How The Great Resignation is Impacting Higher Education

Call it The Great Resignation, The Big Quit, or just The Changing Nature of Work: no matter your chosen name for the workplace shake-up, 48 million Americans left their jobs in 2021. With another 4 million abandoning ship each month, the trend shows no sign of slowing. Higher education leaders are feeling the burn of this relentless churn as they struggle to keep things running smoothly during this unprecedented era of job hopping. 

In addition to ramping up employee recruitment, higher ed leaders are grappling with operational challenges brought on by The Great Resignation: 

  • Rethinking how job processes are documented: Otherwise, a wealth of institutional knowledge vanishes along with a departing employee
  • Back to the drawing board on job descriptions: Roles are harder to fill with more workers searching for meaningful roles 
  • Remote work arrangements need to be more than lip service: Top talent doesn’t just want to work from home; they want to perform well while doing so

To face these issues head-on, colleges and universities are turning towards automation. See how Business Process Automation in higher education can give you the upper hand against The Big Quit

The Great Resignation craters institutional knowledge in higher ed

Muscle memory keeps us upright on a bicycle. It also helps us mindlessly dial our childhood phone numbers. But it’s not a great way to store your institution’s operational playbook. 

In one survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 80% of respondents noted a groundswell in unfilled positions, making iron-clad documentation of institutional knowledge more important than ever before. 

With so many employees on their way out, constraining the ins and outs of a vital process to the mind of a single worker has serious downfalls for higher ed:

  • It restricts knowledge to a single expert. This might bode well for some workplace egos, but it makes knowledge transfer to the next generation increasingly tricky. 
  • This specialist might be able to perform the task with ease, but when they step down, the rulebook vanishes with them
  • Without a blueprint, employees often fall back on their personal preferences, creating an untraceable work history. 

Instead of relying on reflexes, digital process automation (DPA) is how top-performing institutions track and manage each step in a process. 

Employees no longer dictate the method, but a system leads the charge. 

Build your own application with forms and screens that facilitate user interactions across departments and disparate systems. Some tasks flow autonomously, others require human intervention. Either way, everyone has a crystal-clear view into how to best perform their duties. 

Another obstacle preventing knowledge transfer is something we all love to do at work: we develop our own lingo with our co-workers. 

These little language shortcuts foster a bit of camaraderie and make it easy to get to the point. But it makes it very difficult to communicate with newcomers. Ambiguity is also frustrating for the workers left behind, increasing the risk that they’ll also bail for a more compelling role. 

To keep your institution running at top speed, pick a business process management platform that leverages Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN). This handy set of flowchart symbols and shapes helps teams layout their processes in a common language. You don’t have to rely on an exiting employee’s vague description or piece together a trail of old emails to figure out how to perform a given task. Everything is laid out in a clear-cut process map

For higher ed positions, it’s more important than ever to codify these pathways to success. Over 10,000 Baby Boomers hit retirement age every day. Gen Z, a generation soon to become the largest in the U.S., is now signing on to their first jobs. The mission of higher ed employee recruitment now becomes two-prong: institutions need to absorb the knowledge of those exiting and find meaningful ways to share it with budding new talent. 

During The Great Resignation, higher ed staffers and faculty gravitate toward more meaningful roles

One thing employers are culling from job descriptions? Mundane data-entry responsibilities. Applicants are hungry for fulfilling jobs, and DPA gives every role more time in the day to immerse themselves in the compelling mission of higher learning. Institutions that can offload the repetitive and mundane to automation technologies can use this as an opportunity to appeal to a workforce in search of that meaning.

The perils of undocumented organizational processes

It’s not just office staff making a move—faculty are too. Some are leaving academics for good. In one study by Inside Higher Ed, 19% of provosts reported significantly higher turnover rates amongst professors.  

One professor of biology, Elizabeth Haswell, cites “shadow work” as the chief contributor to burnout, or the heavy and unrelenting feeling of being overworked that drives all-star employees to quit. Shadow work comprises undocumented responsibilities that can mar a workday: email toil, spreadsheet sleuthing, and tiresome data entry. 

To make the shift toward more satisfying roles, higher ed employers need to perform more than lip service. 

How automation can make work more fulfilling

Colleges and universities need to put in the legwork to actually shift these unappealing tasks off workers’ plates. Here’s where digital process automation really hits the mark: everyone can see precisely how their responsibilities figure into the sequence of success, making it less likely they’ll bail for a more gratifying role. 

Higher ed leaders are also discovering this valuable nugget: Ace performers are more likely to stick around if they feel their work matters. Employees are no longer willing to hack away down the hatch, pushing the button every 108 minutes in hopes their efforts are meaningful. They want to see how their hard work pays off—and business process transformation initiatives paint this picture with a masterstroke. 

How higher education is embracing the trend toward fully remote work

Three-quarters of respondents say higher ed is a less attractive place to work than it was a year ago—fewer experienced candidates are applying than ever before. Is this perceived uncertainty of the campus experience due to the pandemic? 

Nobody knows for sure. But institutions are both lowering qualifications and revising job ads to hopefully overcome objections. Additionally, remote work is proving to be a lucrative lure. According to McKinsey, 87% of employees offered a flexible work schedule take it. 

By many accounts, both employees and their supervisors note a generous uptick in productivity when given job flexibility. But for an effective work-from-home program to survive, employees need the right tools in hand. 

To survive the instant jump to remote, institutions made a quick pivot from paper or analog forms to online, digital forms. But for many, the digital transformation stopped there. The same old email, spreadsheet, and institutional “muscle memory” highlights the unabating delay in student service because the bottlenecks of the manual processes remain. 

With teams now spread across town, across time zones—even across the world—the old techniques no longer make the grade. Now that remote work has shifted from a demand of the pandemic to a huge selling point, automation is a must-have. 

Bryan Garey, vice president for human resources at Virginia Tech, is finding fresh ways to expand the home-office arrangement to more workers. “We have probably close to 10% of the entire workforce 100% remote,” he told Inside Higher Ed in a recent interview. “Probably 40–50% percent have some kind of flexible work agreement.”

Embracing a WFH plan is not without challenges. As the dean of the College of General Studies at Boston University said, “communication snafus” are one of the top perils of remote work

This is a speed bump that automated workflows can easily mend. A meeting where the team decides to adjust the sequence of tasks doesn’t get lost in someone’s handwritten notes. You can simply log in to the workflow, make the necessary adjustments, and everyone is instantly on the same page moving forward. 

While higher ed is well-known for forward-thinking perks like summertime 4-day work weeks, they didn’t necessarily change their daily operations to suit. Now that flexible work arrangements have proven to be a recruitment golden ticket, employers of all industries need to explore how automation can ease the effects of The Great Resignation. Is your institution using automation to ensure you Evolve or Go Extinct?  


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