Journal of Nursing Education

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An Examination of Role Strain for University Nurse Faculty and its Relation to Socialization Experiences and Personal Characteristics

Paula R Mobily, PhD, RN

Abstract

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study is to describe the degree of perceived role strain and the major sources of role strain in nurse faculty employed in major universities; and to explore the relationship between selected socialization experiences and personal characteristics and the degree of role strain experienced. The sample (N= 102) was comprised of full-time tenure track nurse faculty employed in major universities that offered National League for Nursing-accredited undergraduate and graduate programs in nursing, and were located in institutions classified as Research Universities I by the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education (1987). The majority of faculty were experiencing some degree of role strain, with a substantial number experiencing moderate to high degrees of role strain. The major sources of role strain were role overload and both intrasender and interrole conflict. Analysis of the relationship between socialization experiences and personal characteristics and the degree of role strain experienced revealed nine statistically significant relationships. Implications for administrators and faculty are discussed.

Abstract

ABSTRACT

The purpose of this study is to describe the degree of perceived role strain and the major sources of role strain in nurse faculty employed in major universities; and to explore the relationship between selected socialization experiences and personal characteristics and the degree of role strain experienced. The sample (N= 102) was comprised of full-time tenure track nurse faculty employed in major universities that offered National League for Nursing-accredited undergraduate and graduate programs in nursing, and were located in institutions classified as Research Universities I by the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education (1987). The majority of faculty were experiencing some degree of role strain, with a substantial number experiencing moderate to high degrees of role strain. The major sources of role strain were role overload and both intrasender and interrole conflict. Analysis of the relationship between socialization experiences and personal characteristics and the degree of role strain experienced revealed nine statistically significant relationships. Implications for administrators and faculty are discussed.

Introduction

The role requirements of faculty in institutions of higher education are multiple and complex. These requirements are derived, in part, from the mission of the employing institution. For universities today, this mission is generally tripartite, encompassing teaching, research, and service. Faculty employed in these institutions are expected to be excellent teachers, engage in significant research, and participate actively in institutional, professional, and community service. Within these are further expectations that they keep abreast of current knowledge and developments within their field, take part in student development and advisement, assume administrative roles, and be active in professional organizations. These multiple expectations may place overwhelming and conflicting demands on faculty time, energy, and priorities.

As early as 1973, Parsons and Piatt, in describing the American university, maintained that academic roles had become diffuse and fragmented and that faculty had become overburdened and spread thinly over the variety of expected role activities. Since that time, there have been many changes within higher education. Faculty role expectations, particularly in terms of research and scholarly endeavors, have escalated. The result has been an increase in the potential for faculty to experience role stress and subsequent role strain.

Review of the Literature

The terms "stress" and "strain" have been widely and variously used in the literature. Hardy (1978) defined role stress as a "condition in which role obligations are vague, irritating, difficult, conflicting, or impossible to meet" (p. 76); and subsequently denned role strain as the "subjective state of distress experienced by a role occupant when exposed to role stress" (p. 76). Hardy's definition of role strain is consistent with Goode's (1960) early definition of "the felt difficulty in meeting role obligations" (p. 483). According to Goode, role strain occurs and intensifies as the number and complexity of demands within a role increase.

Table

TABLE 1Subscale Definitions and Sample Items

TABLE 1

Subscale Definitions and Sample Items

Role problems contributing to role strain for faculty can be grouped into five general areas identified by Hardy (1978): role conflict, role overload, role ambiguity, role incongruity, and role incompetence. Kahn, Wolfe, Quinn, and Snoek (1964) further identified three specific types of role conflict: intersender conflict, intrasender conflict, and interrole conflict. Definitions of each of these as conceptualized in this study are provided in Table 1.

Multiple dimensions of role stress and role strain have been studied extensively in industrial organizations. Empirically, role stress has been linked to a number of negative behavioral manifestations and psychophysiological illnesses. Organizationally, employee role strain has been linked to various negative, work-related outcomes including job dissatisfaction, decreased commitment, propensity to leave the organization, and decreased productivity. These factors, individually or in combination, can be dysfunctional for both the individual and the organization.

