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The issue of retention in higher education is not limited to students; faculty and staff are becoming more disenchanted and disengaged with the industry’s standards of professional support, especially when it comes to their mental health.
According to a Healthy Minds study specifically focused on higher ed faculty and staff, nearly two-thirds (64%) of faculty reported “feeling burned out because of work” either somewhat (30%), to a high degree (19%), or to a very high degree (15%). Faculty at four-year institutions (68%) felt burned out more than those working at community colleges (54%).
While higher ed most certainly has – and continues to – respond to the critical need for mental health support among students, it is time to devote some of that support to the very employees who play a crucial role in higher ed’s efforts to support students.
Working in higher ed: Losing its luster?
According to a survey by TimelyCare, higher education’s most trusted virtual health and well-being provider, more than half (53%) of the faculty and staff surveyed have considered leaving their job because of burnout, increased workload and stress, underscoring continuing concerns about employee retention in the aftermath of the pandemic. What’s more, over three-quarters (82%) said they’re experiencing the same or more levels of stress and anxiety than last year.
There are many reasons why supporting faculty and staff mental health should be a priority for colleges and universities including, but not limited to:
- Higher retention and better recruitment
- Decreased burnout
- Improved job satisfaction
- Decreased stigma
- Positive impact on student success
Retention and recruitment
Supporting faculty and staff should be a key component of an institution’s retention and persistence strategy. According to the TimelyCare survey, 75% of those surveyed said more mental health support would improve job satisfaction.
If faculty are not doing well, students are not doing well either. Faculty and staff are experiencing stress like never before. Every day, colleges are closing, courses are being cut, tenure is being challenged across the country, college presidents are under public scrutiny – all adding to the already prevalent stress of the classroom.
A CUPA-HR survey warns of a higher education retention crisis, as many staff, professionals, and administrators are considering other employment.
Increased support can contribute to higher retention rates and make the institution more competitive in recruiting top talent. For example, Dr. Ellie Sturgis, former director of the Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech, said that the university’s partnership with TimelyCare drastically changed the dynamic of their on-campus counseling center’s office by giving their counselors a daily refresh from overwhelming student demand.
Ellie Sturgis, Former Director of Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech, shares how partnering with TimelyCare enabled them to retain more of their campus counselors.
“Having access to TimelyCare to help what we’re doing, our ability to retain our counselors has improved significantly. They’re able to go home, refresh, come back ready the next day,” she said. “TimelyCare is a way to expand services, help take care of staff, help take care of students, and help us to do our jobs in a more effective way.”
Regina Ray, an embedded counselor at Virginia Tech, is grateful for the added support and said it makes a difference in the day-to-day.
Regina Ray, Embedded Counselor at Virginia Tech, talks about how using TimelyCare’s services better helps her serve her students.
“To feel supported as an employee is to feel heard. I think Virginia Tech does a really good job of providing support beyond just the workload, acknowledging that our work is very hard at times,” she said. “Giving us TimelyCare, where they’re acknowledging that our students need mental health services, but we also know for you all to fully serve our students, you need them as well.”
Decreased burnout and improved job satisfaction
The demanding nature of higher education jobs, including teaching, research, and administrative responsibilities, can contribute to burnout. Half of higher ed employees work additional hours beyond full-time expectations, according to the latest CUPA-HR survey. Nearly a quarter (21%) of employees who work additional hours put in between one and five extra hours a week.
Another major contributing factor to employee burnout is the mental health of students. The TimelyCare survey found 76% of higher ed employees feel supporting students’ mental health is a job expectation.
The New York Times took an in-depth look at the mental health crisis at a New England college that saw incredible tragedy. A faculty member is quoted saying faculty and staff members “felt as if they were the ‘first line’ responders to students in crisis, but they weren’t trained or equipped for the level of distress.” After the school hosted town hall events for faculty and staff members, a major focal point began to emerge: faculty and staff were burned out. A faculty member who was a member of the school’s emergency task force is quoted saying, “We heard from a lot of faculty that they were just very overwhelmed by the need for students to find a sympathetic ear and some guidance.”
“Faculty and staff are concerned about the level of anxiety and stress that they see that our students are coping with and are always looking for resources for dealing with the stress,” said Dr. Jeanne Natali, director of the Student Resource and Empowerment Center at Tidewater Community College. “I think at the same time, that is starting to burn out the faculty, because it’s becoming more and more prevalent across our students.”
