Nearly 40% of college supervisors say they’re looking for work

Higher education leaders cite inadequate pay, burdensome workloads and lack of training and support among their list of concerns.

Just when higher education institutions thought they were getting a break from the struggles posed by the pandemic, whether it was managing hybrid/remote learning for students or developing strategies to combat enrollment plunges, now they’re having to develop creative strategies to keep their own leadership from abandoning ship.

According to a new survey from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, a significant number of supervisors in higher education said they are “likely” or “very likely” to look for employment within the next year citing one common grudge: pay.

Inadequate compensation

Nearly 4,000 higher education administrators, professionals, and non-exempt staff (most of whom were supervisors: 57%). According to 36% of “other supervisors”—those who indicated having at least one direct report but were not the top-most leader in their department—will “likely” or “very likely” look for other employment within the next year.

“Pay is overwhelmingly the most commonly cited reason for why higher ed employees are seeking other employment,” the survey reads.

Similarly, 33% of “area supervisors,” those who are at the top of the employee hierarchy, are in the same boat.

Unsatisfied with the current institution

Most notably, those at the top of the food chain are seemingly less satisfied with their current institution, the data shows. Roughly 28% of area supervisors said they would consider their current organization when looking for employment, compared to nearly half (49%) of other supervisors and non-supervisors (47%).

Burdensome workloads

In addition to inadequate pay, like most in the education profession, the workload is simply too much to bear. An overwhelming majority of area supervisors (89%) and other supervisors (76%) report working more hours per week than what is considered full-time at their current institution.

“Most supervisors work additional hours beyond full-time, whereas most non-supervisors d not,” the survey reads. “This may be partially explained by the fact that supervisors absorbed more responsibilities of vacated positions and experienced more increases in job expectations than did non-supervisors after the onset of COVID-19. Area supervisors were even more likely to absorb additional duties than other supervisors.

Struggling to lead

One of the final points of the survey indicated that supervisors are having difficulties doing what they’ve simply been hired to do: supervise.

“Supervisors’ top challenges are filling empty positions and maintaining staff morale,” the survey reads. “Almost two-thirds (63%) of supervisors indicated they find filling positions very challenging and over half (54%) found maintaining staff morale very challenging.”

In addition to finding it troublesome to maintain morale, supervisors said they want more training and support to guide them in making decisions.

“Area supervisors are consistently more likely to agree that they have the power to shape direct reports’ working conditions than other supervisors,” according to the survey. However, less than half (46%) of supervisors believe that they have been given enough training and supper needed for the job.

“Supervisors are working considerable additional hours, but they also lack resources, support, and adequate training in their roles,” the survey reads. “Lack of adequate support in their supervisor role is likely one underlying reason why supervisors work so many additional hours—supervisors who reported receiving more resources and support in their supervisory role reported working fewer additional hours.”

Identifying solutions

While the past several years have proven difficult for colleges and universities across the country, the damage isn’t irreversible. In fact, this survey alone can serve as a tangible, data-driven resource for leaders. Here are a few notes to consider:

“Turnover in any role can negatively impact an institution, but turnover in a supervisor role can have even more consequences…” according to the survey. Strategies to mitigate this, include:

  • Providing supervisors with the resources and support necessary to lead. Colleges and universities should focus on initiatives targeting vacancies and staff morale.
  • Giving supervisors the ability to advocate for their staff.
  • Providing supervisors with the autonomy to determine when and where their staff works. Allowing them to give their employees flexibility to work remotely will help to increase retention and job satisfaction.
  • Lowering the workload: It’s evident that most supervisors work beyond their contracted hours, so lend them a hand in this area. These workloads are simply “unsustainable,” the survey notes.
  • Raising salaries without impacting compensation among non-supervisors. In a field where budget challenges are seemingly unavoidable, paying special attention to this area when possible may bring along with it drastic improvements to overall retention.

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Micah Ward
Micah Ward
Micah Ward is a University Business staff writer. He recently earned his master’s degree in Journalism at the University of Alabama. He spent his time during graduate school working on his master’s thesis. He’s also a self-taught guitarist who loves playing folk-style music.

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