirely on campus, according to the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources.

Colleges can allow employees to opt for a hybrid schedule, allowing them to work remotely unless required to do so in person, the ACE report said. Staggered in-person hours ensure someone is on campus at all times while allowing the majority of employees to work remotely.

On a departmental basis, supervisors could also allow employees to shift their 9-to-5 workday to the hours that work best for them to allow for a greater work-life balance.

Don’t keep employees on call 24/7

With the increasing shift to remote work, it can be tempting for managers to adopt new software and digital tools for collaboration. But many higher education workers experience technological overload, the report says, and constant availability comes at the expense of both productivity and thorough thinking.

Campus leaders should stick to email for written communication and reduce use of chat programs like Slack or Microsoft Teams whenever possible, the ACE report says.

According to the report, college workers are often burdened with the expectation that they will always be working or available, which is a major cause of burnout. A 2022 survey cited by ACE found that two-thirds of non-faculty college employees regularly work outside of the normal work day.

University leaders should limit communication outside of normal working hours and model best practice by not contacting their staff when they are supposed to be off-duty, the report said. They could also consider whether a four-day week is possible on their campus. D’Youville College, a non-profit institution in New York, for example, switched to a 32-hour week for some employees to attract employees and retain employees.

Value employees’ time

Managers should also consider limiting meetings and using them for brainstorming and idea generation rather than information sharing, the ACE report says. Some colleges have even introduced session-free days.

By valuing employees’ time, the report says, colleges can help reduce the never-ending churn that some workers feel after repetitive, time-consuming, low-productivity activities.

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