Leslie Ramos-Salazar, author of It’s Interpersonal: An Introduction to Relational Communication, teaches courses in interpersonal communication, business communication, health communication, and public speaking at West Texas A&M University.
As faculty members, we take on a variety of roles and tasks. We work to prepare quality learning objectives and course materials that are relevant to our students. Those in the tenure-track lines are expected to keep an active research and publishing agenda. Many of us also serve on multiple time-consuming committees and, outside of academia, we often have personal and household responsibilities, such as caring for children or elderly parents.
Finding the right balance between professional and personal has always been difficult in academia, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought on even more challenges. For instance, most faculty had to quickly move from face-to-face teaching to hyflex or online-only teaching. At the same time, we had to quickly adjust to huge shifts in our personal lives.
This struggle of work-life balance among faculty is one of the areas that I research. My findings have shown that faculty reporting a lack of work-life balance also report experiencing increased stress and burnout as well as reduced job satisfaction and overall work commitment1. When these challenges go unchecked, rates of faculty leaving their jobs increase. This contributes to the high job turnover in academia2.
Clearly, there are benefits to helping faculty achieve a better balance between their professional and personal life. Based on my research, here are some strategies to help you find your balance:
1. Don’t expect perfection from yourself
Often, people who feel unbalanced feel that way because they have a drive to be perfect at everything they do. Perceived pressures from the institution, college, and departments to constantly perform at a high level can be unrealistic and, in some cases, even unhealthy.
Instead of expecting perfection, it’s healthier to expect your best. Focus on self-growth and self-development as an educator while remembering to be self-compassionate. For instance, often when I am feeling pressure to be perfect, I remind myself that mistakes are learning opportunities. Making mistakes is part of the job and means that you are trying and learning. If things don’t go the way you want them to, shake it off and learn from these experiences.
2. Use learning resources
Faculty are masters at creating their own learning materials, such as mini lectures, activities, discussions, exercises, and exams. But this is incredibly time-consuming and exhausting.
One way to reduce the time spent preparing for courses—so that you can use that time elsewhere—is to take advantage of existing learning resources, such as those provided by publishers or available from colleagues or other sources.
Using these resources will be beneficial to students because they can review course material, enjoy funny videos, and so on. At the same time, these resources can help faculty members cut down on their preparation time.
3. Communicate boundaries
Faculty can sometimes find themselves taking on more than they can handle. It’s important to remember that it’s okay to say “no” when your plate is already full. Focus on setting and communicating your boundaries. If you aren’t sure what to say, consider “Thank you for thinking of me, but I am not available” or “I cannot take on any more projects at this time.”
I know when I first started the teaching profession, I was afraid to say “no” and would say “yes” to everything that came my way. As a result, I started feeling exhausted and out of control. I realized I needed to set better boundaries for myself, and with practice, I was able to more confidently say “no.”
Now I’m at the mid-career level, and I am more comfortable saying “no” when I need to. I focus on only saying “yes” if the task is nurturing, energizing, or fulfilling my goals. Doing so was hard at first, but now I find it to be very rewarding because it enables me to focus on goals that benefit my students, colleagues, and myself.
4. Create “balanced” goals
It’s easy to get buried deeply into our profession and fail to see that we are prioritizing work over our personal life. We can become addicted to our teaching responsibilities without even realizing it!
Creating “balanced” goals means that we create a mixture of goals each week. Some goals should enable us to teach effectively. Others should focus on our personal lives, such as taking a yoga class, spending an evening with the family, watching a new Netflix show, or learning a new hobby. If needed, you can start small by setting one or two personal life goals each week.
5. Seek support
When faculty become burned out and overwhelmed from a lack of balance in their lives, it is important to seek help and support3. This can be as simple as asking for help to care for a child or hiring temporary help to clean the house. At the department level, it could be asking for a teaching assistant to help grade assignments or asking for more flexibility in one’s teaching schedule. When needing emotional support, consider scheduling a meetup with a friend or family member to catch up and release any pent-up emotions.
Overall, teaching is one of the most rewarding careers possible. However, it is important to give the needed time and attention to your personal life too. Being mindful of your work and life balance helps prevent the negative effects of an unbalanced life. During the semester, take the time to check your priorities and schedule to ensure that you are fulfilling both your career and life goals at a satisfying level.
1. Ramos Salazar, L., & Diego-Medrano, E. (2020). An examination of a work-family and family-work conflict model in higher education. Psychology and Education: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 57(4), 245–252.
2. Diego-Medrano, E., & Ramos Salazar, L. (2021). Examining the work-life balance of faculty in higher education. International Journal of Policy and Education, 3(3), 27–36.
3. Diego-Medrano, E., & Ramos Salazar, L. (2021). Examining the work-life balance of faculty in higher education. International Journal of Policy and Education, 3(3), 27–36.