The Academic Work Environment in Australian Universities: A motivating place to work?

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  • This article was downloaded by: [University of Tasmania]On: 27 November 2014, At: 22:37Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH,UK

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    The Academic WorkEnvironment in AustralianUniversities: A motivating placeto work?Richard Winter a & James Sarros ba Monash University Gippslandb Monash UniversityPublished online: 14 Jul 2010.

    To cite this article: Richard Winter & James Sarros (2002) The Academic WorkEnvironment in Australian Universities: A motivating place to work?, Higher EducationResearch & Development, 21:3, 241-258, DOI: 10.1080/0729436022000020751

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  • Higher Education Research & Development, Vol. 21, No. 3, 2002

    The Academic Work Environment inAustralian Universities: A motivating placeto work?DR RICHARD WINTERMonash University Gippsland

    DR JAMES SARROSMonash University

    ABSTRACT This paper identi es positive (motivating) and negative (demotivating)sources of academic work motivation in Australian universities. In 1998, the AcademicWork Environment Survey (Winter, Taylor, & Sarros, 2000) was administered to astrati ed sample ( ve positions, ve disciplines) of 2,609 academics in four types ofuniversity (research, metropolitan, regional, university of technology). A total of 1,041usable surveys were returned (response rate of 40 per cent). Across the sample, academicsreported moderate levels of work motivation. Work motivation was found to be relativelystrong at professorial levels but weak at lecturer levels. Quantitative and qualitative ndings indicated the work environment in academe is motivating when roles are clear, jobtasks are challenging, and supervisors exhibit a supportive leadership style. The workenvironment is demotivating where there is role overload, low job feedback, low partici-pation, and poor recognition and rewards practices. The paper concludes by discussing theimplications of study ndings for university leadership.

    Introduction

    During the period 1993 to 1998, senior university managers in Australia adoptedcorporate management principles and practices in response to government policiespromoting the commercialisation of higher education and nancial self-reliance forinstitutions (Clarke, 1998; Debats & Ward, 1998; Gallagher, 2000; Marginson &Considine, 2000; Winter et al., 2000). At the structural level, executive decisionmaking supplemented existing hierarchies in universities or supplanted collegialforms of governance (Marginson & Considine, 2000, p. 4). At the cultural level,universities aggressively engaged in entrepreneurial activities, particularly in the areaof faculty consulting (Slaughter & Leslie, 1997, p. 20) and the marketing ofinternational education (Pratt & Poole, 1999/2000, p. 19). At the same time,corporate forms of work organisation were introduced under the guise of qualityassurance mechanisms, performance appraisal and nancial reporting systems (Tay-

    ISSN 0729-4360 print; ISSN 1469-8360 online/02/030241-16 2002 HERDSADOI: 10.1080/0729436022000020751

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  • 242 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    lor et al., 1998; Winter & Sarros, 2001). As workloads intensi ed (McInnis, 2000)and pressures to raise university revenues increased, academics reported a lack ofconsultation (Martin, 1999, pp. 1522; Winter et al., 2000, pp. 292293), majordeclines in job satisfaction (McInnis, 2000, p.xiii) and high levels of personal stressat work (Gillespie et al., 2001, pp. 6265).To improve academic morale and motivation in universities, researchers argued

    attention must be paid to improving the perceived environment (or climate) inwhich academics work (see Lacy & Sheehan, 1997, p. 321; Ramsden, 1998a,pp. 361362). According to Ramsden (1998a, p. 361), changing the perceivedenvironment of Australian universities (i.e. poor morale and declining commitment)is likely to produce disproportionately large results in terms of institutionalproductivity and pro tability. But which aspects of the work environment need to bechanged (if at all) to encourage higher levels of academic motivation within Aus-tralias universities? Speci cally, which work environment characteristics representhigh/low sources of work motivation for academics in Australian universities? Toaddress these questions, a 1998 study examined the quality of work life of full-timeacademics within universities in Australia (Winter & Sarros, 2001; Winter et al.,2000). On the basis of study ndings, four questions are addressed in this paper:

    1. What levels of work motivation do full-time academics in Australian universitiesexhibit?

    2. To what extent do demographic variables explain levels of work motivation?3. Which work environment characteristics represent high/low sources of academic

    work motivation?4. What are the implications of these ndings for leadership in universities?

    To situate academics responses, ndings are aggregated under the headings of: (1)Work Motivation, (2) Positive Work Environment Characteristics, and (3) NegativeWork Environment Characteristics. The paper begins by describing the studysconceptual framework, sample and survey methods. The paper concludes by high-lighting the positive and negative aspects of academic work and discussing theimplications of these ndings for leadership in universities.

