Coping with Faculty Stress


Walter H. Gmelch

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  • Managing Editor: Peter Labella

    Survival Skills for Scholars provides you, the professor or advanced graduate student working in a college or university setting, with practical suggestions for making the most of your academic career. These brief, readable guides will help you with skills that you are required to master as a college professor but may have never been taught in graduate school. Using hands-on, jargon-free advice and examples, forms, lists, and suggestions for additional resources, experts on different aspects of academic life give invaluable tips on managing the day-to-day tasks of academia—effectively and efficiently.

    Volumes in This Series

    • Improving Your Classroom Teaching

      by Maryellen Weimer

    • How to Work With the Media

      by James Alan Fox & Jack Levin

    • Developing a Consulting Practice

      by Robert O. Metzger

    • Tips for Improving Testing and Grading

      by John C. Ory & Katherine E. Ryan

    • Coping With Faculty Stress

      by Walter H. Gmelch

    • Confronting Diversity Issues on Campus

      by Benjamin P. Bowser, Gale S. Auletta, & Terry Jones

    • Effective Committee Service

      by Neil J. Smelser

    • Getting Tenure

      by Marcia Lynn Whicker, Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld, & Ruth Ann Strickland

    • Improving Writing Skills: Memos, Letters, Reports, and Proposals

      by Arthur Asa Berger

    • Getting Your Book Published

      by Christine S. Smedley, Mitchell Allen & Associates

    • Successful Publishing in Scholarly Journals

      by Bruce A. Thyer

    • Teaching from a Multicultural Perspective

      by Helen R. Roberts & Associates

    • Planning a Successful Conference

      by Cynthia Winter

    • Dealing With Ethical Dilemmas on Campus

      by Marcia Lynn Whicker & Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld

    • Chairing an Academic Department

      by Walter H. Gmelch & Val D. Miskin

    • How to Make Effective Presentations

      by Elizabeth P. Tierney

    • Getting an Academic Job

      by Jennie Jacobs Kronenfeld & Marcia Lynn Whicker


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    The short timeline of Sage's faculty resource guide project and the condensed format of the book posed creative challenges. However, I am forever indebted to Mitch Allen, managing editor, for his vision in creating such a series and his encouragement that it could be done.

    The work would not have been done without the artistic talent and technological genius of Tracy Schellenberg, who created all the figures, tables, and exercises in camera-ready form. Also, without the support, dedication, and understanding of Lynn Buckley and Patti Komp, I could not have balanced the intrinsic pressure to write this book with the extrinsic responsibility to lead an academic department.

    I also want to thank my deans, Bernie Oliver and Sherry Vaughan, my fellow department chairs, my faculty colleagues, Don Reed, Mary Henry, and Don Orlich in particular, and my best friend and colleague Val Miskin, for their encouragement to keep my professional life balanced between my academic and administrative responsibilties. Most importantly, I owe my wife, Paula, and teenage sons, Ben and Tom, my deepest gratitude for their love and understanding since I took the time to write this book at home in the evenings and on weekends. I may not have missed any of my sons' football games this fall but my full attention was not always available when needed.


    To the mentors of my professional life as an educator

    Allen Brown

    Bill Walsh

    Ken Erickson

    George Gmelch

    To the meaning of my life as a father

    Ben Gmelch

    Tom Gmelch


    The word stress is one with which you are familiar. However, for all the attention stress receives, both in publications and in personal experiences, at times, our awareness of what causes us stress remains undiscovered. We know stress exists, but few of us are patient enough to identify its sources to deal with the problem.

    A leading authority on stress, Dr. Hans Selye, points out that despite everything that has been written and said about stress and coping behaviors, no single, ready-made solution suits everyone. Since faculty members' thresholds and responses differ, the best a book on faculty stress can hope for is to raise one's consciousness so that pressures of the professorship can be recognized and alleviated before they occur. In the words of an honorable Chinese philosopher:

    Before it move, hold it

    Before it go wrong, mold it

    Drain off water in winter before it freeze

    Before wheat grow, sow them to the breeze

    You can deal with what has not happened, can foresee

    Harmful events and not allow them to be.

    This book provides an overview of the most recent ideas and research on faculty stress and presents plans of action for stress reduction. In order to make this book meaningful for faculty, self-assessment instruments, schematic models, and exercises are used throughout the text to assist you in understanding, internalizing, and applying the key concepts of stress management. To paraphrase another wise Chinese philosopher, Confucius: I read and forget, see and remember, and do and understand. It is with this intent that this book is embellished with exercises, figures, and tables.

