Survey Reveals Escalating Workloads Impacting Mental Health of Higher Education Professionals


A recent survey conducted by Educause sheds light on the escalating issue of excessive workloads affecting the mental health and morale of teaching and learning professionals in higher education.

The 2024 "Teaching and Learning Workforce in Higher Education" report presents a stark reality, revealing that nearly two-thirds of respondents are grappling with unmanageable workloads, with higher-ranking positions experiencing even more significant challenges. As the demands on these professionals intensify, the quality of education services and employee well-being are at risk, prompting a call for urgent attention and reform.

Survey Reveals Escalating Workloads Impacting Mental Health of Higher Education Professionals
(Photo : UNSPLASH / Michał Parzuchowski)

The Weight of Workloads

The survey, encompassing 1,001 teaching and learning professionals across various position areas and levels, paints a concerning picture of the challenges faced in higher education. A staggering 65% of respondents reported an excessive workload, with the burden increasing as one climbs the organizational hierarchy. C-level executives and assistant or associate VPs, comprising 84% of respondents, deemed their workloads excessive, closely followed by 73% of directors and 71% of managers.

The most common areas of responsibility among respondents were faculty training and development (58%), online, hybrid, or distance learning (54%), and instructional design (51%). Interestingly, faculty members constituted less than 4% of respondents. The report drew a crucial correlation between burnout and workloads, with individuals experiencing "a lot" of burnout in the last year being significantly more likely to report an excessive workload (82% vs. 47%, respectively). Those grappling with burnout were also more inclined to express intentions of applying for other positions within the next year.

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Negative Impacts and Staffing Challenges

The repercussions of unmanageable workloads are extensive, negatively affecting both the quality of education services and the well-being of professionals. Due to increased responsibilities and understaffing, respondents highlighted the need to prioritize urgent tasks while neglecting other crucial aspects of their roles. The toll on mental health, well-being, and morale was evident, with stress, burnout, and a diminished sense of confidence and effectiveness in performing duties becoming pervasive.

Moreover, excessive workloads emerged as a significant factor contributing to staffing challenges, making staff recruitment and retention arduous. The most common staffing challenges identified included insufficient compensation and benefits, budget constraints, hiring freezes, ineffective leadership, and a lack of consensus on strategic priorities.

Demands and Challenges in Higher Education

When asked about job functions witnessing an increase in time demands, respondents identified artificial intelligence (30%), faculty training and development (28%), and online, hybrid, or distance learning (24%) as the top three culprits. Notably, the report highlighted the paradoxical situation where AI, despite experiencing the largest increase in time demands, saw the fewest positions budgeted for and was among the bottom five areas in the creation of new positions.

Additional findings underscored the importance of remote/hybrid work options, with 85% of respondents deeming it crucial, while only 66% reported having current access to such options. The multifaceted responsibilities of teaching and learning professionals were evident, with 85% reporting more than one primary area of responsibility in their jobs.

Recommendations for Change

As institutions grapple with these challenges, the report urges a prioritization of employee well-being and morale. Creating more manageable workloads is identified as a critical starting point. Additionally, suggested areas of support and change include enhancing digital literacy, particularly in AI; addressing tensions between faculty and instructional support staff; fostering collaboration; and preparing for innovative teaching and learning methods.

The survey's revelations underscore the urgent need for higher education institutions to address the escalating issue of excessive workloads faced by teaching and learning professionals. The implications extend beyond individual professionals to impact the overall quality of education services. As the sector navigates challenges in staffing, leadership, and technological advancements, a comprehensive approach that prioritizes employee well-being and seeks to create more sustainable work environments is imperative. The call to action is clear: a reevaluation of workloads to ensure a healthier, more resilient workforce in higher education.

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