Stephanie Fahey, Old Dominion University
Nettie Freshour, West Virginia University
Academic advising as a profession is all about finding a sense of balance. As advisors, we must balance being emotionally available for our students with maintaining a sense of professionalism. We must balance being flexible, accommodating, and generous with our time, as necessitated by our jobs and often outsized caseloads, with retaining space and mental energy for ourselves. Overall, we must create a balance that enhances job satisfaction and reduces the risk of burnout. Designing and implementing that balance can be a daunting task, but it is critical for both establishing effective relationships with students and developing professional longevity.
Advisor attitudes affect students. As institutional representatives with a direct impact on student retention and completion (Walters & Seyedian, 2016; Zarges et al., 2018), academic advisors must develop strong, trusting relationships with our advisees. In building these relationships, it is important for advisors to be “viewed as approachable, compassionate, concerned, and kind” (Pitts & Myers, 2023). Many students also want their advisor to be available. It is difficult to exude these qualities if an advisor feels overwhelmed and burnt out. Therefore, the authors present BRIGHT as a tool for advisors to use when facing burnout in their roles to help shift their mindsets and find revitalization in work life.
Professional burnout includes “emotional exhaustion” and “lack of enthusiasm for work” (Catanzano et al., 2023, p. 130). Factors that can lead to burnout like work overload and sustained stress (Catanzano et al., 2023) are part of everyday life for advisors due to often heavy caseloads, managing student meetings and administrative duties, and emotional fallout from trying to resolve student issues. There are myriad approaches to improving satisfaction and work life and combatting burnout. The offerings presented here are focused personal action items neatly encased in an easy to remember acronym—BRIGHT. Each letter of the acronym stands for a concept to employ in professional life to increase work satisfaction: boundaries, reframing, intuition, goal setting, help-seeking, and time management.
Setting boundaries is not only recommended, but also essential. While an advisor wants to relay to their students that they are available to provide support, setting appropriate boundaries can benefit both parties in this relationship. Boundaries can encourage students to be more initiative-taking, advocate for themselves, and learn independence in problem solving. For an advisor, setting boundaries can potentially decrease the strain on the advisor while protecting their time and mental energy. Boundaries can also set the stage for both student and advisor to be properly prepared for future meetings.
In our “always on” culture, we often struggle with “digital boundaries” (Moss, 2019). While technology has provided tools like Zoom that make it more convenient to work remotely and provide increased flexibility for advisors and students, the ability to connect from anywhere has students expecting us to be connected at all times. However, the “always on” mindset can have a negative impact on advisors, and we must be aware that passion for our profession, something many advisors share, can become a double-edged sword. As Dr. Edward Ellison states, “If you are so inspired to do what you do, then you’re not necessarily good at setting boundaries. We need to teach people that setting boundaries is OK, it is not selfish, it’s actually selfless. It allows you to be more effective at what you do and to better help those you wish to serve” (Moss, 2019, p. 4).
Reframing is a strategy that comes from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). There is growing evidence to support the use of CBT in overcoming professional burnout. The basic principles of this CBT strategy include recognizing automatic negative thoughts, naming them as such, and reframing those thoughts to envision alternate perspectives, often with a more positive or less emotionally charged bent (Catanzano et al., 2023). Those experiencing overwhelm or stress in a professional capacity most likely encounter automatic negative thoughts daily. Recognizing and replacing these thoughts is key to an improved outlook overall. However, reframing is a skill that takes practice to master. Through consistent practice and reflection, reframing can become as automatic as the thoughts that precede it.
Another R word used to discuss work stressors and burnout is resilience. Resilience has been found to be both positively related to job satisfaction and negatively associated with burnout (Topino et al., 2022). Additionally, studies show that resilience is a crucial factor in individual professional growth and supports those facing work challenges (Topino et al., 2022). Resilience can be viewed as a process that is individually developed through overcoming negative events or stressors (Fullerton et al., 2021) or a skill that one can hone over time (Ledesma, 2014). Resilience involves coming out stronger on the other side of an adverse experience. The use of CBT tools like reframing positively impact individual resilience (Joyce et al., 2018).
Intuition is a useful guide in helping us make important decisions that will prevent burnout. Advisors can become overwhelmed with all the tasks presented to us. On top of advising students, we are often asked to perform other duties and service or given the opportunity to participate in various professional development. As requests or opportunities are presented, advisors can use the following series of questions to determine if the opportunity is right for them: Does this opportunity (a) fit my creed? (b) augment my CV, (c) fit into my long-term goals, or (d) provide enriching career development? In other words, does this opportunity feel right for me? Depending on the answer, an advisor can make an intuitive choice that can ensure their time is being utilized wisely. Saying no is a form of self-care that can help prevent burnout and lead to personal satisfaction.
When thinking about setting goals, it is important to consider both the immediate and extended future. Setting short-term goals, whether they are day-to-day duties to check off or are measured in items to accomplish over weeks or months, can help with organization and prevent advisors from feeling overwhelmed in the face of mounting tasks. Considering the bigger picture can help with short-term problem-solving. As exemplified in the section on intuition, gauging immediate opportunities with career goals in mind can help an advisor determine if that opportunity is right for them.
Setting career goals contributes to positive work attitudes like well-being and job satisfaction. Having these set goals and working toward achieving them helps maintain motivation (Greco & Kraimer, 2019). Advisors should take time to assess what they would like their career to look like as a whole. Then, they can use these goals to guide them as they develop. Professional mentors can be helpful in identifying and articulating relevant goals.
In a society that often places heavy value on individual achievement, people can be reluctant to ask for help. Many people do not want to incur negative social costs associated with help-seeking in their professional capacity, such as being viewed as incompetent at their jobs (Liu et al., 2021). However, in our modern high demand workplaces, it is imperative to rely on others for support. Research links help-seeking behavior to boosted job performance (Liu et al., 2021) and enhanced professional creativity (Wang et al., 2022). Advisors know that a certain level of creativity is at times called for in addressing students’ problems and also in balancing myriad tasks. Instead of trying to do everything ourselves, in asking for help, we can enhance our performance and reduce our feelings of overload.
Help-seeking can also refer to finding professional support for mental distress caused by burnout at work. When we notice that our students are in distress, we refer them to counseling services and emphasize the importance of good mental health. It is important that we take our own advice and seek help when needed.
Studies show that time management has a moderate influence on job performance and well-being as well as a positive impact on both life satisfaction and job satisfaction. Additionally, time management is linked to decreased role overload and can help to alleviate psychological distress (Aeon et al., 2021). Time poverty is a consistent theme in the lives of advisors. Learning to effectively manage the time that we do have can help us work efficiently and contribute greatly to satisfaction that we have made the best use of that time. Further, with the potential for burnout from being always on ever present, proper time management also means protecting our valuable time by setting boundaries on personal time as well as also valuing the time of others when seeking their collaboration or input.
BRIGHT in Action
These strategies for work revitalization are straight forward and simple to employ with practice. Additionally, when used in combination, the tools potentially have a synergistic effect in tackling burnout. Learning to effectively cope with work stressors gives advisors the ability to focus on their jobs refreshed. As integral student-facing personnel on campus, advisors must utilize tools which will help them optimally function. Incorporating the BRIGHT model in work life will help advisors avoid burnout which will increase their capacity to enhance the student experience.
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