Although the potential for experiencing role strain would seem very real for all faculty within the university, nursing faculty appear to be particularly at risk. In addition to the role requirements common to all university professors, nurse faculty have additional requirements that place them at greater risk. Nurse faculty often spend a large proportion of their time in the clinical area supervising students, where the responsibility for patient safety as well as student learning can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Nurse faculty are expected to maintain their clinical expertise, if not their own clinical practice; they often lack the traditional educational preparation and socialization experiences of other academicians; and many are expected to pursue the doctoral degree concomitant with other responsibilities (Batey, 1969; Fry, 1975; O'Connor, 1978; Williamson, 1972).

Additionally, in order to accomplish the goals of the profession and to establish nursing as a legitimate discipline on a university campus, nurse faculty increasingly have been called upon to be productive scholars. Until recently, research expectations for nurse faculty were virtually nonexistent (Bevis, 1985). Nurse faculty employed by major universities are now required to be productive in all academic areas rather than just teaching and service. Consequently, role expectations have increased in number and complexity and the potential for experiencing role strain is very real.

In the more recent literature in nursing education, role stress has been acknowledged. Spero (1980) writes that nurse faculty are "bombarded" by a variety of pressures and are "overridden" by the urgency to publish (p. 23). Mensah (1982), also speaking to the pressure of "publish or perish," notes the resultant anxiety and job stress for faculty (p. 577). Similarly, Rogers (1989) writes that the recent pressure on nurse educators to document their research with publications in refereed journals is raising the "spectre of failure" for many as their time on the tenure track progresses. Crawford, Laing, Linwood, Kyle, and DeBlock (1983) describe the problem of having insufficient time to meet role demands, and maintain that there are feelings of great pressure developing within nursing education. Wardle (1984) contends that the current pressures in academia are so great that nurse faculty may feel like they are on a treadmill.

Because the majority of nurse faculty are women, the potential for role strain in this population is further increased. Problems may arise when career aspirations must be meshed with family roles and responsibilities, especially when a female faculty member bears the primary responsibility for maintaining the household and raising a family. As noted by de Tornyay (1987), this juggling act between activities often results in job tension or stress.

Despite acknowledgement of the potential for, or existence of, role strain for nurse faculty, only one empirical study specifically addressing faculty work stressors was found in the literature. Langemo (1988) surveyed 208 nurse educators, representing 14 midwest baccalaureate programs, to identify work stressors believed to precipitate burnout. Overload or inequality of workload and lack of positive reinforcement were reported as the major stressors and causes of burnout. No studies have been found that focus on the specific degree and nature of role strain experienced by nurse faculty, or that analyze the relationship between socialization experiences, cited in the previous discussion as a major problem for nurse faculty, and role strain.

In order to fully understand the relationship between socialization and role strain as conceptualized in this study, a brief discussion of socialization is warranted. Socialization is the process by which individuals acquire the norms, values, knowledge, and skills needed to perform their roles adequately (Bloom, 1963; Merton, Reader, & Kendall, 1957). When considering this process with regard to socialization for organizational roles, two phases can be identified: anticipatory socialization and incumbency socialization. Anticipatory socialization refers to socialization experiences that occur prior to assuming a role, whereas incumbency socialization experiences are those that occur after the role is assumed (Van Maanen, 1976).

It is important to note the potential diversity of anticipatory socialization experiences for nurse faculty. Master's programs in nursing offer a variety of areas of concentration such as administration, education, and clinical specialization. Also, although the great majority of nurse faculty now have graduate degrees, many have been prepared at the master's level only. Doctoral education fosters the acquisition of the breadth and depth of knowledge in a field of study and provides opportunity for students to begin the process of socialization into the community of scholars. Additionally, it provides the opportunity to acquire and develop the skills that best enable one to become a scholar. Without the requisite skills for research, the depth and breadth of knowledge in a field of study, and the opportunity for socialization as an academician, many nurse faculty may experience role strain as the full demands of the role are realized. Because there have been few doctoral programs in nursing, many doctorally prepared nurse faculty have obtained their degrees in other disciplines. In each of these experiences, new and different norms and values may have been internalized, resulting in varying degrees of academic role preparation.

