Field Notes: When "do more with less" becomes too much to ask

January 12, 2020
  • Competencies
  • Leadership and Management
  • Professional Integrity
  • Professional Well-Being
  • am2020 Career Development
woman with glasses askew and donut in mouth and stressed look on face looks at computer while boss points at watch

"Field Notes" is a regular AACRAO Connect column covering practical and philosophical issues facing admissions and registrar professionals. The columns are authored by various AACRAO members. If you have an idea for a column and would like to contribute, please send an email to the editor at connect@aacrao.org.

by Cynthia Suter, Registrar, Norwich University

In the late 1990’s, while working for a fortune 500 company, I experienced my first recession.  As positions were cut all around me I was kindly reminded that we all needed to "do more with less." I experienced a staff reduction but didn't think much of it -- I was new to the professional world.

Twenty years later the United States is not technically in a recession, however, many institutions -- especially small colleges -- pressure staff to "do more with less." A registrar or admissions director may need to roll up their sleeves and perform front line services.  Of course this isn’t news to many of you reading this article.

However, sometimes doing more with less may cross the line into asking too much. For example, when an employer doesn't fill vacant personnel positions -- and then also doesn't offer increased compensation to employees for taking on those unassigned responsibilities. At some point administrators need to ask what is the breaking point: When does scaling back hurt customer service -- or even the health of their own employees?

Solving my mental dilemma ultimately ended with the decision to move on.

 

Competing loyalties

I recently found myself facing this question. My staff were making many personal sacrifices out of a commitment to the institution. I challenged them to think harder to perform tasks either easier or more efficiently, I asked them to do more as additional third party contracts grew, and I asked them to rebuild systems or think creatively as more programs were on boarded. They rose to the challenge.

The institution needed to work with third parties and grow programs to remain competitive in this uncertain time in higher education, but asking my staff to continue to take on more without compensation was overtaxing them. I was in an untenable position. I could see both sides of the issue but felt like I needed to be able to do right by my staff while supporting the administration's goals -- but in this case, the two seemed irreconcilable.

Solving my mental dilemma ultimately ended with the decision to move on. 

Collegial support and self-care

As we try to get through these next several years of enrollment decline, I think many of us will continue to be torn between doing what’s right by the institution, by our staff, and by ourselves. 

The bottom line is that your own mental health requires the same attention as your boss and your team. Sometimes the best decision is the one that makes the most sense for yourself. If you are also in this time of uncertainty, know that you aren't alone. Others in our profession are here to help and support you.