“The stress of work is mixed with the stress of home life.”
“No one [shows] appreciation for the work being done.”
This is how some higher education staff members described their work life in late 2020 to Temple University researchers. And if any of those statements ring true to you, you’re not alone.
The survey, published in the April 2022 Journal of Education Human Resources, polled staff from 782 colleges and universities working in enrollment management, admissions, and administrative roles, revealing widespread stress and ballooning workloads that in the last few years have taken a toll on their mental health.
“We’re all seeing [stress] in our workplaces and the impacts from it—both in terms of organizational productivity but also (and more importantly) how it affects people and families that we know and care about,” says Larissa Holtmyer Jones, President and CEO of the Iowa State University Foundation, U.S. She’s spent the last 25 years at the foundation, and today, she’s seeing her team and her colleagues at other institutions looking for solutions for mental wellness.
“We're all trying to navigate this,” she says. “But it’s not easy.”
The pandemic and the Great Resignation have created new levels of stress and mental health challenges for teams around the world. Here’s a snapshot of mental health in today’s advancement workplaces—including what institutions, leaders, and individuals can do to address burnout and support well-being.
Mental Health Now
Globally, mental health among workers is at an all-time low. According to Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace report that surveyed workers in 160 countries, only a third of employees worldwide are “thriving,” which is defined by Gallup as having positive views of one’s life and optimism about the next five years. The World Health Organization reported the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a 25% increase of anxiety and depression worldwide.
As we covered in Currents, students’ mental health was particularly impacted during the pandemic. But college and university faculty and staff have struggled too: three in 10 university staff members report feeling “drained” from their work every day, reported the U.K. nonprofit Education Support in a survey of 2,046 university staff. For faculty, the problem has been particularly acute; recent media coverage has highlighted excessive workloads and a pressure-cooker atmosphere, spurring an exodus from academia.
Though advancement professionals face different stressors than their colleagues in academia, the work can be mentally taxing—be it from hectic traveling schedules, the always-on nature of university communications, or hefty fundraising goals. Some 84% of development pros feel a “tremendous pressure” to succeed, according to AFP Global survey.
Fundraising is goal-oriented, which carries “inherent stress,” explains Margaret Katz Cann, a coach with Fundraising Leadership. She and her colleague Michelle Maloy Dillon have seen an uptick in stress and exhaustion in their clients. In part, they say, it’s because COVID imbued advancement work with urgency. Development teams launched emergency funds and rallied funds for research and student need—but now?
“I see many of them having a bit of mission crisis. How does this [work] still feel important and relevant to me after what I’ve witnessed?” says Cann.