In speaking to the problems of anticipatory socialization for many nurse faculty, Mauksch (1982), Mensah (1982), and Perry (1982) have asserted that participating as full and contributing members of the university community is difficult because they have not been socialized into the same value systems and expectations as faculty in other disciplines, Mauksch (1982), Mills (1983), and Williamson (1972) believe that the problem is due, in part, to the fact that most nurse faculty, as learners, were not exposed to those who fully performed as academicians. Researchers, scholars, and mentors as role models have been lacking.

Incumbency socialization is often provided formally through orientation and faculty development programs, and promotion and tenure expectations. Informally, this socialization occurs through the nature of the assigned role responsibilities, and subsequent interaction with administrators, colleagues, and students.

Given that socialization experiences are said to provide the norms, values, knowledge, and skills needed for role performance, and given the potentially deficient and diverse socialization experiences for nurse faculty, a logical question arises. Is there a relationship between certain socialization experiences and the degree of role strain experienced by nurse faculty?

This study examines the phenomenon of role strain for university nurse faculty, and explores the relationship between role strain and selected socialization experiences and personal characteristics. Three specific research questions are addressed:

1. What is the degree of role strain experienced by nurse faculty who are employed in major universities?

2. What are the major sources of role strain experienced?

3. What is the relationship between socialization experiences and personal characteristics, and the degree of role strain experienced?

Method

Sample

The study population was composed of full-time, tenure track nurse faculty employed by major universities that offer NLN-accredited undergraduate and graduate programs in nursing. Major university status was determined by choosing institutions classified as Research Universities I by the Carnegie Council on Policy Studies in Higher Education (1987). The selection of Research I institutions was an attempt to control, in part, for institutional variations, requirements, and expectations, since it was assumed that faculty who teach in these institutions would be expected to be productive in teaching, research, and service in accordance with institutional mission.

To select the institutional sample, the universities were then arranged into geographical strata based on the four geographic regions identified by the NLN. From the stratified list of universities, one institution was selected at random from each region. All full-time, tenure track nurse faculty from these four institutions were surveyed. Completed questionnaires were received from 102 of the 147 faculty surveyed who met the study criteria. This yielded a response rate of 69.4%.

Instrumentation

The investigation utilized a two-part questionnaire developed by the investigator. As noted previously, five major areas of role problems appear in the literature: role conflict, often subdivided into three separate categories of intersender conflict, intrasender conflict, and interrole conflict; role ambiguity; role overload; role incongruity; and role incompetence. From these, seven subscales, assessing major areas of role problems for nurse faculty, were developed.

Part I of the questionnaire, the Role Strain Scale, consisted of these seven subscales incorporating 44 statements describing potential sources of stress for nurse faculty. These statements were extrapolated from an extensive review of the literature. The Role Strain Scale was patterned after instruments developed by Gmelch, Lovrich, and Wilke ( 1984); Kahn, et al. ( 1964); and Rizzo, House, and Lirtzman (1970). Although these instruments have been used in previous studies of job stress, they were not used in this study because the items did not adequately convey the responsibilities of the role of nurse faculty or the nature of role stress indicated in the literature. The total number of items in each subscale, and an example of one item from the Role Strain Scale incorporated in each of the subscales, is included in Table 1.

A Likert-type scale was used to assess the degree to which each of the statements describing work-related situations were, or had been, a source of stress for the respondent. Response possibilities were: never (1), rarely (2), sometimes (3), frequently (4), or nearly all the time (5).

