A conference to be held at Macquarie University 2-3th May 2013.
The aim of the conference is to reflect upon the state of working life in higher education today. While much has been written about the vast changes that have occurred within the sector in the last decade or so, there has been comparatively little research on the impact of such changes on the health and wellbeing of academic staff. Stress levels of academic staff are considerably higher and wellbeing levels significantly lower than the average, and everyday encounters with staff who report “exhaustion, stress, overload, insomnia, anxiety, shame, aggression, hurt, guilt and feelings of out-of-placeness, fraudulence and fear of exposure within the contemporary academy” (Gill, 2009:1) are increasingly prevalent. Anecdotal evidence also suggests that significant numbers of academic staff have sought advice and/or treatment from medical professionals as a result of work-related health issues.
Clearly, work-related stress, anxiety, depression and ill-health are costly in terms of the toll they take on individual staff, the university, the higher education sector, and the nation. A 2008 report by Medibank Private claims that workplace stress is costing the Australian economy $14.81 billion per year, that stress-related presenteeism and absenteeism directly cost employers $10.11 billion per year, and that the number of stress-related claims doubled between 1996-2004. These figures do not show the hidden financial cost of re-staffing and reskilling, nor, perhaps more importantly, do they show the social, cultural, and intellectual cost of universities losing highly trained staff whose research and teaching makes a profound contribution to the future of the nation, and to global knowledge economies more generally. It also says nothing about the toll taken on the lives of academics themselves.
The conference will bring together academics working across a range of research fields and disciplines, in order to think about how we might tackle what we see as a hugely significant, and yet thoroughly under researched issue, namely the relationship between changes in the higher education sector in the context of neoliberalism, and the wellbeing of academic staff.