About two-thirds of female academic leaders are unhappy with their work-life balance, with 85 per cent regularly working beyond normal contracted hours each week, a major survey indicates.
Women in leadership positions in academia are also far more likely to suffer from stress than their male peers, according to results of the Higher Education Leadership and Management Survey, published by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education on 26 November.
Some 23 per cent of female academic leaders who responded to the poll said that they felt unable to cope with the pressure and stress caused by their jobs – roughly double the proportion of men who expressed this view.
Both male and female academic leaders report working long hours, with 90 per cent of men and 85 per cent of women saying that they worked more than 48 hours in a typical week.
But the results of the survey, which received 848 responses from mainly senior university staff, showed a “clearly evident gender difference” on satisfaction with work-life balance, says the Leadership and Work-life Balance report.
About 60 per cent of male academic leaders are happy with their work-life balance, but this fell to just under 40 per cent of female leaders, results show.
Access to flexible hours of working had little impact on whether staff felt less stressed or dissatisfied, the report adds.
“A culture of long working hours is clearly evident [which] translates to a significant number of academics and academic leaders reporting dissatisfaction with their current work-life balance,” the report concludes.
Improving levels of satisfaction with work-life balance is likely to have positive results for institutions, it adds, stating that it helped to generate “greater institutional pride, a willingness to help contribute to institutional success, and a desire to continue working within the institution”.
Introducing more family-friendly policies, such as flexible and part-time working, and increasing the monitoring of workloads could help to achieve these aims, it adds.
However, the report also states that many respondents considered having a good work-life balance to be an “active personal choice” and accepted that career aspirations might be limited if they prioritised their family over work commitments.
One respondent stated that with “two small children if I maintain my current work-life balance, which I feel is reasonable, I will not be promoted very quickly”.
Another respondent stated they “would be potentially unwilling to progress to next level…with the associated increase in stress and adverse work-life balance implications this would bring”.
One university administrator said they would be unlikely to seek a more senior role elsewhere because they had “four kids in local schools”; another stated they are “not willing to give more to gain more until the children are older”.
A reluctance to engage with a “workaholic” culture that led to promotion was also cited by many respondents unwilling to sacrifice family life in pursuit of a promotion, the report stated.
Diversity and managing workloads ‘not a big concern’ for governors
Encouraging diversity in higher education leadership “barely registers” as a concern for university governors, a study says.
As part of the Leadership Foundation’s Higher Education Leadership and Management Survey, responses were received from 63 governors at UK higher education institutions – of which only 3 per cent highlighted diversity as a key issue facing the sector.
According to an analysis of the results by David Greatbatch, from Durham University Business School, titled Governors’ views of their institutions, leadership and governance, published on 26 November, the low level of interest in equality and diversity was “surprising” given drives to diversify student, staff and governing bodies.
Asked to identify the likely key challenges for governors over the next few years, financial sustainability of institutions was the most cited, mentioned by 48 per cent of respondents. Student recruitment, dealing with government policy and managing growth/change were also seen as priority areas.
Improving teaching and learning was cited as a concern by just 13 per cent of respondents, while only 3 per cent thought managing academics’ workloads was a key consideration.
While the survey was just a snapshot of the views of an estimated 3,000 governors in the UK, it was “striking” that there was no mention of possible risks to an institution’s reputation, offshore campuses or transnational education, Professor Greatbatch said.
The results suggest “governors might find it illuminating to gain a better sense of the reality of everyday practice in their institutions, and the day-to-day (as well as the strategic) activities that make up so much of the work of those employed within the institution”, he added.