Thriving of academics in higher education institutions: a strengths-based approach
Mahomed, Fathima Essop
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Without higher education institutions (HEIs) of the highest quality, no developing country can achieve sustainable development because they are responsible for the generation, collection and transference of knowledge and skills. These are significant catalysts for the country’s economic development through technology innovations and development of new ideas. However, HEIs worldwide have undergone significant transitions due to the monetisation of knowledge production and promulgation. South African HEIs had to deal with these global changes by finding a way to fit into the international space in addition to dealing with large-scale local challenges and structural transitions. A significant structural change was the introduction of the universities of technology (UoTs) as one of three institutional types. An institutional type has substantial effects on teaching and learning practices. One of the effects is that expectations placed on academics shifted, rendering accumulated work experience, which traditionally was the basis on which they were recruited and retained less important than their academic qualifications. Hence, the concern that working at a UoT would shift the role of the academic. Academics are required to improve their productivity in research, be more entrepreneurial and be much more professional in lecturing, all of which have positive implications for an academic identity. Nonetheless, professional development for academics is complex and is happening within a framework of evolving national policies, with growing demands on institutions, developers of academic content, and academics, which impact their well-being. Unfortunately, the conditions which enable and constrain the professional learning of academics in their multiple roles have not received considerable attention in South Africa. This study’s purpose was to learn about thriving of academics from a strengths-based approach using a cross-sectional survey design with a stratified random sample (n=276). Firstly, it was essential to determine the effects of job crafting and high-performance HR practices on the level of thriving of academics. Furthermore, to investigate strengths use and deficit correction influence on the extent to which academics perform and thrive. Moreover, it sought to determine if academics make use of their strengths, and to what extent these strengths influence their psychological need satisfaction and intention to leave. The participants completed the following measuring instruments: the Job Crafting Questionnaire, the High-Performance Human Resource Practices Questionnaire, the Strengths Use and Deficit Correction Scale, the Strengths use Scale, the Basic Psychological Need Satisfaction and Frustration Scale, the Thriving at Work Scale and finally two performance scales, one to measure in-role coupled with the other measuring extra-role. Descriptive statistics, confirmatory factor analysis and regression analyses were done. In order to review the structural models of thriving at work and its relation to personal and organisational antecedents and outcomes, structural equation modelling was used. Study 1 confirmed a two-factor structure of thriving (vitality and learning), a three-factor structure of job crafting, and a seven-factor structure of high-performance HR practices. The findings supported a model in which job crafting and high-performance HR practices interacted to affect the thriving of academics in higher education institutions. Job crafting was a stronger predictor of thriving than high-performance HR practices. The more academics practised cognitive, task and relational job crafting, the more they experienced vitality and learning in their jobs. Communication, promotion, and selection had the strongest associations with thriving. However, the findings suggested that high-performance HR practices play a significant and more important role when academics are not crafting their jobs. More specifically, when academics cannot or do not want to recraft their jobs, high-performance HR practices are critical for maintaining a high level of thriving. Study 2 revealed that 11 per cent of employees did not thrive at all. A lack of energy was evident in 22 per cent of the sample while 43 per cent did not function optimally concerning learning. The results revealed that perceived organisational support for strengths use, as well as individual strengths use and deficit correction, predicted thriving at work. Thriving predicted task and contextual performance. The structural model confirmed that perceived organisational support for strengths use had an impact on the thriving of employees. Therefore, when these institutions supported the use of talents and strengths during the performance of tasks and academic duties, employees felt the most vitality. Deficit correction behaviour and strengths used by individual academics also contributed to thriving at work. When academics could develop their weaknesses and improve on their tasks and academic duties, they felt more energised and experienced learning. Together, these three variables (i.e. perceived organisational support for strengths use, individual strengths use, and deficit correction) explained most of the variance in thriving at work. Study 3 offered support for a model where strengths use predicted psychological need satisfaction (autonomy, relatedness and competence). The outcomes furthermore showed that autonomy satisfaction was the best predictor of thriving at work. Autonomy satisfaction suggests that workers perceive they can influence and regulate their actions. Participants who were academics thus preferred work place autonomy to allow them to thrive, leading to decreased intention to leave.