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Causes and Solutions to Low Morale of Online Faculty

Causes and Solutions to Low Morale of Online Faculty

by Dani Babb
March 23, 2016

13 Online Faculty Members Answer, "What Are the Causes of Low Morale for Faculty?" and what Academic Administrators can do about it.

For many online faculty, morale is high. Professors look at the bright side of their jobs - the flexibility, ability to work from home, be a full time care-taker while earning an income, and make a substantial difference in the lives of others. And of course, the ongoing running joke in our forum that cats are better co-workers than most cubicle-mates and pajamas for daytime are perfectly acceptable attire. But for others, low morale can take a toll on job satisfaction, and cause schools to lose good faculty. Unsatisfied faculty may still perform high out of duty to students and fear, but managing in this way isn't setting the best tone for your college.

I asked the educators in our Make a Living Teaching Online Facebook Group to share their advice to academic administrators on keeping morale high at their institutions. In numerous studies in many industries, high morale is tied to a harder working employee, someone willing to go above and beyond required job duties (translating into a better student experience), positive reviews online (translating into higher enrollments) and while I am not advocating this, willingness to accept lower pay due to job satisfaction in other areas.

Here's what some of the faculty who agreed to have their comments posted had to say about what lowers their morale:

  • Sean-David McGoran noted that students allowed to bully faculty, repetitious and unnecessary training and unreasonable deadlines at final and midterm examination time can be demoralizing.
  • Linda Chilson said that pay, curriculum that doesn't make sense, student behavioral issues and school districts funding unnecessary training are issues, as well as lack of support for out of the box thinking.
  • Leah Murray noted that micromanaging every little detail is demoralizing - and understandably added, "why not teach the class yourself if you are going to pay that much attention". She also noted that lack of positive reinforcement and others taking credit for work you did is troubling.
  • Mary Kay Westgate-Taylor cited poor new faculty orientation, unclear expectations, micromanagement and lack of support from administration regarding student issues as concerns.
  • Dr Steve Woodsmall noted open admissions - too many graduate students who aren't able or willing to do graduate level work or have a sense of entitlement (paying tuition guaranteeing a degree) and complaining when they receive clearly deserved failing grades causes low morale.
  • Quiana Bradshaw noted that schools acting like adjuncts don't matter causes low morale. Adjuncts often work hard with no promotional opportunities with no mentoring or encouragement, and only veteran individuals offered promotions. Not including adjuncts as part of the team or micromanaging adjuncts with reports and comments is concerning.
  • Jeanie Rogers-Street noted that education not being the driving force of education (instead, finances being the main focus) is a cause of low morale.
  • Christina Krepinevich Houston noted rude emails from supervisors as a cause of low morale.
  • Stacie Williams commented that supervisors or administrators with a lack of experience in curriculum design and hiring skills dismissing the experience and knowledge of instructors is demoralizing.
  • Traci Schneider Cull noted that not having support from online higher-ups or fixing issues in courses/not responding causes low morale.
  • Nicki Favero Puckett cited continuous increases in workload without additional compensation as a cause.
  • Terri Hennessy Craig stated that severely under, or unprepared, students and canceling classes (particularly without notice) is a cause of low morale.
  • Maria Toy noted micromanagement and an increased workload with no additional compensation as a low morale cause

The common threads and take-aways for administrators:

  1. Faculty don't like being micromanaged. Hire faculty you trust to do the job, provide guidelines and training, and let professionals do their thing.
  2. Pay appropriately, and give notice if you are canceling a course.
  3. Set expectations clearly, and communicate with faculty in the same tone you'd expect; assume the best not the worst.
  4. Include adjuncts as part of your team.
  5. Compensate when job duties increase.
  6. Handle student issues quickly, make sure prepared students enter programs (particularly in graduate work).
  7. Move away from the "gotcha mentality" into an inclusive, people-make-mistakes, "we are all in this together" model.

Happy faculty will go above and beyond, make your lives easier, and provide the best possible student interaction. If you are an academic administrator and want to network with others to improve the faculty and student experience, consider joining our group for higher ed administrators.