From the Blog

How to Support Educators in a Crisis

Our educators are at risk of burnout. A quick scroll through #AcademicTwitter shows thousands of faculty and staff across the nation are overwhelmed. The COVID-19 crisis brought the increased work of translating in-person courses to hybrid courses or online, on top of being stressed at work about illness, civil unrest, and caring for children and family members.

And the stress isn’t just radiating from behind a keyboard on Twitter. A recent survey from the American Council on Education found that college presidents listed the mental health of faculty and staff as one of their top five concerns during the pandemic.

Why your top performers are most at risk for teacher burnout

Burnout is a response to prolonged exposure to stressors — emotional, physical, interpersonal — that leave people feeling exhausted, cynical and ineffective. Limeade Institute research shows that employees who experience higher levels of stress also feel higher levels of exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. It also revealed that your most engaged employees — your best teachers — feel that stress more than less engaged staff members and are most likely to burn out. 

While attention has been paid to students who experience burnout, less has been paid to the faculty members who are often experiencing the same symptoms. In an extreme example, one chemical biology professor admitted that it wasn’t until he had a heart attack that he began to question his long days and nights in academia. 

But employee burnout can show up simply as in an increased use of sick days. Employees experiencing burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times more likely to look for a new job, according to a Gallup study.

What are the costs of teacher burnout?

Employee burnout means low productivity and high turnover — especially turnover of your most engaged people. Studies show that it can cost up to twice an employee’s salary to replace them.

It’s important, especially as higher education faces an enrollment crisis, to show educators that they matter. Company care and burnout are interconnected. When employees feel like their company cares, 56% say they don’t feel burned out compared to 16% of those who don’t feel care.

Right now, teachers and professors need more than an email thanking them for their diligence over the summer. And since we can’t give them summertime back, here are three big ideas to support educators and combat teacher burnout.

3 ways to support educators in a crisis

1. Create a flexible workload

Remember that teaching is only part of an educator’s job. Tenure-track professors are still required to complete and publish research. 

Some experts have suggested stopping the clock on the requirements for tenure. Though that’s a worthy conversation for administration to have, it could potentially worsen tenure outcomes for women and people of color, who often shoulder more of the invisible labor at colleges and universities. 

Administrators need to be open to creating policies and requirements that enable faculty to continue to engage in activities like diversity initiatives, which may not have been traditionally related to tenure, but now could be.

During this time, administrators must also take a hard look at policies to make them more inclusive. Women are often judged more harshly on student evaluations, which is a contributing factor to who gets promoted to tenure. Finding additional ways to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and rethinking the evaluation criteria to reflect the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic can be the difference between an engaged employee and one who’s burned out. 

2. Create a culture of listening 

In the productivity-driven culture of higher education, those experiencing burnout often feel isolated and alone. But administrators can change that.

Allowing educators to be honest about their struggles is one way to help them feel less alone. Peer relationships can make or break an institution and, according to the Limeade Institute, 70% of employees find organizational support in their teams and peers.  

It’s important that educators feel a sense of belonging to the institution, and shared experience is one way to make that happen.  

You can foster a sense of belonging — in-person or virtually — by facilitating:

  • 1:1 meetings with the provost
  • 1:1 meetings with the departmental chair
  • Weekly departmental vent sessions

3. Focus on teacher well-being

Employees who have a high sense of well-being are more loyal to their companies. At its core, well-being is about living a purposeful life and looking at employees as more than a number in the system — it’s about looking at employees holistically. 

Research shows that the best well-being culture inspires whole-person improvement, develops trustworthy environments, and uses tools and resources to invest in the employee’s well-being.  

Administrators should ask themselves, “How can we support our educators as people?” 

This can include:

  • Prioritizing a work-life balance
  • Encouraging educators to take a break and step away from their emails, even if it’s for 10 minutes each hour
  • Creating mindfulness morning and evening rituals for a sense of normalcy
  • Asking educators what support they need and communicating that feedback to appropriate members of the college
  • Closing the loop on any feedback given. Employees who feel they are in the communication loop feel three times more valued, and four times more likely to feel their organization cares. 
  • Care packages for teachers and their families to encourage some time away from the screen

Supporting educators during times of crisis requires more work than just emailed platitudes. It requires strengthening your connections by listening, remaining flexible, showing you care and, most importantly, structurally changing to meet the times. The entire mindset of your institution needs to be focused on how best to show you care during this stress-filled time. 

Faculty are just as important spokespeople for the campus as admissions counselors, and stronger levels of support leads to measurable results in retention both for employees and students.

Ready to learn more? The Limeade One platform can help you facilitate and measure your institution’s efforts to prevent teacher burnout and turnover.