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Burnout, Excessive Workloads Plague Teaching and Learning Workforce in Higher Ed

Top time demands include artificial intelligence; faculty training and development; and online, hybrid, or distance learning.

Increasing workloads are taking a toll on mental health and morale among teaching and learning professionals in higher education, according to a new Educause survey. Nearly two-thirds of overall respondents (65%) reported having an excessive workload — and the higher the position level, the greater the workload. Eighty-four percent of C-level executives and assistant or associate VPs called their workload excessive, followed by 73% of directors and 71% of managers.

For its 2024 "Teaching and Learning Workforce in Higher Education" report, Educause polled 1,001 teaching and learning professionals from an array of position areas and levels to explore trends and issues in that segment of the higher ed workforce. The most common areas of responsibility among respondents were faculty training and development (58% of respondents); online, hybrid, or distance learning (54%); and instructional design (51%). (Faculty members made up less than 4% of respondents.)

Individuals who reported experiencing "a lot" of burnout within the last year were more likely to report an excessive workload than those experiencing little to no burnout (82% vs. 47%, respectively). Those experiencing burnout were also the most likely to say they plan to apply for other positions within the next year, said Educause researcher and report author Nicole Muscanell.

The negative impacts of these unmanageable workloads are many, the report pointed out: "Many [respondents] said that due to increases in responsibilities and understaffing, they have to prioritize only the most urgent tasks while neglecting other important aspects of their jobs…. As a consequence, not only is the quality of teaching and learning work and services suffering, but so are employee mental health, well-being, and morale. Respondents said they are stressed and burned out, their work–life balance and personal lives are suffering, and they feel less confident and effective in performing their duties."

What's more, respondents identified excessive workloads as one of many factors making staff recruitment and retention challenging at their institution. The most common staffing challenges included insufficient compensation and benefits; budget issues; and hiring freezes due to lower enrollments. Other factors identified:

  • Poor campus climate due to ineffective leadership and a lack of consensus on strategic priorities;
  • Lack of professional development and mobility and growth opportunities;
  • Undesirable work location (cost of living, political climate, rural location);
  • No access to remote/hybrid work options; and
  • Lengthy hiring processes.

When teaching and learning professionals were asked which job functions have seen an increase in time demands, the top culprits were artificial intelligence (cited by 30% of respondents), faculty training and development (28%), and online, hybrid, or distance learning (24%). Notably, the report said, "even though AI saw the largest increase in time demands, it was the area that saw the fewest positions budgeted for and was in the bottom five areas in the creation of new positions, suggesting that the demand for AI functions is outpacing the growth in AI staff."

Additional survey findings include:

  • 85% of respondents said that having access to remote/hybrid work options is important, while just 66% said they currently have options for remote/hybrid work.
  • 85% reported having more than one primary area of responsibility in their job. Of those, 65% said they have between two and seven areas of responsibility.
  • 63% said staffing issues have had a negative impact on their department or unit's services and operations.

"Moving forward, institutions will need to prioritize employee well-being and morale; a good starting point is finding ways to make workloads more manageable," the report advised. In addition, recommended areas of support or change included providing better support for digital literacy (and particularly AI literacy); working to reduce tensions between faculty and instructional designers and other instructional support staff and foster collaboration; and helping prepare for new ways of teaching and learning.

The full report is available on the Educause site. It is the second in a series of research reports examining workforce issues in higher education: The first surveyed cybersecurity and privacy professionals, and a third will cover IT leadership.

About the Author

Rhea Kelly is editor in chief for Campus Technology, THE Journal, and Spaces4Learning. She can be reached at [email protected].

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