Analyzing College Professors’ Stress Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic

Lady teacher checking assignments and rubbing eyes, feeling tension and migraine
A 93-question survey was sent to faculty in academic health sciences to determine how they have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately negatively impacted early- and mid-career faculty members, researchers found in a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health.

In the study, The University of Illinois at Chicago faculty completed a 93-question survey in the fall of 2020 regarding the impact of the COVID-19 on their work and home life. The survey included questions regarding work productivity and stress level from the Association of American Universities Data Exchange (AAUDE) Faculty Survey and questions regarding the pandemic from The New York Times National Survey Division of Labor. It assessed stress with home activities, housework, caretaking, personal health, financial obligations, changes in health, use of mental health services, and emotional social support.

Most of the 497 respondents (60% women, 79% White, 79% married and/or cohabitating) reported their stress levels increased during the pandemic. Work-related activities were “high stress” for 73% of faculty, and home-related activities were “high stress” for 60% of faculty. Women were more likely compared with men to report stress regarding scholarly productivity, teaching, advising, clinical responsibilities, child care, other dependent responsibilities, and personal health.

The 483 individuals who responded to the stress questions were included in a 4-class latent class analysis (LCA) of faculty with similar characteristics. Class 1 were more frequently women who were nontenured assistant professors with high work and home stress. Class 2 were more likely tenured, associate professors but otherwise mirrored Class 1. Class 3 faculty were more likely to be tenured professors who were men with moderate work stress and low home stress. Class 4 faculty were more likely to be nontenured adjunct professors with low home and work stress.

The researchers found that Class 4 spent more time on clinical responsibilities and teaching compared with Classes 2 and 3 and less time on grants and advising compared with the other classes. Class 2 spent more work time on committee and administrative responsibilities compared with Classes 1 and 4. Classes 1 and 2 changed the effort they allocated to committee and administrative responsibilities.

The majority (54.7%) of Class 2 faculty reported decreased scholarly productivity. Individuals in Class 3 were more likely to plan more articles compared with Class 4 and to submit more articles compared with any of the other classes. Class 1 and Class 2 members were more likely to report increased sleep disturbance and diet disturbance compared with Class 3 and Class 4 members.

“Our research supports the recommendations in the Chronicle of Higher Education for policies that take into account caregiving by providing flexibility in how and where work is accomplished and the need for institutions to modify promotion standards and/or provide flexibility in the timing of promotion,” the investigators said.

“Policies need to foster equitable faculty growth and development by incorporating broader indicators of academic productivity that accounts for academic rank, administrative, clinical, and caretaking responsibilities and how faculty with different responsibilities at home and work were impacted by the pandemic. Service and administrative tasks and activities that required extra time and energy during the pandemic should be valued equitably for promotion and tenure.”


Kotini-Shah P, Man B, Pobee R, et al. Work–life balance and productivity among academic faculty during the COVID-19 pandemic: a latent class analysis. J Women’s Health. Published online November 25, 2021. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2021.0277