    The Study

    Conceptual Framework

    Following previous academic studies (Sarros, Gmelch, & Tanewski, 1997; 1998;Taylor et al., 1998; Winter et al., 2000; Wolverton et al., 1999), the study focusedon the perceived work environment to understand and explain an individual aca-demics attitudes and motivation at work. Academics were asked to report their: (1)personal (i.e. age, gender) and professional characteristics (i.e. quali cations, pos-ition, role, discipline area); (2) work environment perceptions (i.e. degree of rolestress, nature of job characteristics, immediate supervisors leadership style, degreeof university centralisation and formalisation); and (3) work attitudes (i.e. job

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 243

    FIG. 1. Conceptual model.

    involvement and organisational commitment). The studys Conceptual Model isshown in Figure 1.Re ecting employee involvement (Gollan & Davis, 1999; Vandenberg, Richard-

    son, & Eastman, 1999) and motivational approaches (Amabile et al., 1996; Hack-man & Oldham, 1980) to work design, academics were assumed to be intrinsicallymotivated by their disciplines and related teaching and research tasks (Lacy &Sheehan, 1997; McInnis, 1996, 2000), but extrinsically demotivated by workcontext factors such as insuf cient funding and resources, and poor managementpractices (Gillespie et al., 2001; Martin, 1999; Winter & Sarros, 2001). That is,academics are more likely to express positive work attitudes towards their jobs anduniversities when: (1) roles are clear and achievable, (2) job tasks are challenging,(3) supervisors exercise supportive styles of leadership, and (4) organisation struc-tures permit academics to in uence decision making. Conversely, academics aremore likely to express weak levels of motivation when roles are unclear and/oroverloaded, tasks are narrow and unchanging, supervisors show academics littlesupport or consideration, and university structures limit academic participation indecision making.Academics evaluations of the work environment are manifest in two broad work

    attitudes: job involvement (Kanungo, 1982) and organisational commitment (Mow-day, Steers & Porter, 1979). Both attitudes represent well-established indicators ofan individuals motivation at work (Brown, 1996; Mayer & Schoorman, 1992). Anacademic involved in her/his job implies a positive and relatively complete state ofengagement of core aspects of the self in the job (Brown, 1996, p. 235). Anacademic expressing commitment to the university indicates a willingness to remaina member of that institution and to exert considerable effort on its behalf (Mowdayet al., 1979, p. 226). Studies have shown that job involvement and organisational

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  • 244 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    commitment are distinct constructs (Brooke, Russell, & Price, 1988; Mathieu &Farr, 1991).

    Survey Design

    A self-administered mail survey, the Academic Work Environment Survey (AWES),was designed to provide comprehensive measures of academics demographic char-acteristics, work environment perceptions and work attitudes (see Figure 1). The99-item survey was pre-tested (18 academic participants at various levels across fouracademic disciplines) and piloted in a comprehensive Australian university (Winter,Sarros & Tanewski, 1998; Winter et al., 2000). Five-point Likert scales measuredacademic responses (1 5 never true to 5 5 always true, 1 5 strongly disagree to5 5 strongly agree). In addition, an open-ended question asked respondents tocomment on their feelings towards their current job environment.Established work environment and work attitude scales were sourced on the basis

    of their reported reliability, discriminant validity and use in educational settings [1].Respondents indicated the extent to which their current job environments werecharacterised by role stress (Beehr, Walsh, & Taber, 1976; Rizzo, House, &Lirtzman, 1970), enriching job characteristics (Amabile & Gryskiewicz, 1989; Sims,Szilagyi, & Keller, 1976), supportive supervisory leadership (Stogdill, 1963), oppor-tunities to participate in (university) decision making (Aiken & Hage, 1966) andformalised rules, policies and procedures (Finlay et al., 1995). Job involvement wasmeasured using Kanungos (1982) ten-item scale (a 5 0.87) and organisationalcommitment using seven items (a 5 0.84) from Mowday et al.s (1979) Organiza-tional Commitment Questionnaire.

    Sample

    Between August and September 1998, surveys were administered to 2,609 full-timeequivalent academics strati ed by position ( ve levels), discipline ( ve disciplineareas) and type of university (i.e. four university groups). A total of 1,041 usablesurveys were returned (effective response rate of 40 per cent). Table 1 shows thetarget population and nal sample by academic position and discipline area cate-gories. As can be seen, the sample was fairly representative of the target populationin terms of both strati cation variables.Most of the 1,041 respondents were male (65 per cent), aged between 40 and 59

    years of age (69 per cent), tenured/ongoing (76 per cent), held a doctorate degree(65 per cent) and engaged primarily in teaching and research roles (75 per cent). Amajority of respondents indicated they had seven or more years at their currentuniversity (65 per cent) and in the higher education sector (73 per cent).

    Data Analysis

    Data analysis consisted of descriptive statistics (means, standard deviations) andqualitative comments to describe academics perceptions and attitudes at work.

