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Survey cites employees' pressures, satisfactions

MIT faculty and staff are united in their concerns about the effects of the intense pace and pressure of work here, in their interest in building community among colleagues and peers across the Institute, and in their support for on-site or near-site affordable child care, two new Quality of Life Surveys reveal.

The surveys - one for faculty and one for staff members - were conducted in October 2001 by the MIT Council on Family and Work, established in 1991 and reactivated by President Charles M. Vest in 1999.

"Our goal is to provide an environment that promotes personal and professional growth for everyone," said Vest when invitations to complete the surveys were distributed.

Survey questions sought to gauge employees' ability to integrate a fulfilling and productive work life with a fulfilling and productive personal and/or family life. Questions were developed by the MIT Council on Family and Work and by WFD Consulting Inc. The surveys were analyzed by WFD to keep all responses confidential. The council then analyzed WFD's findings and made recommendations.

Both the staff and faculty Quality of Life Survey reports are available online.

To act on the information from the faculty survey, Provost Robert A. Brown will launch a Committee on Faculty Quality of Life, he said. Its goals will include "making specific, prioritized recommendations and establishing continuous methods for monitoring improvements at MIT. I also have established a group to review MIT's programs for housing assistance for faculty. I look forward to significant recommendations from both groups," Brown said.

Laura Avakian, vice president for human resources, and Stephen C. Graves, the Abraham Siegel Professor of Management and chair of the faculty, will co-sponsor a Committee on Staff Quality of Life.

"The survey will serve as a clear roadmap for those of us trying to develop programs and benefits that are valued and needed by staff. Having this direct input will help us shape the environment of work in ways that make the work experience fulfilling for individuals and that make MIT an employer of choice," Avakian said.

The co-chairs of the Council on Family and Work are Roy Welsch, professor of statistics and management science and director of the Center for Computational Research in Economics and Management Science; and A. Rae Simpson, director of the Center for Work, Family and Personal Life.

"I was surprised by the findings and am concerned that MIT and comparable academic institutions may have difficulty continuing to attract and retain a diverse and highly talented faculty and staff," Welsch commented. "The provost's support for addressing the problems illuminated by the survey is very important for the future of MIT. These new committees will have a rare chance to change MIT for the better, and perhaps influence other institutions as well. It's an exciting prospect."

Faculty requests for enhancing quality of life at MIT included increased professional support (more staff, more resources) and assistance (strong mentoring, more opportunities for professional interaction).

About a third of faculty respondents were dissatisfied by the pace and pressure of work at MIT; the stress was affecting the quality of their individual and family lives, their productivity and their health, the report stated (see related story).

The perception of pace and pressure differed between men and women and across generations of men, the survey disclosed. Women and younger male faculty "disproportionately report suffering the effects of an intense work environment," the council reported.

Lotte Bailyn, the T Wilson (1953) Professor in Management, suggested the pace and pressures described in the findings be viewed with an eye to the faculty community now emerging.

"We have to take these findings seriously. MIT's future lies with the younger faculty. And if both men and women in this group report increasing stress, the Institute will have to respond, if it does not want to jeopardize that future," she said.

MIT has been a pioneer in addressing gender equity issues, having completed a report on the status of women faculty in each of the Institute's five schools in March 2002. The full text of that report is available online.


Three-quarters of staff are satisfied with their jobs at MIT, and nearly two-thirds are satisfied with the pace and pressure, the staff survey found.

"Many MIT staff are intellectually curious people who, like our students and faculty, want to work in a challenging, highly creative academic environment. Many of us feel we would not be satisfied elsewhere," said Elizabeth Reed, director of the Office of Career Services and Preprofessional Advising. Reed is a member of the task force that produced the report.

While appreciating the positive aspects of the report, she noted that some "acute problems which faculty reported relate directly to staff and vice versa. We need to figure out what's wrong at this intersection, and make improvements. Staff and faculty will have to work together to come up with solutions, if we are going to implement meaningful change," said Reed.

Postdoctoral candidates and campus administrative staff, especially those working directly for faculty members, reported high levels of stress. The council recommended "special consideration" be given to the postdoc position, with a senior officer designated as a point of contact for all postdocs, both associates and fellows.

Staff reported that their peers and immediate supervisors were supportive of their personal/family responsibilities, but expressed skepticism about senior leadership's support.

"A strong message needs to be sent - by means of policies, programs and statements from senior administration - that diversity of lifestyle and experience is not only respected but also supported as part of what creates MIT's excellence," the council wrote.

Minority staff were relatively less satisfied with the Institute's diversity and plans to foster diversity.

Action steps recommended by the Council on Family and Work include implementing a clear policy of flexible work arrangements, addressing the special problems of the postdoctoral position, continuing rewards and recognition for staff, researching diversity and improving support for minority populations, considering a revised severe weather policy, and supporting the professional development program.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on December 4, 2002.

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