org_healthConsider organizations as organisms consisting of living beings whose level of effectiveness and productivity rely on the health of those who are part of them. Organizations, specifically higher education, are referred to as “institutions” They project the idea that they are machines, consisting of processes and structures, and forget 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 their workforce must be individually healthy so the organization can be healthy.

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 the staff is overworked, emotional, mental, and physical stresses take their toll, leading to individual and organizational problems. Often, the discussion is framed as workers’ rights vs. management issues. But, if framed in the way I had suggested above, this should not be the case. For the organization to function effectively as a whole, it needs to consider its workers’ health, and it should strive to create an environment where the staff is engaged, meaning they both feel like they’re contributing to the organization. They 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 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 current staffing level. I scoff at the idea of administrative bloat, especially when it comes to the idea that there is 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 that require universities to respond to accommodate them immediately. 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 regular 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, potentially impacting their health.

The management and the staff must share the challenge and responsibility of keeping the organization healthy. For management, efforts must be made to provide an environment where staff feels 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. Some 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 a sense of accomplishment. Some also see their work as beyond work – their passions drive them to make a significant difference in this world. Then some 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 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 take on more responsibilities than they should sometimes prevent others in the organization from growing. Also, they become the only individuals 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 in demand, even during their vacations. As for martyrs who feel the need to suffer to show their value to the organization, it is not sustainable as working long hours and spending emotional energy can just lead to burnout. 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 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.

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 off work.

Organizational health is a shared responsibility between management and staff. For organizations to be effective, they must view themselves as more than institutions consisting of tasks and processes but rather as living organisms consisting of human beings who have emotional, mental, and physical needs.

How are you promoting a healthy organization?