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 245

    TABLE 1. Target population and nal sample by academic position and discipline areas

    Category Target population Final samplea

    Academic positiona

    Associate lecturer 602 8.7 79 7.6Lecturer 2,349 33.9 316 30.4Senior lecturer 2,044 29.5 343 32.9Associate professor 1,046 15.1 151 14.5Professor 891 12.8 123 11.8Missing 29 2.8TOTALS 6,932 100.0 1,041 100.0

    Discipline areasb

    Education/Humanities 1,771 25.5 326 31.3Science/Mathematics/Computing 1,536 22.2 222 21.3Business/Economics/Law 1,002 14.5 163 15.7Architecture/Engineering 750 10.8 105 10.1Health Sciences 1,873 27.0 222 21.3Other 1 0.1Missing 2 0.2TOTALS 6,932 100.0 1,041 100.0

    a Chi-square test indicated no statistically signi cant difference (c2 5 1.45, df 5 4,p . .05).b Chi-square test indicated no statistically signi cant difference (c2 5 0.66, df 5 4,p . .05).

    Correlation and multiple regression analyses were employed to: (1) examine workenvironmentwork attitude associations, and (2) identify signi cant predictors ofwork motivation. For cross-sample analysis purposes, mean responses were groupedaccording to the surveys ve-point scale classi cation:

    1. strongly negative (mean under 2.50)2. negative (2.51 to 2.90)3. neutral (2.91 to 3.09)4. positive (3.10 to 3.50)5. strongly positive (mean over 3.50).

    Table 2 presents reliabilities, means, standard deviations and correlation coef cientsfor all work environment and work attitude scales. Eleven of the thirteen scalesexceeded or approximated Nunnallys (1978) 0.70 criterion for adequate reliability.Construct validity was supported by scale correlation coef cients showing similarsigns and degrees of magnitude as reported in the survey pilot (n 5 189) conductedeleven months earlier (Winter et al., 2000, p. 286). For example, signi cant positivecorrelations between organisational commitment and job characteristics (r 5 0.29,0.24, 0.32, 0.39) indicated the more autonomy, task identity, feedback and jobchallenge academics experience at work, the greater their levels of university com-mitment.

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  • 246 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    TABLE2.Cronbachalphareliabilities,meansa,standarddeviation

    s,andcorrelationcoef

    cients

    forworkenvironmentandworkattitudevariables

    (N51,041

    )

    Variable

    aM

    S.D

    .F1

    F2

    F3

    F4

    F5

    F6

    F7

    F8

    F9

    F10

    F11

    F12

    F13

    Workenvironmentperception

    sRolestress

    Roleam

    biguity

    F1

    0.83

    2.10

    1.39

    1.00

    Rolecon

    ict

    F2

    0.61

    3.13

    1.52

    0.29

    1.00

    RoleoverloadF3

    0.71

    3.81

    1.48

    0.20

    0.41

    1.00

    Jobcharacteristics

    Autonomy

    F4

    0.73

    4.37

    1.10

    2.33

    2.21

    2.18

    1.00

    TaskidentityF5

    0.58

    4.58

    0.89

    2.29

    2.25

    2.24

    0.39

    1.00

    FeedbackF6

    0.70

    2.52

    1.59

    2.39

    2.23

    2.16

    0.14

    0.15

    1.00

    Jobchallenge

    F7

    0.83

    4.33

    1.10

    2.36

    2.20

    0.01

    0.45

    0.29

    0.22

    1.00

    Sup

    ervisory

    style

    Con

    siderationF8

    0.92

    3.30

    1.56

    2.45

    2.28

    2.13

    0.26

    0.20

    0.51

    0.29

    1.00

    Organisationstructure

    Hierarchyof

    authority

    F9

    0.76

    3.02

    1.57

    0.21

    0.21

    0.09

    2.28

    2.16

    2.17

    2.28

    2.27

    1.00

    ParticipationF10

    0.84

    2.89

    1.70

    2.23

    2.00

    0.06

    0.22

    0.08

    0.21

    0.24

    0.27

    2.30

    1.00

    Formalisation

    F11

    0.69

    3.90

    1.27

    0.03

    0.18

    0.14

    2.13

    2.10

    2.01

    2.06

    2.06

    0.37

    0.01

    1.00

    Workattitudes

    Jobinvolvem

    ent

    F12

    0.87

    3.32

    1.51

    2.12

    2.04

    0.09

    0.11

    0.06

    0.05

    0.29

    0.12

    2.12

    0.16

    0.04

    1.00

    Org.commitment

    F13

    0.84

    3.23

    1.57

    2.36

    2.31

    2.23

    0.29

    0.24

    0.32

    0.39

    0.40

    2.34

    0.26

    2.13

    0.23

    1.00

    Note:For

    allcorrelations,ifr$

    .15,

    p,.05(2-tailed);r$

    .20,

    p,.01(2-tailed).

    aMeanresponsesgrouped

    as15stronglynegative(m

    eanunder2.50);25negative

    (2.51to

    2.90);35neutral(2.91to

    3.09);45positive(3.10to

    3.50);55stronglypositive

    (meanover3.50).

