Those Who Remain

I wrote a Linkedin post a few weeks ago about unexpected resignations. Well it happened again last week to two of my managers. We are in a season in the higher education sector where the hits just keep coming. Despite our creativity, innovation, persistence, and resilience, my team and I often feel like we just can’t gain any traction. One step forward two steps back. We’ve gone from purposeful swimming to treading water, and we are tired. Some days we feel like we’ll go under any moment. You see the great resignation has hit higher education with the force of a hurricane. 

A Harvard Business Review article which indicated that “over four million people quit their jobs each month during the first quarter of 2022 and 44% of workers currently looking for new jobs.” The Chronicle of Higher Education recently reported that more than 50% of Campus Staff Members Are Thinking About Quitting per a CUPA-HR Survey. 

I can verify that these statistics are all too real. Here’s what we aren’t talking about nearly enough; the departures have consequences for those who remain. The creative solutions of interim appointments, temporary salary actions, and restructured positions often leaves us with too much work and not enough people to get it done. But because we often lead with spirit of service, we still work hard to deliver the expected results. As Elaine Welteroth so eloquently states in her book, More Than Enough, there is a “thin line between hard work and workaholic.” We are teetering on the latter. Burnout is the inevitable result if we do not find strategic ways to restore the balance. 

Recently, the unexpected departure of a staff member hit me particularly hard. Here is how I described it to a friend. “My spirit separated from my body and is face up, eyes closed on the floor in a dead faint!” My normal solution-focused, resilient, innovative spirit had enough energy to check in with the staff member who was clearly heartbroken at needing to share the news. I held space for her as she shared what she is navigating. But aside from that last ounce of empathy, my spirit had nothing more to give. As the staff member looked at me expectantly for my normally quick ideas and solutions. I just stared back blankly as my ability to think took flight. 

My spirit’s face-up, eyes closed posture seemed a little too much like death so I told her, “Girl, you are not dead. Get up!” She agreed and flipped over, eyes still closed making it clear that she had no interest in engaging further. But, my spirit clearly had needs, it was my job to check in to see exactly what those were. Since she wasn’t communicating I had to use self-directed intuition and empathy to sort it out. 

Here’s what I did. I got lots of sleep and rest. My attempts at sleep were initially restless and fitful. But eventually settled into peaceful, restful sloth like slumber. I took long morning walks which included prayer and a playlist of inspirational music followed by “walk out” songs. Not “leaving the job kind”, but the type of “songs that sets tone in the arena” and hypes you up. I treated myself to healthy, homemade, restorative meals. The time spent chopping those fruits and veggies and stirring pots was cathartic. Checking in with trusted friends, family, and mentors was also hugely helpful. 

All of this got my spirit back to a seated position. She was not interested in standing, but she was once again offering creative and innovative ideas. My spirit was reminding me in her own way of a favorite quote by Eve L. Ewing, “There is no glory in a grind that grinds you down.” I’m now making conscious choices and renewing my commitment to stop treating wellness, well-being, and self-care as an afterthought. It is essential and foundational to my existence. You know what? It’s making a tremendous difference. 

What about those staffing challenges? Well, we are working through them. And, I’m figuring out how to educate my staff and myself about burnout so that we can head it off at the pass and give ourselves every opportunity to thrive in this season.

#highereducation #highereducationleadership #studentaffairs #leadership #greatresignation #burnout #selfcare 

Published by Shelia Higgs Burkhalter

I am a Higher Education Executive, Educator, Change Maker, Culture Shaper and Executive and Leadership Transitions Coach. I believe in PEOPLE, VALUES, and leading with HEART. I help aspiring and new executives and leaders to successfully transition to or through next level leadership. I am gifted in executive coaching, leadership and professional development, employee engagement, communication, and change management.

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