Burnout: How can higher ed leaders survive the academy?
- As leaders constantly "pouring into others — our faculty, staff, students, alumni, local community members, other leaders — to get them where we are or want them to be, and that can be exhausting," said Kevin McDonald, University of Missouri System’s chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer, during a 2018 National Association of Diversity Officers in Higher Education panel session Friday. He added that it's important for leaders to figure out how to practice "self-care and refreshing" so they more effectively "make a difference each day."
- When it comes to finding a healthy work-life balance and preventing professional burnout, panelist Taffye Clayton, Auburn University's vice president for inclusion and diversity, suggested that leaders first "understand one's role at the executive level of being visionary and strategic influencers," so they can set clear expectations for staff and "cohesive, well-executed working relationships" that prevent having to "get into the weeds" and creating unnecessary stress.
- Clayton also said leaders should build connections with trusted peers, both internal and external to the institution, that want to "help you and invest in you." Panelist Jose Hernandez, chief diversity officer at the University of South Florida System, recommended leaders also be proactive, looking for signs of burnout, like "taking more sick days, lagging in responding to emails, not wanting to interact with students and being less cooperative," and take the needed vacation time, doctors visits and moments of self-care to continue flourishing.
When it comes to understanding the mental and physical health of administrators and faculty members, higher education still largely lacks the data to observe how stress impacts the job, studies find. In particular, higher education executives can feel the stress of not only fulfilling their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities, but also serving as mentors for staff members, students and campus community members.
McDonald explained that if leaders don't take the change to step back and recharge, they run the risk of not being at full capacity — which is what's needed to truly make a difference. Subsequently, Hernandez called on the industry to develop a "standard" that prioritizes the development of opportunities for leaders to focus on "the importance of self-care to remain fully energized and passionate" in their work.
Presidents and other high-level executives play a key role in hearing the concerns of others on campus — particularly when there is an overall culture of getting the most productivity out of faculty and staff — as in reality factors such as stress, employment insecurity or family life concerns can make employees less productive.
"There is a transition into being a director [...] and there's a transition into being an executive, you have to have relationships with that team and make adjustments for that," said Hernandez. "I focus on nurturing my team, hiring talented people more knowledgeable than myself, and trust them to do the work, building them up."
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