February 1st, 2008

Academic Stress Leading to. . .?


There’s a lot of stress associated with academic positions. At least faculty report that they are stressed. In a 2003 survey of 782 British academics 70 percent reported that they found their jobs stressful, and 75 percent said those levels of stress had increased across the past five years. (These percentages are a bit higher than surveys done of U.S. academics.)

Two examples of factors in the survey that caused stress: the number of hours worked (60 percent said more than 45 hours per week, 23 percent said more than 55 hours per week), and the fact that lots of those hours are worked at home during the evenings and on weekends. More than 50 percent said that they did more than 20 percent of their work at home during the evenings and on weekends.

Most reported increasing demands on their time at work. For example 74 percent said that they
had more meetings to attend now than five years ago.

But the take-your-breath-away finding? Of this group, 45 percent said that if they were starting over, they would choose a different career. And what might be the implications of that be for higher education?

Interestingly though, teaching was not among the multiple sources of stress identified by these academics. In fact, 94 percent said that they had good relationships with students. However, I don’t think you can be this stressed at work and not have it impact what happens in the classroom. I also worry about the long-term effects of stress. Can we attribute tired teaching and burnout to long-term stress?

Reference: Kinman, G., and Jones, F. (2003). ‘Running up the down escalator’: Stressors and strains in UK. Quality in Higher Education, 9 (1), 22-38.