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 247

    Results

    Work Motivation

    Table 2 indicates academics overall (n 5 1,012) reported moderate levels of jobinvolvement and organisational commitment (M 5 3.32, 3.23, respectively).Respondents indicated strongly they were very much involved personally in theirjobs (M 5 4.62) and liked to be absorbed in [their] jobs most of the time(M 5 3.63). Comments indicated academics were intrinsically motivated by the coretasks of teaching and research (McInnis, 1996) but demotivated by mundaneadministrivia (Currie, 1996):

    I enjoy teaching more than anything, in the eld of maths curriculum andmaths enrichment for teachers. If I could just do that as my main (only)task, I would be most ful lled and happy! (Lecturer/Regional)

    I thoroughly enjoy my work as a full time researcher supervising a team anddoing extra myself. (Associate Professor/Metropolitan)

    Academic life is becoming increasingly dominated by mundane adminis-trative tasks which have little to do with the primary objectives of teaching,research and services to the profession. (Professor/Sandstone)

    Im afraid that the life of an academic is one where the buck stops here!As universities scrimp and save, the resources to assist academics arewhittled away to almost nil leaving a highly trained professional in theirdiscipline to cope with all the trivia of typing, preparing Web pages,entering and calculating marks, booking the buses etc. This results in staffthat are too at out to concentrate and their core businessstudentsthereby suffer. (Senior Lecturer/Regional)

    Academics expressed strong organisational commitment in terms of really caringabout the fate of this university (M 5 4.22) and being willing to put in a great dealof effort beyond that normally expected to help this university be successful(M 5 4.04). However, academics responded negatively to the statements that theiruniversity inspires the very best in the way of job performance (M 5 2.46) and isthe best of all possible universities for which to work (M 5 2.50). Commentsindicated academics felt their effort and loyalty had not always been matched byuniversity recognition and rewards:

    My job is an enjoyable one and I feel I put in far more hours than I am paidfor. I dont necessarily have a problem with working extra hours, howeverit is the lack of acknowledged recognition by the university which I see asthe problem. (Lecturer/Regional)

    My experience has been that I receive much greater recognition for myteaching and research efforts from my lay colleagues in the profession ofoptometry. I nd they are willing to spend quite a bit on money attendingmy courses arranged independently of the university. This seems to rein-

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  • 248 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    force the notion that the problem lies with the university administrationrather than the quality of my efforts. (Senior Lecturer/Sandstone)

    Despite producing high quality work I feel devalued. I have experiencedintense stress due to work overload. I intend to pursue a career outsideacademia and leave as soon as it is feasible. (Lecturer/UOT)

    Commitment responses revealed a perceived violation in the psychological con-tract between academics and their universities (Morrison & Robinson, 1997;Rousseau, 1995). Faced by greater university demands to work more hours withdecreased funding and resources (Gillespie et al., 2001, p. 53), long-serving staffmembers question the validity of the psychological contract (i.e. recognition andsteady rewards in return for hard work and loyalty) and their own universitycommitment. Poor university recognition and rewards practices signify to staff theirprofessional work is not valued by university management (see Martin, 1999,pp. 7677). A perceived lack of institutional support for teaching at the lecturerlevels, compounded by increased workloads, seems to exert a depressing effect onlecturers motivation and work performance (Hill, 2000; McInnis, 2000). Re-gression results (see Table 3) for academic staff motivation at the lecturer level(b 5 2 .26, 2 .23, p , .05) and for staff occupying teaching only roles (b 5 2 .20,2 .14, p , .05) provided some support for this proposition.

    Demographic Variables

    Academics personal and professional characteristics explained approximately 9 percent of the variance in job involvement (DAdjusted R2 5 .09) and 8 per cent of thevariance in organisational commitment (DAdjusted R2 5 .08). Interestingly, age,gender and discipline areas showed no statistically signi cant in uence on workmotivation. However, academic position and quali cations were strong predictors ofwork motivation.Associate professor and professorial positions positively and signi cantly predicted

    job involvement (b 5 .46, .41, p , .01) and organisational commitment (b 5 .27, .36,p , .05). In contrast, associate lecturer and lecturer positions negatively andsigni cantly predicted job involvement (b 5 2 .50, 2 .26, p , .05) and lecturer andsenior lecturer positions negatively and signi cantly predicted organisational com-mitment (b 5 2 .23, 2 .20, p , .05). Differences in work motivation by positionre ected differences in primary work roles. For instance, academics in teaching onlyroles (n 5 99) and teaching and research roles (n 5 778) reported signi cantly lowerlevels of organisational commitment (M 5 2.72, 2.65 respectively) compared toacademics in more senior administrative roles (M 5 3.38, n 5 138)(F[3,1028] 5 10.45, p , .05). Results suggest a more de ned teaching role providesfewer opportunities to be research active, in uence university decision making, andderive recognition and rewards from the university (Neumann & Finaly-Neumann,1990). As such, lecturers express lower levels of attachment to their jobs anduniversities compared to staff at professorial levels.Quali cations negatively and signi cantly predicted organisational commitment

