VANCOUVER, Wash. The adverse impact of three years of state funding reductions to Washington State University typically is expressed in terms of the hundreds of millions of dollars slashed from the budget. But recently conducted surveys of those who work here suggest the true cost of such precipitous declines in legislative funding likely will depend on the individual decisions of several hundred faculty and staff members, many of whom report their morale has hit an all-time low.
Initiated in December by WSU Vancouver psychology professor Tahira Probst, the survey reveals a real and troubling potential large numbers of faculty say they are reacting to the financial climate by preparing to seek employment elsewhere.
“Department chairs, deans and academic directors are overwhelmingly concerned that the budget cuts have negatively affected the morale of faculty,” Probst said in summarizing the study results. “They are also concerned that faculty may be seeking positions at other universities and that the budget situation makes it more difficult to attract highly qualified candidates to WSU.”
Many faculty report they’re intending to quit
Such concerns are borne out by the collective responses of individual faculty members, said Probst, who has spent more than a dozen years looking at how workers cope with economic stress and job insecurity.
“After collecting data over the past 15 years from 42 different organizations facing similar changes and stressors, reported levels of faculty intentions to quit are among the highest I have ever seen in my career, placing them at the 95th percentile among those comparison organizations,” she said.
Probst also relied on a smaller sample of comparison data from a similar survey of WSU employees conducted in 2001 to aid in interpreting her findings.
“While faculty intentions to quit were somewhat higher than is typical even in 2001, they have significantly increased in the last 10 years from the 65th percentile to the highwater mark we currently observe,” she said.
Job completion, satisfaction, security affected
The comparative data also suggest faculty satisfaction with pay and job security has declined significantly from levels a decade prior. Further, Probst said surveyed faculty who have been exposed to more budget cuts or who indicate being more negatively impacted by such cuts report a greater erosion in their relationship with WSU, more conflict between work and family obligations, more job burnout, and reduced productivity as measured by self-reported annual review ratings.
Similar survey responses from administrative professional (AP) and classified staff indicate both groups believe they too have been significantly affected by the budget cuts, with nearly a quarter indicating their unit was “extremely affected.” The vast majority also indicated the changes have affected their ability to complete their work tasks.
Probst said the comparative data show that perceived levels of job security, promotions satisfaction and satisfaction with job security have all significantly declined among WSU staff. Additionally, she said, AP/staff employees report fewer alternative job opportunities compared with 10 years ago.
“Despite this, intentions among AP employees to seek employment elsewhere have significantly increased,” Probst said. “It’s more than just an issue of morale. Both AP and staff also report significantly more physical health ailments and higher levels of job stress compared to a decade ago. This can have significant short and long term costs to WSU and its employees.”
Colleagues and work valued
On a positive note, the analyses found that WSU faculty, AP and staff reported very high levels of satisfaction with their coworkers, direct supervisors and work tasks, ranking near or within the top 25 percent of all comparison organizations.
“While employees are unhappy about the recent budgetary events and are considering other job opportunities, they clearly value their WSU colleagues and enjoy the work that they do here,” Probst said.
In conducting the study, Probst gathered detailed survey data from multiple groups within the WSU system in order to identify attitudinal, behavioral and health-related outcomes of the repeated budget cuts and the process by which they were implemented. All faculty (including chairs, deans and academic directors), staff and administrative professional employees were invited to participate.
30 percent participation
In total, 61 chairs, deans and directors, 647 faculty, and 1,071 AP/staff members chose to participate. Based on the latest employee headcounts available from ir.wsu.edu, Probst said the figures represent a 30 percent participation rate among faculty and AP/classified staff.
A complete copy of the report is available at http://research.vancouver.wsu.edu/ohs-lab/economic-stress-and-job-insecurity-publications.