It isn’t unusual to have a bit of the "Sunday scaries." But over the past 18 months, it feels like every other day of the week has gotten just as overwhelming. Constant meetings, the ever-present eye of the webcam, and a relentless stream of new challenges are leaving us exhausted.
While this creates personal stresses, it also diminishes our ability to serve our students and institutions well. The pandemic exacerbated inequity and sparked mental and physical health challenges that demand our attention. Our students need us to be at our creative, innovative best to fully overcome what we’ve been through (and are still going through) and to advance the vision for higher education we’re all trying to achieve.
While conversations about productivity and emotional burdens might previously have been considered unrelated to student success – or even a luxury – that is no longer the case. Personal and professional burnout is a major threat to student success and the innovation needed to reimagine how we work in this new reality. We need to take burnout seriously, and understand that it won’t go away unless we adapt how we do our work in a manner that helps our teams, administrators, and faculty rejuvenate and restore so they can be in fighting shape for the challenges ahead.
Our workweek has gotten longer with the pandemic, but organizations are being creative and finding ways to adjust. At the UIA, we have implemented a "quiet Friday" model and we’re already seeing benefits. Our rule is no meetings (at least internal ones) on Fridays, because people need time to DO the work generated in the meetings they spend so much time in the rest of the week.
Other things that help? More rest, prioritizing an earlier bedtime and incorporating daily wind-down activities that break us free of doom scrolling. In the a.m.? Meditation apps. Listening to upbeat music. Morning pages. And prioritizing play on a weekly basis. Play is anything you do for enjoyment and lose time while doing it. One quote that always stayed with me was from Dr. Stuart Brown, who said "The opposite of play is not work. The opposite of play is depression." When did you last happily lose track of time? Commit to doing more of that.
We would love to hear how you are experimenting with ways to address burnout for yourself, your colleagues, and your students. Everyone should have permission to raise this as an essential topic at work, and we’d love to capture and share ideas that can help all of us make our workweek less overwhelming.
UIA Member Spotlight
MSU just released a new strategic plan with objectives including strengthening the university’s ability to attract and meet the needs, goals and aspirations of undergraduates from all backgrounds and creating a workplace culture that advances diversity, equity and inclusion.
We think the MSU Strategic Plan 2030’s focus centering on student success is worth celebrating!
Dr. Zhewei Gregory, Georgia State University | Zhewei has dedicated over 15 years to higher education with a core focus on supporting student success through teaching, advising and leadership roles. A Georgia State University UIA Fellow since January 2020, Zhewei shared that, "Changes and innovations can't happen in a vacuum.
Working as the Completion Grant project lead with 11 UIA campuses has deepened my understanding of how collaborations within an institution and across institutions can help make changes, cultivate innovative culture and achieve student success. Successful and unsuccessful experiences from others can help us overcome barriers, increase efficiency and optimize outcomes. This is exactly what the UIA offers—a space for institutions to share knowledge, solve problems and make innovations happen."
Learn With Us
- A Mindset for Student-Centered Learning
Chantal Levesque-Bristol, Executive Director of the Center for Instructional Excellence at Purdue University
- 10 Pieces of Advice for Higher Ed Leadership in Challenging Times
- The Impact of Alliances in Higher Education
Kim Wilcox, Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside
- Reframing the College-Going Narrative
Constance Iloh, anthropologist and associate professor at Azusa Pacific University
We know your time is limited. That's why each issue, we'll choose THE BEST things we watched, listened to, or read.
- Purdue invented a paint so white it could eliminate the need for air conditioning! (USA Today). (How cool is that?!)
- Changes to come should be ‘music to your ears,’ higher education innovators say (Hechinger Report)
- 3 Ways to Avoid Burnout While Working from Home (CNBC)
- Ensuring Equity & Choice in the Future of Higher Education (Diverse Issues)
Events to Put on Your Radar
Other notable events:
- National Resource Center for the First-Year Experience and Students in Transition Conference (Oct. 2-4)
- APLU Celebrating the Critical Role of Hispanic Serving Institutions (Oct. 4)
- HBCU Adult Learner Initiative (Oct. 4)
- We Need a RESET: Re-imagining the Future of Work (Oct. 4)
- NCAN Annual Conference: Rebuilding for Postsecondary Equity (Oct. 5-7)
- A Signature Discussion on Joy (Oct. 6)
- Grantmakers for Education Annual Conference: A Vision for the Future of Learning & Justice (Oct. 12-22)
- A New Era for Leadership & Service: A Conversation with Wes Moore & Bob Woodruff (Oct. 14)
- 28th Annual HBCU Faculty Development Network Conference (Oct. 28-29)
Stuff we LOVE
- Marco Polo
This is a fantastic way to stay in touch with individuals and groups of people, and in our case, we use it as a way to communicate as as team. Kind of like a video/audio walkie talkie where you can rewatch/listen to messages, speed them up, and interact with emojis in realtime.
- Blue Light Filter
Adding a blue light filter to your phone helps make it easier to fall asleep (on the off chance that you are "doom scrolling" late at night).
- Guided Meditation Apps
These can help you manage stress, promote healing, help you center yourself, get pumped up for an important meeting, or zone out. Members of our team use the Calm app, Peloton, and YouTube for our moments of zen.
- Water bottles designed to help you drink more water (created by an MSU graduate). Multiple water bottles can make it easier to know how much water you have drank today. As you can see below, my desk has an obnoxious number of water bottles on it, to help me stay hydrated during zoom life.
A Final Note
We’d like to leave you with this quote from Michael Rao, President of Virginia Commonwealth University that he shares about healthy leadership habits that help him stay focused and avoid burnout in this recent Weekly Wisdom episode.
"I make sure that I have what I call breathing time, a space where nothing can get in for some amount of time, which usually brings me closer to my values. There are a lot of things that will create stress if you let them, but you’ve got to continue to lead. So that peacefulness every day is really critical."
- Michael Rao