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 249

    TABLE 3. Multiple regression analysis for prediction of job involvement and organisationalcommitment factors by demographic variables and work environment factors

    Job involvementa Organisational commitmentb

    Predictors Beta t Beta t

    Demographic variablesMale 0.05 0.81 0.05 0.85Female 2 .10 2 1.66 0.02 0.37Associate lecturer 2 .50 2 2.92** 2 .22 2 1.27Lecturer 2 .26 2 2.57* 2 .23 2 2.34*Senior lecturer 2 .18 2 1.94 2 .20 2 2.15*Associate professor 0.46 3.73*** 0.27 2.18*Professor 0.41 2.87** 0.36 2.52*Teaching only 2 .20 2 3.06** 2 .14 2 2.13*Doctorate degree 2 .18 2 1.94 2 .23 2 2.58*Masters degree 2 .26 2 2.71* 2 .15 2 1.56Graduate degree 0.20 1.36 0.34 2.27*Research university 0.02 0.63 0.11 3.20**Metropolitan university 2 .00 2 .04 0.10 2.92**University of Technology 2 .01 2 .32 2 .07 2 2.05*Regional university 2 .01 2 .40 2 .06 2 1.68

    DAdjusted R2 5 .09, DF 5 3.26*** DAdjusted R2 5 .08, DF 5 3.74***Work environment perceptionsRole stressRole ambiguity 2 .26 2 7.93*** 2 .39 2 12.87***Role con ict 0.13 3.91*** 2 .18 2 6.06***Role overload 2 .12 2 3.82*** 2 .26 2 8.83***

    DAdjusted R2 5 .02, DF 5 10.21*** DAdjusted R2 5 .18, DF 5 77.91***Job characteristicsAutonomy 0.06 1.48 0.08 2.34*Task identity 0.17 4.46*** 0.10 2.94**Feedback 0.04 1.08 0.21 6.26***Job challenge 0.33 9.56*** 0.26 8.44***

    DAdjusted R2 5 .06, DF 5 23.88*** DAdjusted R2 5 .05, DF 5 18.08***Supervisory styleConsiderationc 0.02 0.46 0.20 4.12***

    DAdjusted R2 5 .00, DF 5 2.49 DAdjusted R2 5 .02, DF 5 10.55***Organisation structureHierarchy of authority 2 .09 2 2.42* 2 .22 2 6.99***Participation 2 .04 2 0.95 0.16 4.53***Formalisation 0.05 1.73 2 .05 2 1.80

    DAdjusted R2 5 .01, DF 5 3.58* DAdjusted R2 5 .03, DF 5 21.50***

    *p , 0.05, **p , 0.01, ***p , 0.001.a Job Involvement factor measures the degree to which an individual academic expresses a state ofpsychological attachment (or separation) with (from) their job (Kanungo, 1982, p. 116).b Organisational Commitment factormeasures the degree towhich an individual academic expressesa strong desire to maintain membership of the university (Mowday et al., 1979, p. 226).c Consideration factor measures the degree to which the immediate supervisor supports (and showsconcern for) the well-being of group members (Schriesheim & Stogdill, 1975, p. 198).

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  • 250 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    for the majority of academics (n 5 677) holding doctorate degrees (b 5 2 .23,p , .05). In contrast, the graduate degree variable (n 5 51) positively andsigni cantly predicted organisational commitment (b 5 .34, p , .05). These resultsindicate university commitment is relatively strong for those academics in the earlystages of their career but commitment declines at later career stages (McInnis, 2000,p. 16).

    Positive Work Environment Characteristics

    Academics reported positive (motivating) job characteristics, low levels of roleambiguity (i.e. they were clear about the nature of their roles and responsibilities)and supportive supervisory leadership at work.

    Role Clarity

    Academics overall reported low role ambiguity (M 5 2.10), a motivating workenvironment characteristic for various occupational groups since it indicates theorganisation has in place structural mechanisms to guide employee behaviour(Glisson & Durick, 1988; ODriscoll & Beehr, 1994). Academics reported strongrole clarity in terms of knowing what [their] responsibilities are (M 5 4.53), beingcertain about how much authority [they] have in [their] jobs (M 5 3.91) andknowing exactly what is expected of [them] (M 5 3.73). Table 3 shows that roleambiguity negatively predicted both work motivation variables (b 5 2 .26, 2 .39,p , .001). Hence, the less role ambiguity academics perceive at work, the greatertheir motivation and job performance.