Prior to pilot testing of the Role Strain Scale, five nurse educators were asked to review it for face and content validity. Additionally, the scale was reviewed for content validity by a faculty member from a major university college of business with expertise in the area of job stress. The Role Strain Scale was pilot tested using 16 faculty from a college of nursing in a major university. This college, university, and faculty group met all of the criteria adopted for the study. Reliability was measured using Cronbach's alpha which estimated the internal consistency of the scale. The coefficient alpha for the pilot test of the 44-item scale was .96.

Part II of the questionnaire assessed socialization experiences and demographic characteristics. Items included in this section were based on the association between socialization, personal characteristics, and role strain suggested in the literature. Specific anticipatory socialization experiences assessed were: initial nursing preparation; highest earned degree; doctoral preparation including degree, discipline, major area of study, age at receipt of the doctorate, doctoral research and/or teaching assistant experience, and numbers of courses taken related to teaching and research; and master's preparation including specific degree, major area of study, clinical and functional focus, master's research and/or teaching assistant experience, and exposure to courses related to teaching and research.

Incumbency socialization experiences included: the academic orientation (defined as the emphasis or deemphasis of each of the roles of teaching, research, and service) promoted by the dean; the academic orientation of the majority of the respondents' colleagues; the orientation of the respondents' most respected colleague(s) and/or role models; years of faculty experience in schools of nursing, university schools of nursing, and at the present institution; current teaching responsibilities and hours per week spent in clinical teaching; opportunity to attend faculty development programs related to research and teaching; and mentor/mentee relationships. In addition, the following personal data were assessed: current enrollment in a doctoral program; rank and tenure status; years until tenure decision; age; marital and family status; and number of hours per week spent on work-related activities.

Data Analysis

Descriptive statistics were used to determine the degree and sources of role strain experienced. Analysis of variance (ANOVA) was used to examine the relationship between socialization/personal characteristics and the degree of role strain experienced. When a significant F test was identified, the Tukey procedure was used to determine which group means differed significantly.

Results

Question 1: Degree of Role Strain Experienced

Alpha reliability coefficients were obtained using the 44 items comprising the total Role Strain Scale and for each of the subscales. The alpha coefficient for the total scale was .92. The alpha coefficients for the subscales were as follows: intersender conflict= .71; intrasender conflict= .64; interrole conflict = .53; role ambiguity = .85; role incongruity = .78; and role incompetence= .70.

Role strain was defined operationally as the total mean score, as measured in scale units, on the 44-item Role Strain Scale. Scores in this section had a possible range in scale units of 1-5.

To analyze the degree of role strain experienced, it was necessary to categorize the degree of role strain experienced in a meaningful way. Categorization of the degree of role strain was accomplished by utilizing the actual mean value and standard deviation obtained. This was not only statistically appropriate, but the resultant categorization of the degree of role strain also appeared conceptually appropriate and enabled reconciliation of the statistical findings and the verbal descriptors used to measure role strain. The combined mean score, in scale units, of the respondents was 2.97 with a standard deviation of .499. Using one standard deviation above and below the mean, and rounding to the nearest tenth, the following categories were designated to determine the degree of role strain experienced:

High: mean score = 3.5 or above,

Moderate: mean score = 3.0-3.4,

Low: mean score = 2.5-2.9,

Minimal: mean score = 2.4 or below.

Using the categories delineated above, 18% of the respondents experienced a high degree of role strain and 12% experienced a minimal degree of role strain. The majority of the respondents' role strain scores were between these two extremes, with 32% classified as moderate and 38% classified as low (Figure). It is important to note that 50% of the respondents were experiencing moderate to high degrees of role strain.

Question 2: Major Sources of Role Strain Experienced

The major sources of role strain experienced by the respondents were determined in two ways. First, each of the 44 items comprising the Role Strain Scale were analyzed to determine those having combined values of 3.5 or greater in scale units. Secondly, the total mean score in scale units of each of the seven subscales was analyzed to determine the major areas of role problems most stressful for the respondents.

Figure: Degree of role strain experienced.