By changing the way faculty and staff can seek and find mental health support, institutions will see enhanced productivity and performance. Employees who feel supported in their mental health are more likely to be engaged and productive at work with better concentration, creativity and problem-solving skills.
Additionally, employees who feel their mental health is supported are more likely to be satisfied with their jobs. This can lead to increased morale, motivation and positive work attitude. Three out of four faculty and staff said more mental health support would improve job satisfaction, according to the latest TimelyCare survey.
Faculty & staff need access to 24/7 mental health care
Higher education institutions have a role in breaking down the stigma associated with mental health. By openly supporting employee mental health, colleges and universities contribute to a culture that normalizes seeking help and talking about mental health issues.
“Offering TimelyCare to employees is normalizing the need for mental health care for them and makes it easier for them to talk to students about mental health care,” said Erica Coates, assistant director of partnership initiatives, Cook Counseling Center at Virginia Tech. “Opening that line of conversation has a reverberating effect, that is a community-wide, campus-wide, safe conversation. We can’t begin to fathom the impact of that.”
Saad Kahn, a mental health initiatives coordinator at Virginia Tech, said promoting self-care among employees is essential, and ensuring that employees are using these skills all the time, not just in times of crisis.
Saad Khan, Mental Health Initiatives Coordinator at Virginia Tech, talks about how important it is for faculty and staff to have access to virtual care so they can support students to the best of their abilities.
“We need these channels and avenues to take care of ourselves throughout the week so that when the tough situations are coming, we are presenting the best version of ourselves that we possibly can,” he said. “We want to present our best selves to students because when we’re presenting our best selves, we’re able to support them in the best way that we can.”
Positive impact on student success
Supporting employee mental health in higher education is not only beneficial for the well-being of employees but also for the overall success and effectiveness of the institution. A healthy and supported faculty and staff find enhanced job satisfaction, better positioning them to provide effective teaching, mentorship, and support to students – ultimately contributing to greater student success and retention.
Addressing all of these various and complex challenges takes commitment and require the necessary and appropriate resources and support systems:
Promote a healthy work-life balance
Encourage reasonable working hours and discourage excessive overtime. Promote the use of vacation time and ensure that faculty and staff feel comfortable taking time off.
Flexible work arrangements
Allow flexibility in work schedules when possible. Consider options like remote work, compressed workweeks or flexible hours to accommodate personal needs.
Promote community building
Foster a sense of community among faculty and staff and organize social events, team-building activities and support groups to promote connections and a sense of belonging.
Address workload issues
Regularly assess and adjust workloads to prevent burnout. Ensure realistic expectations for work tasks and deadlines.
Encourage leadership to prioritize mental health and model healthy behaviors. Provide training for supervisors on recognizing signs of mental health issues and offering support. Offer regular check-ins and regularly review and update policies related to workload, leave, and mental health support to ensure they are effective and relevant.
Provide mental health resources
Offer access to on-campus counseling services and invest in partnerships, like TimelyCare, that support employee mental health 24/7. Share information about the resources available and encourage employees to seek help when needed.
Davien Armstrong, Case Manager in the Student Resources & Empowerment Center at Tidewater Community College, shares why Faculty and Staff Care helps improve campus health and well-being by expanding access to support.
Training and awareness programs
Conduct workshops and training sessions on stress management, resilience, and mental health awareness. Provide information on recognizing signs of mental health issues and how to support colleagues and students. Most of all, reiterate the resources available to the entire campus community so that faculty and staff feel comfortable and confident relaying that information to students, should the need arise.
Recognition and appreication
Recognize and appreciate the hard work and accomplishments of faculty and staff regularly. Celebrate achievements and milestones to boost morale.
“Our faculty and staff, my colleagues, need to know that there’s someone in their corner who is qualified to help our students navigate these difficult situations. It’s been amazing to have TimelyCare for that exact reason,” said McKenzie Mathewson, associate director of Community Wellness, Western Colorado University. “The fact that they’ve been willing to invest in a service that does have professional mental health providers, both for our students and our faculty and staff, lets us know that they care.”
Prioritizing educators’ mental health and well-being by providing 24/7 accessible mental health resources is critical to creating a supportive campus environment. Contact TimelyCare now to improve the health and well-being of your faculty and staff.