Whether we call it drive, motivation, dedication or enthusiasm, one of the biggest challenges in any work environment is to maintain this behavior in employees. Dedicated employees usually mean better productivity at work, allegiance to the organization, and a willingness to embrace creativity and try new things.
Maintaining and improving employee motivation should be an ongoing process in any organization. However, preserving – let alone improving – this behavior in the education sector has become a much more difficult undertaking over the past 18 months.
Academics, students and managers have had to deal with the physical and emotional stress and rapid changes brought on by COVID-19.
Academics and students had to quickly learn and embrace a new way of working or learning at a distance, while juggling home schooling of children and trying to maintain a semblance of work-study balance.
Academics also had the added challenge of keeping students motivated and helping them adjust to the new mode of forced learning and deal with feelings of isolation due to a lack of physical interaction with peers and teachers.
Despite the various challenges that the pandemic has generated, it has also initiated some truly creative responses within the higher education sector.
The actions taken have been varied, with several designed to help academic staff feel secure and supported in their current work, while others were aimed at building enthusiasm by trying out new ideas.
Some institutions have tested the introduction of micro-degrees and short courses. Others have identified new program offerings and new research directions in response to changing societal demands.
In addition to ensuring that technological resources and educational support were made quickly and widely available to facilitate teaching for academics, the institutions that seemed to fare the best were those where senior management had a very visible presence. .
In some cases, different members of the management team took turns having informal conversations with different groups of employees. These aimed to unite the staff and demonstrate identification with the new environment. It showed management’s willingness to listen to staff on how best to support them in their work during this extraordinary time.
These practices were enriched by management follow-ups which encouraged academics to share their teaching practices and observations and to be part of the decision-making process.
These actions enabled managers to quickly modify university procedures and define different work expectations to better adapt to the “new” work environment. They also used the talks to defuse some of the anxiety expressed about college campus closures and
concerns associated with the potential loss of academic positions.
Commitment to work was greatly enhanced by the recognition that flexibility was a primary consideration in order to accommodate the various demands associated with working remotely.
Hopefully the reactive discussions between management and staff that have taken place out of necessity over the past 18 months will continue, as will increased broad participation in institutional decision-making.
And, hopefully, the continuation of collaborations between teams which have allowed an authentic and favorable sharing of knowledge and produced diverse and new ideas will also continue.
Post-COVID will not see a return to pre-COVID modes of operation for higher education institutions.
Other adaptations in the future could include further revisions of academic job descriptions, recruitment and selection practices, career development procedures, recognition and recognition of teaching and research achievements, and staff performance management.
Teacher development can become a priority investment area for all higher education institutions. In a post-pandemic era, it is likely that online learning will become a fundamental part of higher education. The future is likely to incorporate greater flexibility in the composition of working time and offer a better choice of workplaces.
The agility imposed on higher education by the pandemic will and must persist. He has shown that when compelled by a crisis to make rapid changes, it can be done. But for any significant change to be successful, employee engagement is essential.
The enthusiasm and commitment of staff to the changed procedures will not happen automatically; you have to work on it. Providing strong and considerate leadership is an essential good start. The same goes for making sure all staff receive practical, responsive guidelines that clearly address changing conditions to help reduce confusion and chaos.
In the future, higher education institutions will need to pay more attention to the well-being of employees to achieve the desired results. Now is the time to question what may be longstanding behaviors, activities, and systems to explore alternative possibilities.
The overall aim should be to create a teaching and learning environment that values ideas and ensures that the approaches implemented are meaningful and tailored to best suit all relevant stakeholders, in order to support the dedication of students and academics.
Dr Nita Temmerman has held senior academic positions including Professional Vice Chancellor (Academic Quality and Partnerships) and Executive Dean in Australia. She is a Guest Accreditation Specialist with the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Professional Qualifications and International Associate of the Center for Learning Innovations and Customized Knowledge Solutions in Dubai. She is chair of two higher education academic councils and a visiting professor and consultant to universities in Australia, the Pacific region, South East Asia and the Middle East.