How overwhelmed and burnt-out faculty can refrain from saying no (opinion)

Not surprisingly, the most common question we conduct during midcareer faculty workshops that we conduct for the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the American Educational Research Association is “How do I learn to say no?” Our response often surprised participants. We tell them that instead of saying no, they ask the question “How do I learn to say yes?” This does not mean saying yes to everything but learning to say yes to the most important things to you.

Thinking about learning to say yes may seem like an impossible task to many faculty members, as we are all experiencing some of the most challenging times in higher education. With increasing responsibilities and declining human and financial resources, most of the faculty members we see feel overwhelmed, burned out, and stuck in a constant cycle of extra work stress. These feelings are consistent throughout our research and throughout many of our interactions with Midcarea faculty in our workshops.

Midcareer faculties, in all institutional forms, are particularly vulnerable to growing demands because they find themselves in leadership or academic administrative roles with limited training and, obviously, often limited interest without a sense of obligation. A common reaction is to get involved in the “Olympics of Sorrow,” according to one of our past study participants whose story focused on our recent co-edited volume Midcareer Faculty, where you consistently raised your unequal workload with concerned administrators with strapped budgets. . Or to colleagues in similar “tragic” situations or, worst of all, to leaders who don’t really care.

Teen Olympics is a particularly fruitless exercise, and you will probably gain a little traction to improve your workload through it. Instead, we advocate for a more strategic approach that becomes important at the midcareer level: lead with your yes. This approach has even better results among our midcareer faculty research participants and workshop participants.

Here are three steps to help you lead with your yes — all collected from our more than 550 participants and participants, representing different career levels, institutional contexts, and population diversity.

Your yes unveiling

This sounds like a simple statement, but you can’t really lead with your yes unless you know what they are. “But how,” you ask, “should I say yes when I’m so busy knocking all this out?” Our research shows that self-reflection on the best use of your time and talent is a necessary element to support the vitality of your own career. Ask yourself:

  • What do I enjoy at work?
  • What do I want my contribution to be?
  • What responsibilities align my talents, my interests, and the needs of my community / organization?
  • What gives me the most joy?

Over time, you will probably develop broader sections that can guide your yawn.

Linda, for example, a STEM participant with whom we worked at a midcareer workshop two years ago, arrives the day before her biennial academic conference and reflects on her yankee. He left with a list of “yes” sections that would guide his current and future work: 1) developing students’ research skills, 2) encouraging STEM-related community involvement, and 3) encouraging governance around faculty development.

Your yes work

It is important to know what your yes is, but this is only the first step. Now you must actively follow the self-reflective practice that created your yes section. Organizational psychologists and professors Justin Berg, Jane Dutton and Amy Vergesniewski have written about “task crafting”, a strategy that supports the removal and addition of career responsibilities in a way that is consistent with your interests and contributions. Borrowing from a metaphor for our workshop participants, we think of faculty careers as dance cards, a practice of saving dance time for specific partners in the mid-20th century. If you actively fill out your dance card with your favorite dance partner (your yes), you have no room for unwanted dance partners (your number). The same goes for career work. If you deliberately fulfill your career responsibilities that match your talents, passions, and intentional contributions, you have reason to reject other tasks.

Back in Linder’s case, he deliberately and actively pursued opportunities to teach research classes, partnered with a local K-12 school on STEM curriculum initiatives, and worked on numerous committees to implement subatomic assignments and campus-wide professional growth workshops. These passions align with Linder’s need for education, research, and service, thereby contributing positively to his organization’s mission. When asked to do something outside of these categories, he points to his complete dance card as proof of his contribution that benefits the department and / or the organization.

Re-frame responsibilities

Berg and colleagues also write about “cognitive crafting” or the work of restructuring your mind-set. We find cognitive craftsmanship a particularly important need, especially among female faculty and caste faculty members who are asked to perform inconsistent service or administrative tasks – resulting in invisible labor contributions that do not count towards career advancement. Throughout the descriptions of our participants, a challenge to say no is the notion that the burden of responsibility falls on their shoulders. They ask themselves, “Who else will?” Or they assume, “I have to do it because I’m good [fill in the blank]”Or they’re afraid, ‘I won’t get a term or promotion if I don’t do this.’ Will encourage you to deal with this emotional burden.

In Linder’s case, for example, he realized in his mid-career that he had taken on an unfair job pressure compared to many of his male colleagues. Through the Time Diary and Data Dashboard of her contributions to the department and the organization’s mission, Linder now has the information necessary to convince her leaders and colleagues and — most importantly — herself that she is responsible for her yes and not for everyone else’s nose.

It is important to note that in order for us to follow these three strategies, faculty members’ perceptions of agency may be influenced by institutional type, departmental culture, and / or ethnic / gender identity — color faculties and women’s faculties are particularly vulnerable in their case. Career advancement. Current literature, as well as many of our faculty participants, highlights the use of data dashboards (visualization of work stress contributions – see the work of Carian O’Mera and colleagues), institutional agents (see the work of senior colleagues working as lawyers – and Estella Bensimon) and A thorough understanding of quantitative and qualitative metrics for validation and promotion as useful approaches to navigating the potential negative consequences of applying strategies.

Through these three strategies – exposing your yes, working your yes and restructuring responsibilities — we’ve seen countless midcareer faculty members navigate their careers and workloads in ways that improve their yes and increase their vitality. Focusing only on no-say techniques If you don’t reflect your talents and passions on aligning with your career goals and your organization’s goals, initially make a deliberate plan for a dance card full of your yes and re-frame its responsibilities with confidence Responsibilities Such tools and strategies will help you re-imagine your next midcareer episode in a truly meaningful way.

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