    Job Characteristics

    Academics strongly agreed they often saw projects or jobs through to completion(Task Identity, M 5 4.53), felt tasks at work were challenging (Job Challenge,M 5 4.54) and jobs provided the opportunity for independent thought and action(Autonomy, M 5 4.48). Similar standard deviations across the three measures (0.89,1.10, 1.10) indicated a relatively high level of agreement across the sample. Re-gression results (see Table 3) identi ed job challenge as a key source of workmotivation in academe (b 5 .33, .26, p , .001). Job challenge provides opportunitiesfor recognition, responsibility and personal growth at work (Fried & Ferris, 1987).When engaged and motivated by job tasks, academics are more likely to expresscommitment to their universities.

    Supervisory Consideration

    Respondents rated their immediate supervisor as exhibiting a considerate andsupportive leadership style (M 5 3.30). Considerate supervisors gave advancenotice of changes that affect academics work (M 5 3.40), put suggestions madeby the group into operation (M 5 3.39), and encouraged group members to speak

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    up when they disagreed with a decision (M 5 3.28). Respondents commentssuggested supervisory consideration has a positive effect on the work motivation ofacademics:

    My supervisor likes to be in touch and informed about the goings on in thedepartment and can be approached when problems arise. I am happy inthis environment and get on with my fellow workers. (Associate Professor/Sandstone)

    Despite having worked in my current position for 25 1 years, I still gain alot of satisfaction, due mainly to a dedicated and humane supervisor.(Senior Lecturer/Metropolitan)

    Results (see Tables 2 and 3 respectively) indicated supportive leadership had apositive and signi cant effect on academics commitment (r 5 .40, b 5 .20, p , .01,p , .001 respectively) but had no discernible effect on academics job involvement(r 5 .12, b 5 .02). According to Ramsden (1998b), supportive leaders build commit-ment in academe when they make a concerted effort to encourage and support thework of colleagues (e.g. by resourcing staff development, recognising new teachingskills, encouraging colleagues to learn from each other). Job involvement isin uenced more by personality variables (i.e. self-esteem, work ethic) and jobcharacteristics rather than the leadership styles of supervisors (Brown, 1996).

    Negative Work Environment Characteristics

    Academics expressed negative (demotivating) work environment characteristics inthe form of role overload, low job feedback, and moderate levels of participation inuniversity decision making.

    Role Overload

    Most respondents rated role overload, a stress characteristic indicated by excessivework/time pressures, as a characteristic of their work environments (M 5 3.81).Academics rated too much work for one person to do (M 5 4.34) and thereverse-scored item I am given enough time to do what is expected of me in myjob (M 5 2.47) as their most stressful overload characteristics. Unrealistic perform-ance expectations were rated as the least stressful role overload characteristic(M 5 3.11). Respondents comments revealed the pervasive nature of role overload:

    Massive teaching and admin responsibilities threaten to overtake my re-search. Although the students are very bright and mostly highly motivated,the teaching hours (1012 hrs p.w. of seminars intervals plus 2 hrs lecturesp.w. plus PhD and Masters supervision) plus crunching marking demandsand enormous admin. responsibilities, make life dif cult. (Associate Lec-turer/Sandstone)

    Mostly, there are too many pressures. I work about 60 hours per week

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  • 252 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    during semester and I am trying to complete a PhD. The expectations aretoo high. On one hand I am told to reduce my workload so that I cancomplete the PhD, on the other, I am then given additional work andgreater role responsibility!! Its exhausting! (Lecturer/Regional)

    Although I have a degree of autonomy and supportive supervisors (2departmental heads, the Dean), the sheer amount of work involved inmajor curriculum revision is daunting. The waters are often unchartered! Ialso participate at Academic Board level as a Chair of a major committee,a substantial workload that is not particularly well resourced or supported.The job has taken over my life! (Professor/Sandstone)

    Negative correlation and beta coef cients (see Tables 2 and 3 respectively) indicatedrole overload reduces academics organisational commitment. Academic staff facingmultiple research, teaching and administrative responsibilities (Gillespie et al.,2001, p. 63), including the requirements to be more entrepreneurial (Winter &Sarros, 2001), report insuf cient recognition and rewards systems in their universi-ties. A perceived inequitable effort-rewards exchange translates into lower levels ofuniversity commitment as staff re-evaluate their psychological contracts in terms ofperceived promises and/or ful lled obligations (Rousseau, 1995). Faced by increasesin the numbers and diversity of students, new teaching modalities (e.g. Web-basedlearning, exible delivery), three semesters of teaching and unrealistic deadlines,many staff feel disconnected from their institutions and unwilling to exert extraeffort on its behalf (Gava, 2001; Winter et al., 2000; Winter & Sarros, 2001).

