You can't yoga your way out of academic burnout

You can't yoga your way out of academic burnout

I CAN'T tell you how excited I was to receive an email letting me know that relaxation yoga is back on at work.

I can now spend my lunchtime stretching and practising mindfulness ... or at least I could, if I wasn't so busy juggling an overwhelming workload, trying to keep up with admin tasks and actually trying to get some research done.

Not a day goes by I don't hear the same from my colleagues or see the same on social media.

Across universities and research organisations, scientists are over-worked, stressed, depressed, anxious and burning out.

It's kind of telling that research into academic stress and burnout has become its own genre.

A quick literature search will pull up dozens of studies investigating the mental health of academics and scientists.

A set of common themes emerge - stress over job insecurity (a significant proportion of scientists, particularly early career researchers, work on short-term contracts), fears of not being able to secure funding to keep positions (in Australia, success rates for major research grants are under 20 per cent ... yes, more than 80 per cent of applicants miss out in each round), frustration over the amount of time being spent on administrative work (like the hundreds of hours spent on every unsuccessful grant application), and growing distrust in the executive leadership of organisations. Just how big is the issue?

An Australian survey from a couple of years ago found that four out of five early-career researchers have considered leaving science or their jobs. I'd say that's pretty bad.

We know academic burnout is happening, and we know it's getting worse. And we even know the major reasons behind it. So why aren't we doing anything about it?

If our universities and research organisations (and by extension our funding bodies) want to reduce burnout, then they need to address the actual causes of it - and apply systemic remedies.

There are no quick or easy solutions, and it isn't something that individuals should be left to muddle through on their own.

The pressures that lead to burnout are institutional issues, and so it's the institutions that must change.

Secure jobs, manageable workloads, fairer funding models, systems that adequately compensate people for their work - these are what we need.

We need strong and empathetic leadership, not performative advice and platitudes about looking after ourselves.

Academics don't need more lunchtime yoga classes.

We need organisational and systemic change ... and we need it now.

Dr Mary McMillan is a senior lecturer at the School of Science and Technology, University of New England.

This story You can't yoga your way out of academic burnout first appeared on The Canberra Times.