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Topic: Culture

4 Culture Trends for Higher Education for 2021

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For institutions of higher education, building great workplace cultures can be challenging, especially with a rapidly changing workforce, rising enrollments, and decreased public funding. Here are four of the hottest culture trends that will impact higher education in 2021:

Update: The way we work shifted dramatically overnight. In Q1 of 2020, the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. Businesses and their employees are being forced to change how they work in some unprecedented ways. While most employees transitioned to remote work, many are left working on the front lines with new social distancing requirements. Confusion, anxiety, and fear are palpable. How will employees adapt to this change in work environment, process, and roles? How can companies help employees be calm, productive, and healthy?

O.C. Tanner pulse surveys show 40% of employees globally are worried about losing their job, while 60% worry about lost income. 65% of employees report feeling a “tense” work environment, and 46% of employees say they are less productive at work. There’s a 221% increase in fearfulness among employees, and a 135% increase in feeling isolated.

During a time of great uncertainty and change, many companies are struggling with how to take care of their people and keep their businesses operating.

What companies can do: In times of crisis, it is a company’s responsibility to help employees thrive. This includes many things: ensuring employees are safe at work, giving them access to the tools and resources they need to do their jobs, prioritizing employee wellbeing, and communicating honestly, accurately, and frequently. Organizations are taking the necessary steps: 92% of companies took appropriate actions to make sure their employees were safe at work. Video communication from senior leaders nearly doubled. The number of flexible leave policies increased 95%. Now is the time to make employees your most important asset. Take care of their needs, help them stay connected in a time of physical disconnection, and show appreciation for their work and efforts, especially those on the front line. If you take care of your people, they will take care of your business.

This means we need to understand how employees are feeling and what they want from work.  Here the 4 culture trends for 2021 (as they existed before the pandemic):

Culture Trend #1: Employees in higher education are burning out.

According to the 2020 O.C. Tanner Global Culture Report, 42 percent of surveyed employees in academia reported that they are experiencing mild, moderate, or severe burnout. The workforce continues to evolve, and according to the American Association of University Professors, 73 percent of faculty are now non-tenure-track positions. These faculty members often receive lower pay and fewer employer-sponsored benefits. Workloads have also increased as overall enrollment and demand for distance learning and career development training continue to grow.

The results are costly. The Harvard Business Review estimates that burn-out costs U.S. employers between $125 to $190 billion dollars in healthcare spending each year. Stressed employees are far less likely to be engaged with students, which can hurt the academic mission of the institution.

What institutions of higher education can do: Keep in mind that those in academia often see their work as very personal. Many feel their job is an important part of who they are. Encourage them to take breaks and foster a healthy work/life balance. Focus on creating positive everyday experiences where employees feel connected to their department, peers, and your organization. This is especially critical for non-tenure-track faculty who may lack a sense of belonging. Include them in staff meetings and celebrate their accomplishments. Creating a great workplace culture can help mitigate and even prevent employee burnout, even in the most demanding faculty positions.

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