    Feedback

    Academics overall reported low levels of feedback on their job performance(M 5 2.52), a demotivating characteristic according to job/work design studies(Fried & Ferris, 1987). Respondents indicated they did not receive feedback fromtheir supervisors on how well they were doing their jobs (M 5 2.38) and could not nd out [as they were working] how well they were doing their jobs (M 5 2.76):

    I am new to my current position and whilst I am enjoying the job itself andthe challenges it presents I do feel that there is minimal support from mysupervisor. I am really left to get on with my job with little supervision orfeedback. (Associate Lecturer/Metropolitan)

    The job I am doing is immensely challenging, I would like more advice andmentoring about my performance, but any supervisor has neither the timenor the expertise to provide either. (Senior Lecturer/Metropolitan)

    Academics reported not receiving timely job feedback from supervisors and/or fromuniversity performance appraisal systems. A lack of feedback means academics donot always know when and how to change their work performance to increasedesired outcomes such as promotion. Hence, the less feedback academics perceiveat work, the lower their university commitment (Martin, 1999; Taylor, 1999;

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 253

    Trowler, 1998). Positive correlation and beta coef cients (see Tables 2 and 3)provided support for this proposition.

    Participation in Decision Making

    Across the sample, academics reported moderately low participation in universitydecision making (M 5 2.89), a condition associated with low levels of employeecommitment and work performance (Spector, 1986). Low participation wasreported in terms of participating in decisions on new university policies(M 5 2.20), decisions that in uence departmental policy (M 5 2.35), and deci-sions on the promotion of academic staff (M 5 2.39). Respondents indicated theyhad decision making authority with respect to discharging their job responsibilitiesbut had limited authority over resource and policy decisions in the university:

    I have a lot of discretion within my own management area, but decisionstaken above my level profoundly affect my ability to achieve my objectives,yet I have little in uence or even prior knowledge of these decisions. Thisis profoundly frustrating. (Associate Professor/UOT)

    Main problems arise from university hierarchy. For example, decisions aremade by senior executive (Vice-Chancellor) without consultation, whichhave signi cant implications for my work. There appears to be no meansto in uence this process. (Lecturer/Sandstone)

    As expected, participation and commitment was found to differ signi cantly byposition in the university hierarchy. Professors expressed relatively higher levels ofparticipation and commitment to their universities (M 5 4.18, 3.15) compared tolecturers (M 5 1.48, 2.55). As collegial governance continues to decline in Aus-tralian universities (Marginson & Considine, 2000), it seems likely lecturers willparticipate less and less in university decision making and express low levels ofuniversity commitment.

    Conclusion

    Academics reported moderate levels of attachment to the job tasks they perform (i.e.tasks are engaging and challenging) and satisfaction with the immediate conditionsunder which work is performed (i.e. role clarity, autonomy, supportive leadership).Motivating job characteristics (McInnis, 1996) satisfy academics personal growthneeds: a critical psychological state associated with important outcomes such as jobsatisfaction, intrinsic motivation and work effectiveness (Hackman & Oldham, 1980;Kiggundu, 1990). Another positive work environment feature is role clarity. Aca-demics know what their responsibilities are and what is expected of them indicatinguniversities have in place suf cient goals, policies and systems to guide academicbehaviour. The work environment also bene ts from supportive supervisory leader-ship. Friendly and approachable supervisors help colleagues solve work-relatedproblems thus providing the psychological support needed to cope with complex job

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    demands. This support has a positive impact on work effort and commitment inacademe (Ramsden, 1998b; Taylor, 2000).High levels of role overload and low levels of job feedback counterbalance positive

    work environment characteristics. A national study of academic work roles(n 5 2,609) in 15 universities between 1994 and 1999 con rmed academics areworking longer hours, spending less time on teaching, and more time on demotivat-ing administrative work (McInnis, 2000). Faced by a myriad of work tasks notcentral to their training, interests or job satisfaction, academics often expressfrustration, disgust and dissatisfactionstress responses directed at the university(Winter & Sarros, 2001). As universities continue to search for ef ciencies in asector characterised by declining public funding and corporate reform, it seemslikely work overload will continue to exert a negative impact on academic moraleand motivation (Gillespie et al., 2001). Low job feedback is another demotivatingwork environment characteristic in academe since academics do not know whichaspect of their job performance meets agreed university targets or goals (Martin,1999; Winter et al., 2000). The recent introduction of performance appraisals for alllevels of academic staff (as part of the move towards enterprise bargaining) mayalleviate this problem by providing, at the very least, an annual assessment andfeedback of job performance.So is the academic work environment a motivating place to work? The answer to

