Higher education institutions (HEIs) must prioritise management strategies to deal with occupational stress, mental health, fostering positive emotions and individual strengths of the university community, including students, academic administrators, teachers, and staff.
Though numerous studies have highlighted the importance of university employees’ and students’ mental health; there is scarce research on the mental well-being of university leaders.
The increase in stress is also because academic administrators are now perceived as business managers responsible for overseeing the university’s operations.
Academic administrators, which include the vice-chancellors, deans, registrars, and heads of departments, both academics and administration, often experience challenges that mainly deal with people of diverse temperaments, academic governance, expectations from regulators and stakeholders such as parents and students, external pressures, statutory responsibilities, financial management, work overload, conflict situations, disputes and lawsuits, and numerous meetings and deadlines.
Dealing with disgruntled and demotivated employees could be a key source of anxiety and stress. More importantly, handling accreditation, brand building, ranking framework, and global competition has added to the work pressure of higher education leaders, leading to increasing instances of occupational burnout.
University leaders have to fulfil the demands and expectations of students and teachers; while ensuring adherence to rules and regulations, which is a huge challenge. Other sources of stress include overseeing the academic programmes, exams, and compiling results: students’ indiscipline, employees’ grievances, students, and other stakeholders, including parents of the students, and time pressures.
The need of the hour is also to focus on positive psychology, developing individual strengths and fostering positive emotions among the university community. HEIs need management tools to cope with stress, crisis, and tension.
To this effect, the role of human resource management (HRM) leaders becomes critical in: (a) dealing with the overall HR management of university employees and; (b) creating an efficient and intelligent support mechanism for university leaders.
HRM leaders will be crucial in creating a transformational, positive, and productive work atmosphere. Positive psychology could do wonders by nurturing and cultivating positive emotions and smoothening the relationship between academic administrators, faculty, staff, and students. .
HRM can take several measures to prevent significant stress and mental health conditions in the university:
(a) Policies for higher standards of conduct for all employees and students — the fundamental approach communicates the expected behaviour from leaders, teachers, administrators, staff, and students.
(b) Onboarding full-time or part-time clinical and industry psychologists, health experts, and counsellors;
(b) Conducting regular mental health support programmes;
(c) Stress-reduction programmes for HEI leaders, faculty, staff, students, and support staff;
(d) Conduct training programmes on anger management and relaxation techniques and run gender sensitisation programmes;
(e) Create infrastructure for exercise, yoga, and healthcare programmes;
(f) Promote health insurance and term insurance policies focusing on mental health;
(g) Implement policies fostering equity, diversity, and inclusion — this will support enforcing the inclusive culture in the organisation;
(f) Put in place a flexible work culture — this will help in maintaining a better work–life balance;
(g) Finally, HRM must regularly interact with employees to assess their needs — this will help develop bonds, opportunities for one-on-one professional interaction, and constructive feedback and will significantly increase the overall productivity of the university.
The writer is with IGIDR, Mumbai. Inputs by Deepali Pandit. Views expressed are personal