Retain and Retrain: The Role of Interests in Educator Retention

With nearly 60% of higher education faculty and staff likely to quit their jobs, forward-thinking institutional leaders and HR professionals are focused on retention – but not in the way you might think.

While the goal of student retention is still top of mind, there’s another goal for industry leaders to consider: educator retention. In this context, we’ll use the term educator to refer to both faculty and staff at colleges or universities. This aligns with what we’ve learned about student-ready institutions, where everyone is considered a potential educator – from enrollment staff to campus security.

With educator retention as a priority, institutional leaders can more effectively address the burnout and mental health struggles that so many of their faculty and staff members face. In a previous blog, we explored a few ways to help retain educators – including better pay and increased psychological safety. Now, let’s highlight an additional area that positively impacts educator retention: interests.

To retain educators, you may need to retrain them

Career development isn’t just limited to students. Consider that many of us enter careers or industries because at the time we were energized by our potential impact. Along the way, it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and lose that initial spark. Especially for educators in a post-2020 era. But if the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that we all deserve to lead fulfilling lives and make changes when necessary. Work is a massive part of this. If the people leading us do little to address these collective realizations, we begin to feel stuck, overwhelmed, and devalued.

Fortunately, there’s an interesting solution. The idea itself is simple: figure out what truly interests your employees, and then help them apply those interests to their current role. Or retrain them for a different role that aligns with their interests. In practice, it’s a bit more complex. It takes intentional effort, some outside resources, and inclusive leadership practices.

Interests are relevant to retention because they’re what keep people engaged at work. Research on interests and human behavior shows that interests are significantly more predictive of future success and professional prestige than either ability or personality. The same researchers also found that while a person’s interests remain relatively stable throughout life, the environments in which they find them most fulfilling can change. It’s for this reason that educators – and the people who lead them – should re-evaluate and/or adapt their career path from time to time. Ultimately, if educators remain interested and invested in their work and their work environments, they’ll be less likely to experience burnout or leave their jobs.

Think about students for a second. If the goal is for them to be active and interested participants in their education, why stop there? Educators can lead by example and be active, interested participants in their own careers. This excerpt from Inside Higher Ed sums it up well:

“Our goal as educators is to understand the nuances of the workforce so that we can prepare students to enter it. The environment in which higher education operates has changed significantly in recent years, often leaving faculty stressed, burned out and considering leaving [academia]. We cannot forget that an educated populace is essential for a vibrant democracy. Higher education is one access point to inform the citizenry, and we need to ensure we do not lose sight of the well-being of our employees.”

The article goes on to include suggestions from actual faculty who responded to a survey about what they wish they could experience at work. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • “There is also a need to provide appropriate mentoring/coaching for career development at my level—it’s no use if people are assigned to mentors who are uninterested, don’t take it seriously, [or] are too busy with their own plans. Offer a career pathway that is properly supported through development opportunities.”
  • “The biggest issue for me is the current workload. I think it would be useful if there were career tracks differentiating between people [who are] focusing more on research and people focusing more on teaching. Currently, everyone is supposed to do everything, which is not efficient.”

Note that both suggestions require higher ed leaders to understand educators on a deeper level. That’s where something like interest assessments or career pathway tools could be helpful. For example, the SuperStrong® assessment can help students and educators get back to their interests and discover areas where they might thrive. It’s only with this data that institutional leaders can truly understand how to best retain their particular educators – or whether they need to retrain them for a new role within the institution.

As an industry, higher education prepares people to grow and make positive contributions to their communities and the world. To stay true to this mission and innovate, higher ed leaders can extend this concept to the very educators who serve students. Read these blogs to learn more:




Retain and Retrain: The Role of Interests in Educator Retention

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