Burnout & Compassion Fatigue in Universities

We recently launched our latest research aimed at uncovering the causes of burnout on college campuses.  As we dove into the studies that have been done in this area, we quickly realized that universities are suffering burnout at levels as high, and sometimes higher, than healthcare.

Why is burnout so high in universities?

Much like healthcare, faculty and staff at universities not only face normal stresses of everyday work life, but also the stress of caring deeply for those they serve – their students.  And just like every other industry, the pandemic hit higher ed hard.  Faculty and staff had to quickly adjust their ways of working and serving students, while dealing with increased mental health issues for themselves, their peers and their students. 

But things have only gotten worse as the pandemic has eased.  Mental health concerns are still on the rise and more students are opting to drop out of college, or electing not to go in the first place.  The decrease in student population, however, has not eased the demands on faculty and staff who still have to provide the same quality education and support, but with fewer staff to support those efforts.  And compassion fatigue isn’t going away.

At this point, more than half of university workers question their ability to properly serve their students due to staffing shortages.  This has a direct impact on declining enrollment rates and increasing dropout rates, as well as affecting overall student performance.

On top of that, university culture tends to lean into pushing people to be their best.  In today’s society, this can be misinterpreted by students and staff as needing to push themselves beyond capacity, which not only impacts their mental health, but also impacts their performance.

How can universities work to overcome the burnout cycle?

Universities need to embrace new cultures of wellbeing, which showcase and support work-life balance not just for faculty and staff, but for students as well.

Some universities are making strides by creating wellness programs and some incorporate those campus-wide.  However, far too few are regularly survey students and staff around mental health and wellbeing.  And more needs to be done to measure the effectiveness of the wellness programs being implemented.

This is a cultural shift more than anything, with the greatest need being the creation of a community mindset that prioritizes self-care and personal life aims alongside academic and workplace goals.  University leadership will need to demonstrate to students and staff that this is important, in order to signal permission to think in this new way.

The path forward

The good news is that we’re seeing university leadership begin to embrace the wellness movement and place a bigger emphasis on mental health and wellbeing.  So while there is a long road ahead, awareness and creating an open dialogue on campus is the starting point for preventing and overcoming burnout.

To learn more about strategies you can adopt to drive greater awareness and prevent of burnout, take a look at our latest research report.