    The information shared in this book is derived from four primary sources. First and foremost, the evidence enabling the composition of this book came from current research and writings on stress, including the author's investigations of the stresses of more than 4,000 faculty members in more than 100 institutions of higher education across the United States. The author is indebted to his coresearchers and colleagues over the past 15 years with whom he has collaborated in the dozens of studies on the stresses of faculty, school administrators, and university department chairs—special thanks to Jack Burns, Nick Lovrich, Earl Smith, Boyd Swent, and Kay Wilke.

    Second, many of the ideas and passages have emanated from the half dozen books and more than 30 articles the author has written on stress: primarily from such works as Beyond Stress to Effective Management (1982), Coping With Faculty Stress (1987), and numerous research articles on faculty stress published in Research in Higher Education.

    Third, workshop participants who have attended and used the author's materials in more than 500 stress workshops in the past decade throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa have provided critical analysis, global perspectives, and insightful comments.

    Fourth and finally, the author's personal successes and mistakes in attempting to cope with both private and public sector stresses as a business executive, professor, researcher, writer, management consultant, and most recently, university administrator. Most authors write about what troubles them the most, and this author is no different. From my burning interest and burned-out attempt to be an author while still maintaining my university administrative responsibilities, this book was created.

  • References

    Adams, J. D. (1980). Understanding and managing stress. San Diego, CA: University Associates.
    Blackburn, R. T. (1979). Academic careers: Patterns and possibilities. In Faculty career development (Report No. 2). Washington, DC: ASHE-ERIC.
    Bowen, H. R., & Schuster, J. H. (1986). American professors: A national resource imperiled. New York: Oxford University Press.
    Caplan, R. D., Cobb, S., French, J. R. P., Van Harrison, R., & Pinneau, S. R. (1980). Job demands and worker health: Main effects and occupational differences. HEW Publication No. (N10SH), 75–160.
    Dillard, C. (1992). Leadership in a diverse society. Administrative Internship Conference, Washington State University, Pullman, WA.
    Fisher, W., & Ury, R. (1990). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
    Freeman, B. C. (1977). Faculty women in the American university: Up the down staircase. Higher Education, 6, 139–145.
    Friedman, M., & Rosenman, R. (1974). Type A behavior and your heart. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
    Glasser, W. (1976). Positive addiction. New York: Harper & Row.
    Gmelch, W. H. (1982). Beyond stress to effective management. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
    Gmelch, W. H. (1983). Stress for success: How to optimize your performance. Theory into Practice, 22(1), 7–15.
    Gmelch, W. H. (1987). What colleges and universities can do about faculty stress. In P.Seldin (Ed.), Coping with Faculty Stress (pp. 23–31). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
    Gmelch, W. H. (1988). Educators’ response to stress: Towards a coping taxonomy. Journal of Educational Administration, 24(3), 72–81.
    Gmelch, W. H. (1991). Paying the price for academic leadership: Department chair trade-offs. Educational Record, 72(3), 45–49
    Gmelch, W. H. (1992). The paradox of the swivel chair. Universe Magazine, 5(2), 10–11, 27.
    Gmelch, W. H., Lovrich, N. P., & Wilke, P. K. (1984). Stress in academe: A national perspective. Research in Higher Education, 20(4), 477–490.
    Gmelch, W. H., & Miskin, V. D. (1993). Leadership skills for department chairs. Boston: Anker.
    Gmelch, W. H., & Wilke, P. K. (1991). The stresses of faculty and administrators in higher education. Journal for Higher Education Management, 6(2), 23–31.
    Gmelch, W. H., Wilke, P. K., & Lovrich, N. P. (1986). Dimensions of stress among university faculty: Factor analytic results from a national study. Research in Higher Education, 24(3), 266–286.
    Kanter, R. M. (1977). Men and women of the corporation. New York: Basic Books.
    Keinan, G., & Perlberg, A. (1987). Stress in academe: Across-cultural comparison between Israeli and American academicians. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 18, 193–207.
    Kobasa, S. C., & Maddi, S. (1980). The concepts of hardy executives. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    Koester, L. S., & Clark, C. H. (1980). Academic job satisfaction: Differences related to sex and marital status. Paper presented at the American Psychological Association, 88th Annual Convention.
    Koontz, E. D. (1979). A step toward equality: A progress report. Washington, DC: National Manpower Institute.
    Odiorne, G. S. (1974). Management in the activity trap. New York: Harper & Row.
    Pelletier, K. R. (1977). Mind as healer, mind as slayer. New York: Dell.
    Sargent, A. G. (1980). The androgynous manager. New York: AMACOM.
    Selye, H. (1974). Stress without distress. Philadelphia: J.G. Lippincott.
    Smith, E., & Jordan, M. (1993). Faculty stress and retention of junior black faculty at U.S. universities. Research in Higher Education, 34(2), 229–242.
    Tack, M. W., & Patitu, C. L. (1992). Faculty job satisfaction: Women and minorities in peril. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report No. 4. Washington, DC: The George Washington University, School of Education and Human Development.
    Tubesing, N. L., & Tubesing, D. A. (1982). The treatment of choice: Selecting stress skills to suit the individual and the situation. In W. S.Paine (Ed.), Job stress and burnout: Research, theory and intervention perspectives (pp. 155–171). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.
    Wilke, P. K., Gmelch, W. H., & Lovrich, N. P. (1985) Stress and productivity: Evidence of the inverted U-function. Public Productivity Review, 9(4), 342–356.

