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CAUT Bulletin Archives

September 2000

Study Finds Job Satisfaction Dropping for Australian Faculty

A report commissioned by the Australian Department of Education to identify trends in the work roles and outlooks of academics in Australian universities over the last five years has found that the level of job satisfaction has dropped noticeably since the 1993 national survey. Key attributes are salary and working conditions.

The report is based on the responses of 2,609 academics from 15 Australian universities across five states to a survey conducted in the first quarter of 1999. According to the document, the unusually high response rate of 58.4 per cent is an indicator of the importance attached to the issues of work roles and workloads by academics at the present time.

The level of commitment remains high in the profession with 75 per cent saying they are more motivated by intrinsic interests in their work than by material rewards, and 51 per cent agreeing that they subordinate most aspects of their lives for their work. However, since 1993 a number of aspects of academic roles, outlooks and sources of satisfaction have changed:

  • While most academics (73 per cent) have an interest in both teaching and research, the proportion who say they have a much stronger interest in research than in teaching has increased from 35 per cent to 41 per cent;
  • The level of general job satisfaction has dropped from 67 per cent to 51 per cent, and there has been significant increase in the proportion who say their job is a source of considerable stress (from 52 per cent to 56 per cent);
  • The low overall level of job satisfaction is reflected in the low levels of satisfaction with salary and key work conditions. Satisfaction with salary has declined from a low base of 37 per cent in 1993 to just 31 per cent in 1999. Likewise, and perhaps more noteworthy, is the significant drop in satisfaction with job security from 52 per cent to 43 per cent; and
  • There has been a major decline in a primary source of satisfaction for academics: the opportunity to pursue their own academic interests. This has dropped from 66 per cent in 1993 to 53 per cent in 1999.


Some major findings concerning workloads were:

  • The average working hours have increased since 1993 from 47.7 to 49.2 hours per week, but perhaps more importantly, 55 per cent of the sample believed their hours had substantially increased over the last five years;
  • Forty per cent of academics now work more than 50 hours per week; and
  • The proportion of time spent on teaching each week has declined slightly over the last five years from an average of 53.0 to 48.7 per cent. The time spent on administration has increased significantly from 6.4 hours per week to 8.4 hours. These activities now comprise 17.1 per cent of the working week and are widely regarded as a serious distraction from the core activities of teaching and research.

    The negative experiences and outlooks are not shared evenly across the system. There is some diversity in the responses according to institutional type, field of study, gender, and career stage. For example:

  • A notably higher proportion of females are stressed and say they give up more of their lives to their work. Females are, however, more likely to say their job satisfaction has improved over the last five years. On the other hand, females are much less likely than males to be satisfied with the opportunities they have to pursue their own academic interests.
  • The contrasts between early, mid and late career academics stand out on a range of dimensions, but especially on job satisfaction and outlooks. While the late career academics are by far the most negative, mid-career academics are distinguished by the fact that they are far more likely than the other two groups to be stressed and overworked.

    Large numbers of academics are in the process of making major changes in their teaching roles:

  • Two-thirds report that developing course materials for new technologies has had a major impact on their changing work hours.
  • They are typically facing the demands of change in teaching with little or no formal training. Most learn as they go. About one third had some training at the beginning of their careers and only a quarter had engaged in some professional development for teaching in the two years prior to the survey.
  • However, the motivation to improve teaching is influenced by the perception of the rewards system. Most academics would prefer to see teaching and research given equal status in promotion criteria. Most (91 per cent) still see research as prevailing in the reward system of their own universities in contrast to teaching (44 per cent).

The government commissioned report says the shifts in work values, roles and outlooks have important implications for national and institutional policy. The report states: "It has been widely held that the workloads of academics have increased along with unacceptably high levels of associated dissatisfaction and stress. It has also been observed that the nature of academic work is changing radically in the face of new demands on the higher education sector. The management of academic work is one of the biggest challenges facing Australian universities. We have reached a point, in common with higher education systems around the world, where a creative reassessment of academic work roles and expectations is needed."

The full report The Work Roles of Academics in Australian Universities is available at