Figure: Degree of role strain experienced.

Nine work-related situations had mean scores of 3.5 or above:

* having adequate time to meet role expectations - 4.1;

* coping with the number of expectations of the job - 4.0;

* feeling pressured to secure outside funding in a time of limited availability - 3.8;

* having job demands interfere with other activities of personal importance (family, leisure, and other interests) - 3.7;

* feeling like the workload is too heavy and impossible to finish during the normal work week - 3.7;

* feeling physically drained from work at the end of the day- 3.6;

* thinking that the amount of work to be done interferes with how well it gets done - 3.5;

* having adequate resources (i.e., secretarial support, libraries, computer access, classrooms, laboratories) to meet role expectations - 3.5; and

* feeling emotionally drained from work at the end of the day- 3.5.

When the major areas of role problems, as measured by the seven subscales, were analyzed, the subscale with the highest mean score was role overload (µ = 3.5). Those subscales that measured role conflict had the highest mean scores after role overload. They were: interrole conflict (µ = 3.2), intrasender conflict (µ = 3.2), and intersender conflict (µ = 3.0). Role incongruity had a mean score of 2.8; role ambiguity had a mean score of 2.7; and role incompetence was the lowest with a mean score of 2.2.

Question 3: Relationship between Socialization Experiences/Personal Characteristics and Role Strain

Analysis of the relationship between socialization experiences/personal characteristics and the degree of role strain experienced revealed nine statistically significant (p<.05) relationships. Six of the significant relationships involved socialization experiences and three involved personal characteristics. Significantly higher role strain occurred when the faculty member: 1) held a master's as the highest earned degree; 2) taught in the undergraduate program; 3) had clinical only, or both clinical and classroom responsibilities; 4) spent ten hours or more per week in clinical instruction; 5) had not had opportunity to attend faculty development offerings in research; 6) had a lack of fit between his/her academic role orientation (i.e. the selective emphasis or deemphasis of each of the roles of teaching, research, and service) and that of the dean; 7) was currently enrolled in a doctoral program; 8) was married; and 9) had children. (Table 2).

Table

TABLE 2Summary of Significant Socialization Experiences and Personal Characteristics Related to Role Strain

TABLE 2

Summary of Significant Socialization Experiences and Personal Characteristics Related to Role Strain

Discussion and Implications

The findings of this investigation suggest several implications for both administrators and faculty in major research universities, and for faculty considering employment in a major research university. The findings can be of practical importance to administrators responsible for recruitment, determining faculty workload, evaluating faculty, and planning orientation and faculty development programs.

The present findings reveal that the majority of university nurse faculty are experiencing some degree of role strain, and a substantial number are experiencing moderate to high degrees. While it is acknowledged that some degree of role strain is inevitable and can be positive, administrators of university nursing programs must be alert to the potentially dysfunctional individual and organizational consequences of high degrees of role strain. Administrators would be advised to conduct their own survey of the sources of stress for their faculty and then seek ways to reduce the specific sources identified.

Administrators must recognize the varied and potentially deficient socialization experiences of applicants for university nurse faculty positions. Every effort should be made to match institutional and individual orientations. Prior to offering an appointment, there should be open discussion of the expectations of the position and criteria for promotion, tenure, and other institutional rewards. Appointments should be given only to those with the relevant skills and abilities to fulfill expectations. Recruitment and appointment of doctorally prepared faculty appears most advisable. Following appointment, orientation programs aimed at helping faculty adjust to the organization and its expectations are important for effective socialization into the organization.

Faculty reported spending an average of 53.1 hours per week on work-related activities, and role overload was the primary area of role strain reported. Based on these findings, the workload of university nurse faculty must become an administrative concern. Administrators need to be aware that many faculty do not believe that there is a satisfactory balance between the amount and quality of work expected and the time to accomplish it. Workload determinations must take into account the myriad responsibilities of the job. The heavy teaching responsibilities, particularly for faculty assigned to the undergraduate program with clinical instruction responsibilities, must be reviewed if these faculty are expected to be productive in all academic areas.

