Consider organizations as organisms consisting of living beings whose level of effectiveness and productivity rely on the health of those beings that are part of them. That organizations, specifically higher education, are referred to as “institutions” project the idea that they are machines, consisting of process and structures, and forgetting the idea that higher education is made up of human beings working together. The reality is that for “institutions” to be effective and efficient, the members of its workforce must be individually healthy so the organization in itself can be healthy as a whole.
One of the topics often discussed in the world of student affairs is the concept of work/life balance. The issue revolves around the idea that because staff are overworked, emotional, mental, and physical stresses take their tolls and these lead to individual and organizational problems. Oftentimes, the discussion is framed as workers right vs management issue. But, if framed in the way I had suggested above, this should not be the case. For the organization to effectively function as a whole, it needs to take into account the health of its individual workers and it should strive to create an environment where the staff are engaged meaning they both feel like they’re contributing to the organization and they personally feel satisfied in doing so. As a leader of an organization, I don’t claim to know the answers on how to create this environment but I do seek ways towards this effort. What I do know is that the demands and pressures from mandates, customer expectations, taking care of the staff, and keeping the organization running are often too much for the level of staffing we currently have. I scoff at the idea of administrative bloat, especially when it comes to the idea that there are way too many technical and administrative staff at universities. However, consider the ending of the Perkins Loan program and the new Prior-Prior Year change in the financial aid application process. The are just two changes in the financial aid system which requires universities to immediately respond to accommodate them. In an ideal world, there would be sufficient time and staffing to meet these demands but unfortunately, that is not the case. These changes require staff to work above and beyond the regular working hours including evenings and sometimes weekends. By no means are these complaints but rather a statement of the reality of the pressures experienced by staff which potentially do impact their health.
The challenge and responsibility in keeping the organization healthy must be shared by both the management and the staff themselves. For management, efforts must be made to provide an environment where staff feel like they’re thriving and not merely surviving or even worse. Different folks have different motivations and it’s up to the management to determine how each employee feels valued. For some, they like a job that allows them to make enough money and they don’t have to work beyond 8-5 to enjoy their lives away from work and with their families. Some are motivated by intellectual challenges and the sense of accomplishments. There are also who see their work as beyond work – they’re driven by their passions to make a significant difference in this world. Then there are those who are motivated by all of the reasons mentioned. The challenge and responsibility then is for management to meet those motivations to the best of their ability while meeting the demands required of the organization.
The staff themselves need to be responsible for their health as well. They need to be their biggest advocate when it comes to making sure their needs are met. This means communicating with their supervisors about their boundaries and recognizing their own limits. Sometimes, staff may feel the need to be heroes/martyrs sacrificing themselves for the sake of the organization. In the long run, this is not the most effective way to contribute to the organization. For one, heroes who do take on more responsibilities than they should, sometimes prevent others in the organization from growing. Also, they become the only individuals who the organization must rely on. While this may be a good feeling to have, the reality is that heroes may not be able to enjoy their lives outside work because they are always on demand, even during their vacations. As for martyrs who feel the need to suffer to show their value to the organization, it really is not sustainable as working long hours and spending emotional energy can just lead to burnouts. They are also just hurting themselves by setting expectations that are not sensible. For example, a person who constantly works 70+ hours a week may just set themselves up for scrutiny when they start to lessen their work to a manageable 40 or so hours a week as their productivity level will decrease in the process.
Staff must also take care of their physical and mental health. These include taking on activities to promote wellness such as exercising, hobbies, and interests that take their minds of work.
Organizational health is a shared responsibility between management and staff. For organizations to be effective, they must view themselves more than institutions consisting of tasks and processes but rather, a living organism consisting of human beings who have emotional, mental, and physical needs.
How are you promoting a healthy organization?