Grant Thornton survey: More than half of higher education employees feel their voice isn’t heard at work


—59% of higher education faculty and staff feel their voice is not heard at work

—56% prefer to go into the office fewer than four days within a two-week period

—59% say their manager provides the support employees need to succeed

—39% feel their benefits and rewards are “unique and different”

—34% feel their institution understands their needs as an employee


CHICAGO — Grant Thornton LLP, one of America’s largest consulting, audit and tax firms, has surveyed more than 550 employees at higher education institutions about topics ranging from compensation and benefits to stress and campus leadership. The findings are part of Grant Thornton’s second State of Work in America survey, which polled more than 5,000 employees from a cross-section of industries, and they arrive amid ongoing retention concerns in higher education.


According to the survey, more than half (59%) of higher education faculty and staff feel their voice is not heard at work. Further, benefits packages — once seen as a key employment draw for higher education institutions — may be losing some of their appeal.


Just 39% of the higher education employees surveyed feel their benefits and rewards are “unique and different” from what they could receive from another employer. This is a significant difference from the average of 51% reported in the larger State of Work in America survey. Additionally, just 37% of higher education employees say their pay allows them to live the lifestyle they choose, compared to 46% of State of Work in America respondents overall.


Gary Setterberg, a managing director in the Human Capital Services practice at Grant Thornton, says these compensation and benefits findings are likely the result of increased institutional pressures. Colleges and universities are trying to keep tuition and other costs competitive, and as a result, more money for faculty and staff is often left out of the budget. It’s also important to note the desire for flexibility: Over half (56%) of higher education employees prefer to go into the office fewer than four days within a two-week period.


“The value proposition for working in higher education has long been that benefits and job security will be an attractive counter to higher compensation in the private sector,” says Setterberg. “But university employers are now discovering that today’s Millennial and Gen Z candidates come to their institution expecting significant workplace flexibility, favorable work-life balance and strong benefits, as well as ‘industry-competitive’ salaries in line with other sectors.”


The Grant Thornton survey also explored how higher education employees feel about their campus leadership. While 59% of respondents say their manager provides the support employees need to succeed, just 41% say their institutional leadership understands campus culture and what it’s like to work at their institution. Further, just 41% say their campus leadership models the institution’s values, while only 34% feel their institution understands their needs as an employee.


Tim Glowa, a principal and leader of Grant Thornton’s employee listening and human capital analytics services offerings, says these numbers paint a clear picture of where higher education institutions must focus their efforts.


“Turnover and burnout are becoming even more prevalent in higher education, and it has never been more important to truly understand how your faculty and staff are feeling,” says Glowa. “In fact, 17% of those polled are actively looking for a new job with a different institution, while 49% are not actively looking but would consider a switch if a new opportunity came along. Institutions must implement robust listening tools and use data analytics to keep their people engaged, happy and committed to stay.”


Lastly, the top stressors affecting higher education employees mirrored those of employees in other industries — with one exception. While personal debt and medical issues rank as the two highest causes of stress across the board, “political and social environment” is the third-highest stressor for faculty and staff.


“The COVID-19 pandemic and sharp political divisiveness of our times has heightened the tension on many campuses,” adds Dennis Morrone, national managing partner of Grant Thornton’s Not-for-Profit and Higher Education practices. “The fact that ‘political and social environment’ ranks so high on employees’ list of stressors is even more of an indication that institutions need to prioritize engaging and listening to their people.”


And according to Morrone, this engagement must be accompanied by a clear value proposition.


“The next generation of higher education leaders are already on campuses across the country, which means institutions must clearly define their value proposition if they hope to retain talented faculty and staff,” concludes Morrone. “They may not be able to match the salaries offered in the private sector, but many colleges and universities have a strong talent for understanding and communicating what makes them distinct. It’s past time to show employees what that distinction means for them.”


For more information about Grant Thornton’s State of Work in America survey of higher education faculty and staff, visit


About Grant Thornton

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