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4 takeaways on combatting faculty burnout from our gathering of academic leaders

March 9, 2023

EAB recently launched the first two-part event series for our partners focused on combatting faculty burnout and integrating a culture of well-being in academic affairs. More than twenty academic leaders from across North America participated in session one: Faculty Burnout-A Workplace Problem, Not a Worker Problem.

During this session, I had the opportunity to facilitate small group conversations with our provosts and vice provosts, who were eager to share their own experiences with faculty burnout and any efforts they had made to combat it. Here are four major takeaways from my conversations with academic leaders about faculty burnout.

1. Rising student expectations and mental health needs are a primary driver of faculty burnout

Students increasingly want more than just course content from their professors-57% want help with professional networking and 45% want their professors to be willing to listen to personal issues and consider accommodations on coursework. These expectations create additional strains on faculty workloads and/or on faculty who feel uncertain about their role in student mental health support.

When it comes to student mental health and well-being support, faculty must be reminded that, while they do have a supportive role to play, they are not professional counselors, nor expected to be. To ease the negative impacts on faculty, academic leaders can set clear expectations for faculty about their role in student mental health support and help faculty set boundaries with students.

2. Faculty burnout is not new, but the pandemic has highlighted the long-term strategic importance of supporting faculty well-being

Partners agreed that faculty burnout is not a new phenomenon in higher education. Even in 2018, more than 70% of faculty reported high or very high levels of stress regardless of career stage, and more than 25% of faculty reported experiencing burnout often or very often.

However, the pandemic added additional stressors and challenges that augmented many faculty pain points that existed pre-pandemic. Even with the worst of the pandemic hopefully behind us, the impacts of the pandemic have clearly continued to reverberate. Leaders are being flooded with many urgent faculty needs surrounding concerns like flexible work, child and adult caregiving, and workload. The result has been newfound urgency among leaders to take action and launch efforts to address the growing risk of burnout on their campuses.

3. Faculty would benefit from reminders of the key support resources available to them

While many institutions provide a variety of mental health and other support resources to their faculty, a common challenge is the lack of awareness and/or utilization of these resources. Even if faculty have seen the available resources in a workshop or training, it’s often difficult to recall what campus supports are available to themselves or a colleague in the moment.

Academic leaders can help faculty by providing resources that clearly outline how to find in-the-moment campus support resources. University of British Columbia’s Orange Folder is a best-practice example of this type of resource. Leaders can also support faculty by planning communications about available support resources for key times throughout the academic year. For example, it could be helpful to remind faculty that counselors are available through the EAP during particularly stressful times at the start and end of each semester.

4. Academic leaders are eager to gain greater insight into faculty experiences with burnout in the academic affairs workplace

Often, leaders describe only hearing concerns from the most vocal faculty on their campuses, leaving the experiences of the less-vocal majority of faculty out of key support considerations. Many academic leaders are currently prioritizing efforts to survey faculty on their workplace experiences, the supports and conditions needed to help them thrive, and their mental health and well-being needs as a means of gathering more holistic insight into the greatest faculty needs on their campuses.

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