    Additional Resources

    Some faculty may be encouraged to read more in the area of stress and coping strategies. Researchers and writers have amassed an overwhelming body of knowledge about stress: more than 100,000 articles and books and 1,000 research projects. Although we often suffer from information overload, the following half dozen resources may assist you to understand more about the phenomenon of stress and to use it to your advantage.

    Boice, R. (1992). The new faculty member. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    In this book, Robert Boice offers a range of strategies designed to help new faculty thrive. He identifies obstacles confronting new faculty members (gaining acceptance, establishing teaching styles and skills, and developing productive habits) and methods to overcome the obstacles (mentoring, teaching skills, and so on) as well as exploring the institutional support system.

    Winfred, A. M., & de Guzman, R. M. (1983). Burnout: The new academic disease (Report No. 9). Washington, DC: ASHE-ERIC/Higher Education Research.

    This monograph is one of dozens of ASHE-ERIC/Higher Education reports published on topics critical to higher education. This particular publication is based on surveys of almost 2,000 faculty members at 17 colleges and discusses burn-out in academe. The theoretical foundation is the person-environment fit model of stress from which the authors disclose factors within the person and factors in the work environment which cause stress. They conclude by reviewing the symptoms, examining roots, identifying stressors, and prescribing remedies for academic burnout.

    Seldin, P. (1987). Coping with faculty stress. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    This volume in the Jossey-Bass New Directions for Teaching and Learning series spells out the specific causes of faculty stress and offers practical and proven ways of coping with the pressures facing professors. The nine chapters by contributing authors address the research findings about the causes of stress, actions that colleges can take to combat faculty stress, short-term coping techniques, long-term stress management, and faculty renewal programs.

    Schuster, J., Wheeler, D. W., & Associates (1990). Enhancing faculty careers: Strategies for development and renewal. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Because one of the major faculty stressors is “career progress not what it should be,” this book is particularly well suited for faculty seeking to enhance their careers. The leading authorities in the field provide strategies, programs, and supports to develop faculty members professionally and personally. The authors describe faculty development programs for wellness, career consulting, graduate school preparation, employee assistance, and retirement in addition to an array of other programs and models that can be adapted on any campus.

    Also, other books in Sage's Survival Skills for Scholars Series in which this monograph appears, teach faculty members basic professional skills to help ameliorate the stresses of daily life in the university. Among the more relevant books in the series are the following volumes:

    Getting Tenure, by Marcia LynnWhicker, Jennie JacobsKronenfeld, & Ruth AnnStrickland.
    Effective Committee Service, by Neil J.Smelser
    Confronting Diversity Issues on Campus, by Benjamin P.Bower, Gale S.Auletta, & TerryJones

    The top journals in higher education also provide the most recent research and critical thinking regarding faculty issues related to stress.

    You may wish to consult the following journals:

    Innovative Higher Education

    The Journal of Higher Education

    Research in Higher Education

    Review of Higher Education

    The higher education professional associations such as the Association of the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), American Educational Research Association (AERA Division J), POD, and the American Association of Higher Education (AAHE) also provide information and support for the development faculty.

    About the Author

    Walter H. Gmelch is a professor and chair of the Educational Administration Department at Washington State University where he also serves as Director of the UCEA Center for the Study of Department Chair. An educator, management consultant, university administrator, and former business executive, Dr. Gmelch has conducted research and written extensively on the topics of leadership, team development, conflict, stress, and time management, and has published more than 50 articles and a dozen books on management, co-authoring a book entitled Strategic Leadership Skills for Department Chairs.

    In addition he has presented more than 400 workshops throughout the United States, Asia, Europe, Africa, and Australia to universities, colleges, schools, public agencies, and corporations. Dr. Gmelch has received numerous honors including a Kellogg Fellowship, Danforth Leadership Program, Excellence in Research Award, Australian Research Fellow, University Council for Educational Administration Distinguished Professor Award, and Education Press Award of America. He earned a Ph.D. in the Educational Executive Program from the University of California at Santa Barbara, an M.B.A. from the University of California at Berkeley, a B. A. from Stanford University, and an A.A. from the College of San Mateo.

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