Healthy Higher Ed Employees

Pilot survey finds good health, but also concerns about uncivil behavior by colleagues.

June 2, 2017

AUSTIN, Tex. -- Most professors and other university staffers say they're in good health, but some can identify instances of workplace bullying, according to the results of a broad new pilot study unveiled here Thursday.

The study, developed by an American College Health Association coalition, in part mirrors another widely administered survey, also by the ACHA, that focuses on student wellness -- the National College Health Assessment. That survey allows all the colleges and universities that participate to glean information about their own student population, but also to compare it to the larger pool of institutions that participate.

The National Faculty Staff Health Assessment, meanwhile, is being touted as the first of its kind to offer such a deep look at the health of university employees, a comprehensive examination of both their physical and mental well-being, while also recording demographic information.

Student campus climate surveys are quite common. But few health assessments exist for employees beyond the ones delivered through human resources, and often those are required for insurance purposes and concentrate just on the individual, said Nikki Brauer, the director of health promotion and wellness at Illinois State University. Brauer also chairs the ACHA’s faculty and staff health and wellness coalition.

The faculty and staff assessment is still being tweaked. The data released Thursday were based on a survey of just four institutions -- all four-year, three public and one private -- for a total of nearly 2,090 faculty and staff members, including adjunct professors. They completed the survey between December and April.

More than 86 percent of those who responded rated their overall health as excellent, very good, or good.

A little more than 67 percent indicated they either agreed or strongly agreed that their college or university cared about their health and well-being.

“We weren’t really surprised by what they said,” Brauer said in an interview.

More than a quarter of responders observed some “uncivil” behaviors among their coworkers, though. About 34 percent said they had seen phone calls and emails ignored; 31 percent indicated they had noticed someone being given the “silent treatment,” and a little more than 29 percent said that someone had taken credit for another’s work.

Nearly half of the people who answered the survey said they'd witnessed gossip about another coworker.

A very small percentage -- around 6 percent -- indicated they had observed what they considered verbal abuse. Not even 1 percent reported noticing physical or sexual abuse.

Brauer had little to say about those particular findings other than noting them in her presentation Thursday.

The survey also measured alcohol and tobacco use. On one question that asked if the respondent in the last two weeks had consumed more than five drinks in two hours, overwhelmingly people said no. A vast majority of respondents indicated they had never consumed any form of tobacco, including cigarettes and cigars, e-cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco.

Those who worked on the survey received a deluge of feedback on additional questions to ask, particularly concerning questions regarding life circumstances and gender and sexuality.

Survey respondents wanted questions about pregnancy and to respond in more depth when the survey asked about their marital status or whom they lived with. Many wanted a “spouse” option added on both the questions about living arrangement and marital status, as well as an “engaged” option.

While many were pleased that the survey did include inquiries about gender and sexuality, some believed that the question about gender assigned at birth was offensive, the presenters said. Indeed, many transgender people do not wish to discuss their past classification.

Questions around whether someone identified as transgender seemed to get a little muddled. Though 52 indicated they identified as transgender, when asked on a separate question about which term they used to describe their gender identity, only one person said transwoman, and none said transman.

Some did find the survey too invasive, or too lengthy, according to the presenters.

The survey is intended to launch spring 2018.

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Jeremy Bauer-Wolf

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