It seems advisable that administrators conduct their own survey to determine, specifically, how faculty membere spend their time and then examine the data obtained in relation to organizational expectations. Administrators could then work with their faculty to develop equitable workload policies that consider both organizational and individual needs. Workload policies for nurse faculty should conform as closely as possible to the policies employed for faculty in other academic disciplines within the institution. This would require the development of equivalencies for nurse faculty workload activities with those of faculty in other disciplines. In an era when academic nursing is demanding higher credentials and greater productivity, the means must be provided to achieve these expectations. Innovative administrative approaches will be required.

Evaluation of faculty should be formative as well as summative. Formative evaluation promotes faculty development. As a part of the evaluation process, administrators should meet with individual faculty members to consider and discuss role expectations in light of the teaching assignment and professional development needed and expected. Collaborative determination of goals and strategies for meeting both individual and organizational needs is important.

It appears that faculty development programs can be an important means for increasing faculty productivity and dealing with role strain. Opportunity to attend programs and activities related to research were associated with a lower degree of role strain. These programs should be multifaceted and could address a variety of topics ranging from reports of research studies to programs providing specific research methods and skills. Additionally, faculty development programs that relate specifically to the role pressures of faculty and associated coping strategies (i.e., time and stress management) could be initiated.

The findings of this investigation have implications for faculty as well. Individual faculty responsibilities begin with institutional selection. Individuals seeking faculty positions must be aware of, and understand, the organizational and institutional mission. Prospective faculty are advised to question administration concerning the expectations of the job and activities necessary to obtain institutional rewards. Appraisal of personal role demands and professional goals, in view of organizational expectations, is critical prior to accepting a position. Specific considerations should include: workload, level of student, clinical instruction expectations and time commitments, expectations for promotion and tenure, and time until the tenure consideration. Faculty whose professional and personal interests are incongruent, and who are unable or unwilling to realign these with organizational expectations, would be advised to decline the position and to seek employment in an institution with expectations more congruent with their own professional orientation.

Faculty without the doctorate should be careful in accepting an appointment in a major university. They must determine if they will be on the tenure track and if they will be expected to pursue the doctorate as a condition for employment. Direct questioning as to any institutional policies or mechanisms that facilitate this endeavor, such as decreased teaching, research, or service expectations while completing the degree; faculty leave policies; and possibilities for financial support is recommended. Faculty also are advised to consider their professional and personal role demands when it is necessary to earn the doctorate concomitant with other responsibilities.

Once appointed to a faculty position in a major university, faculty would be advised to limit undertakings to those consistent with organizational expectations to ensure the quality and quantity in task performance necessary for receiving institutional rewards. In collaboration with administration, faculty should identify and set realistic goals and a realistic timetable to achieve expectations. Collaboratively developing strategies to achieve goals is important, particularly for faculty who have heavy teaching responsibilities.

Collaboration with other faculty to meet role expectations should be pursued. Together, faculty can explore and develop creative teaching strategies that maintain the quality of the educational process, and create time for other activities, particularly research. Collaboration is important, also, in research endeavors. Identification of colleagues with similar research interests and complementary skills may provide greater opportunity to meet research expectations and also serve as an important socialization experience.

Faculty should recognize the potential for, and symptoms of, role strain. Use of coping and stress management techniques such as exercise, recreation, relaxation, time management, and counseling may prevent the occurrence of dysfunctional levels of stress.

This study has explored the degree and sources of role strain of university nurse faculty. As nursing continues its efforts to be recognized as a legitimate profession with empirically tested bases for its domain, and as a legitimate discipline on a university campus, the potential for role problems intensifies. It is important that these problems be identified and addressed.

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TABLE 1

Subscale Definitions and Sample Items

TABLE 2

Summary of Significant Socialization Experiences and Personal Characteristics Related to Role Strain

10.3928/0148-4834-19910201-08

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