As each academic term moves toward its end advisors can be heard to say “I cannot wait until this term is over!” Although this may be a declaratory statement, it is a feeling some advisors have had most of the term. Whether caused by student volume, seemingly endless voicemails, or answering those who demand accountability, the time between academic terms can provide a short bandaid for those suffering job stress and burnout.
Maslach and Goldberg (1998) noted that it is important that caregivers monitor and change destructive modes of thinking. As academic caregivers, advisors should develop personal strategies to strengthen our connectedness to work and our effectiveness with students. Advisors must foster positive relationships with students. Jackson & Shuler (1985) pointed to evidence that we must create an atmosphere conducive to skills development.
The sources and outcomes of job stress and burnout are well documented in the literature. Advisors can take the disconnect we feel when stress is introduced and look at it not as an ailment to correct, but as an opportunity to create new meaning and engagement. This article addresses how we can promote positive responses to stress when we outline the various disconnects that can occur when burnout is felt. Additionally this article offers three easy- to- implement interventions for advisors.
Promoting positive responses to stress
A disconnect occurs when an advisor cannot cope with job stressors, becomes emotionally exhausted, detaches from students, or develops feelings of professional incompetence. Think of burnout and engagement as being inversely related. When advisors are highly involved in our work and experience occupational fulfillment we become both physically and mentally engaged (Maslach & Leiter, 2008). When we engage and become fully committed to our work, our creativity increases (Rego, Machado, Leal & Cuhna, 2009; Fredrickson, 2001), our ability to embrace change increases (Avey, Luthans, Smith & Palmer, 2010), and we are more likely to exhibit agentic work behaviors (Schaufeli, Baker & Van Rhenen, 2009). It is important that we create more meaningful, goal directed behaviors to increase our engagement at work. Our social resources also are important for making a cognitive effort to create new meanings from our work.
Engage in Goal Directed Behavior
There are a multitude of benefits when goals are specific, clear, and meaningful. The attainment of goals provides us with a sense of accomplishment. Researchers look to goal development as the answer to engagement because accomplishing goal-oriented tasks increases our hope, optimism, and engagement at work (Snyder, 2000; Luthans, Avey & Patera, in press). For advisors, the task is to find something that is meaningful and will provide a sense of accomplishment: finish an article, implement a new advising program, create new resources for students, become more involved in organizations, or find new ways to connect with our students.
After a long-term goal has been chosen, we should create short-term goals or specific “steps” to goal achievement. The use of “stepping” is an effective motivator. Stepping is the breaking down of goals into sub goals, thus creating more chances for meaningful success and maintaining a focus toward the larger goal even in the face obstacles (Snyder, 2000). Think of this as a meaningful and elaborative “to-do” list. With a clear conceptualization of multiple goal achievement, we can create a higher level of optimism (perhaps the likelihood of further engagement) and reduce negative emotions.
Strengthen Social Resources
For many advisors, the conclusion of a professional conference brings about an increase in feelings of engagement. Often the increased level of engagement is not related to anything we have done per se, but is the result of our positive interactions with others, including the free exchange of new ideas. This kind of experience is not unique to attending a conference. It has been shown that the more attached individuals feel to their coworkers, and the more we rely on these coworkers for social support resources, the greater the chance to decrease burnout (Pines, 2004; Ronen & Mikulincer, 2009; Macbride, 1983). In his book, The Path to Purpose, Damon (2009) discussed the advantages of identifying and re-identifying those who make positive contributions to our lives. As simple as it sounds, professional social support can help us cope with stress by providing emotional comfort, opportunities to share success with others, and new insights. The key is to start by identifying those with whom we already have established a positive relationship. Damon calls this “community mapping.” Take the time and identify an existing community and then look outwards. Once we record those in our community map, we should make a daily effort to improve upon these relationships. When we feel more connected to our immediate community, the next step is to expand that community.
Create New Meanings from Work
While filing and documentation can be repetitive and monotonous, other areas in advisors’ day-to-day duties are not. Finding work outlets where we can utilize our creativity increases our positive responses towards job duties. These positive emotions have the power to create more enhanced meaning from our work, bring about increased motivation, and broaden our thought processes (Rego et al, 2009). We can start by thinking about ways we can build upon our existing strengths. We are undoubtedly at our best when we showcase these strengths. When advisors find ways to maximize our strengths we create outlets to showcase our personalities and creativity in our day-to-day duties.
We have the power to create change in within our workspace. Often advisors fail to see that positive thought and engagement can occur on basic levels. This article showcased basic things we advisors can implement during our workday to create a healthy work environment and combat the consequences of burnout.
Authored by: Chris Huebner
School of Journalism and Mass Communications
University of South Carolina
Do I have an established “community” for support? If so, who are the individuals that make up this community? If not, what steps can I take to create a community of support?
What personal strengths do I possess that can be utilized to create engagement opportunities? How can I inject life into existing opportunities?
What is one major goal that I can realistically reach by the end of academic term/year?
Is this goal meaningful? If so, how can I create other goals that will enhance my engagement at work?
Is burnout a subject discussed seriously with my office? Does it need to be?
- Burn Out Symptoms and coping strategies via Career Counseling and Executive Coaching for Professionals, Attorneys and Entrepreneurs website
- Queendom's Career Tests: Burn Out Inventory. Requires membership (free) and $4.45. Indices include Emotional exhaustion, Detachment/dehumanization of clients, Overwhelmed feeling and loss of interest, General exhaustion
- Apathy's antidote: Using mindfulness to improve advisor performance via Academic Advising Today
- Dealing with stress in advising via the Clearinghouse
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