Supervisors in higher education are largely “overwhelmed, under-resourced, and struggling to fill positions and maintain morale,” according to a new report from the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (CUPA-HR).
This challenge, coupled with frustrations about pay, has nearly two in five supervisors seeking new employment opportunities. Unfortunately, 60% of those looking to leave their current position say they wouldn’t seek opportunities at their current institution.
While higher education (as a whole) is facing a retention crisis, turnover in these key positions is particularly bad news because it not only affects departments and direct reports but can interfere with succession plans.
The report analyzed data from the 3,815 higher ed administrators, professionals, and nonexempt staff, most (57 percent) of whom were supervisors, who responded to CUPA-HR’s 2022 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey.
What Supervisors Are Facing
An overwhelming number of supervisors reported a lack of support and training. Less than half of them said that they have had appropriate management training to do their jobs, and only three in five (59%) supervisors feel they have the right resources and support in their supervisory role.
This gap in training and resources is likely contributing to another hardship for supervisors. Overtime hours were reported by 89% of department/area supervisors, as well as 79% of other supervisors with at least one direct report. On the contrary, supervisors who felt they had adequate training and support were less likely to log extra hours.
Some supervisors report that they’ve also absorbed extra duties since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic due to other employees leaving.
On top of these challenges, 54% of supervisors say maintaining staff morale is very challenging and 63% are struggling to fill empty positions.
How Can Institutions Retain Supervisors?
CUPA-HR staff did an in-depth analysis of the data, finding that “supervisors are less likely to seek other employment if they receive more resources and support in their supervisory roles, more power to advocate for their staff, more power to allow flexible schedules, and more power to allow their staff to work remotely.”
A lack of resources and support was the strongest predictor of supervisors’ likelihood of looking for other employment. Institutions committed to retaining talent must find a solution for training and supporting their staff serving in supervisory roles. CUPA-HR recommends that institutions first focus on providing resources and support to address supervisors’ top two challenges: filling positions and improving staff morale.
Other recommendations include:
- Reduce the workload for supervisors
- Give supervisors more leeway to determine their staff’s working arrangements (i.e. remote/hybrid/flexible), as supervisors with more autonomy in this area were less likely to leave
- Improve salaries for supervisors (if possible and not at the expense of their staff)
For more information and recommendations, read the full report.
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