    this question depends upon your position in the university hierarchy, the nature ofyour role demands, your job characteristics and the style of your immediate supervi-sor. For instance, the academic work environment is motivating when you hold aprofessorial position (i.e. high levels of participation), your role demands andresponsibilities are clear and manageable, you are engaged in challenging andrewarding research and/or administrative tasks, and your immediate supervisorsstyle is considerate and supportive. The academic work environment is demotivatingwhen you are a lecturer, your teaching role demands are overloaded and/or notrecognised or rewarded, and when you have little opportunity to in uence universitydecision making (to make changes to your work role).

    Implications for University Leadership

    The implications of an environment of consumerism in higher education (i.e.students as clients, academics as providers) on university leadership are signi cant.Speci cally, university leaders are rapidly disappearing in an environment thatrequires everyday management of declining resources, limited time, and increasinglydisenfranchised staff. In such a uid environment, leadership is most needed, butleast valued. Demands for more entrepreneurial, risk-seeking academic behaviour isoften sti ed by bureaucratic structures that reinforce status differences and therespective boundaries between management and employees. An obvious strategy incounteracting this situation is the recognition that university leadership is fundamen-tally different to, but just as critical to competitive sustainability, as is universitymanagement. That is, more attention needs to be paid to the creation of ideas andthe motivation and celebration of people in universities rather than the current

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  • Australian UniversitiesA Motivating Work Environment? 255

    management focus of controlling resources and things (Sarros & Butchatsky, 1996,p. 2). The reframing process (see Bartunek, 1988; Winter, Sarros & Tanewski,1997) might begin by senior management challenging established norms of univer-sity operations and considering (reframing) the bene ts of leadership practices thatempower academics to develop their knowledge and skills in the best interests of theuniversity (Nadler & Tushman, 1989).As Ramsden (1998a, p. 362) points out, the key to improving motivation and

    performance in our universities lies in more effective leadership. Heads of depart-ment occupy critical leadership positions in our universities since they have theauthority to determine academic workloads, and the position to in uence the cultureof the work units for which they are responsible (Ramsden, 1998b, p. 12). Hence,motivating job tasks can be assigned (e.g. a unit/course that ts the academicsinterests and expertise) and/or a demotivating work environment encouraged (e.g.unit/course overload, no informal feedback). Thus, a crucial leadership challenge forheads of departments is to assign job tasks ef ciently and effectively (managerialvalues) while recognising and maintaining the importance of professional job growthand collegial relations (academic values). Walking this tightrope in a considerate andsupportive manner should encourage academic work motivation irrespective ofchanges to the broader university environment (Taylor, 2000).Corporate work practices have accelerated the demands for staff to work smarter

    and harder, especially in situations where teaching and research values are high. Theproliferation of non-core work activities means lower levels of motivation foracademics since these activities intrude on research activitythe priority in theacademic reward system (McInnis, 2000, p. 14). To encourage more research andreduce gaps in academic-institution expectations, heads of department shouldconsider (funds permitting) employing Administrative Assistants to undertake non-core activities such as data requirements (from managers and government bodies)and casual academic employment issues (Sarros et al., 1997, p. 21). Relievingresearchers of large administrative workloads should lower the stress levels of staffand help to raise the departments research pro le.To reduce stress and increase staff commitment at lecturer levels, university

    leaders need to make a concerted effort to recognise and reward the wide range ofroles and tasks staff undertake at work. As noted by the report of the DearingCommittee in the UK (NCIHE, 1997, para.14.12), more exible criteria forpromotion is needed to re ect actual work activities rather than an idealisedchecklist of what academics should do to be effective. Recognition and support forstaff development and learning (e.g. Web-based curriculum design) would providea strong message to lecturers that their teaching is valued by the university.Academic leaders might also provide more informal feedback on actual job perform-ance so academics can adjust work activities to achieve desired outcomes.Leaders create favourable work conditions for academic staff motivation when

    they convey a positive valuation of academics contributions and job performance.By recognising the signi cance of work undertaken by staff and providing opportu-nities for increased rewards and promotion, leaders create a felt obligation to careabout the universitys welfare. It is this perceived organisational support (or lack

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  • 256 R. Winter & J. Sarros

    of it) that explains academics emotional commitment to their universities (Meyer &Allen, 1997). By demonstrating support for staff motivation, leaders can establish acontext whereby academics feel more inclined to help the university reach its goals.

    Address for correspondence: Dr Richard Winter, Department of Management, MonashUniversity Gippsland, Churchill VIC 3842, Australia. E-mail: richard.winter@buseco.monash.edu.au

    Note

    [1] Measures available from rst author on request.

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