J. Drake Terry, ABD, Old Dominion University Konstantin P. Cigularov, Ph.D., Old Dominion University Phillip Dillulio, ABD, Old Dominion University Miranda Maverick, B.S., Old Dominion University

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has had massive ramifications for higher education institutions and their employees. The purpose of the current study was to examine the job demands experienced by university employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and the resources they needed to maintain positive job attitudes (PJA) and protect their well-being. Using job demands-resources (JD-R) theory (Bakker & Demerouti, 2017; Demerouti et al., 2001) as a theoretical framework, we hypothesized that home- and work-related job demands are positively related to job burnout (JB) and negatively related to PJA. We also hypothesized that one job resource (i.e., work support) and three personal resources (i.e., work competence, work motivation, and detachment from work) are negatively related to JB and positively related to PJA. Finally, we hypothesized that these job and personal resources moderate the effects of home- and work-related job demands on JB and PJA.

Many universities have had to shift instruction to online, hybrid, and/or socially distanced in-person instruction, and many have announced hiring freezes for faculty and pay cuts or furloughs for staff (Smalley, 2020). JD-R theory (Bakker & Demerouti, 2017; Demerouti et al., 2001) is a useful framework to investigate the new challenges and needs experienced by university employees during the pandemic. However, only a few studies (e.g., Britt et al., 2021) have applied JD-R theory to understanding employee experiences during the pandemic, none of which have explicitly focused on U.S. university employees. Moreover, the job design of university employees is relatively under-researched compared to employees in other work settings (e.g., Wray & Kinman, 2020). Our study contributes to the literature by providing a fresh analysis of the work experiences and well-being outcomes of university employees.

All procedures for this study were approved for exempt status by our university?s Institutional Review Board. Complete data were collected from 1,388 employees of a large public university in the southeastern U.S. (36% response rate) between April 20 and May 11, 2020. University employees received email invitations and reminders to complete an anonymous online survey hosted by Qualtrics. All measures along with instructions are included in Table 1. Given the novel context (i.e., COVID-19), items were either adapted from existing validated measures or developed for the purposes of this study. Similar practices for item adaptation and development have been used in previous research (e.g., Nielsen & Abildgaard, 2012). Survey brevity and clarity were prioritized in finalizing items for inclusion. Observed variable path analysis (Kline, 2016) including all variables was conducted with Mplus 8.0 (Muth?n & Muth?n, 1998-2017) to test the proposed hypotheses (see Figure 1).

Descriptive statistics and correlations can be found in Table 2. Both home-related and work-related job demands were positively correlated with JB. Additionally, work-related job demands were negatively correlated with PJA, but home-related job demands were not. Further, all resources were negatively correlated with JB, and three of the four resources were positively correlated with PJA, with the exception of detachment from work. As for interactions, detachment from work moderated the effect of work-related job demands on JB, such that employees with higher levels of detachment experienced less JB as work-related job demands increased (see Figure 2). In contrast, work support moderated the effects of home-related job demands on JB, such that home-related demands were more strongly related to JB at higher levels of work support (see Figure 3). Furthermore, both work support (see Figure 4) and work motivation (see Figure 5) moderated the effects of work-related job demands on PJA, suggesting that employees with higher levels of work support and work motivation experience less of a decrease in PJA as work-related job demands increase.

The findings of this study are consistent with JD-R theory (Bakker & Demerouti, 2017; Demerouti et al., 2001) and suggest that pertinent home- and work-related job demands, as well as job and personal resources, may uniquely and independently affect well-being and PJA. Further, our findings suggest that certain resources may buffer the negative effects of job demands on well-being and PJA. Our results suggest that universities should seek to maximize the relevant job and personal resources their employees possess. In particular, our findings suggest that work support, work competence, work motivation, and detachment from work all contribute positively to university employees? well-being and PJA. However, the implications of our study are limited by its cross-sectional research design. Nonetheless, cross-sectional designs are useful as they allow researchers to investigate potentially meaningful patterns without the cost and difficulty of conducting a longitudinal study (Spector, 2019).

Our results underscore the value of pertinent resources for contributing to PJA and for buffering the undesirable impact of job demands on well-being during times of organizational disruption in higher education. Future research should consider other resources which may contribute to university employees? well-being and PJA during times of organizational disruption.

Tags: Applicable to all occupations/industries, Applied research, COVID-19, Empirical study, Fit; Balance; Conflict; Spillover; and Enrichment, Job and Task Design, Organization- and Job-Level Environments and Practices, Psychological and Biological Effects of Job Stress, Social and Organizational Environment, Work - Life - Family, Workplace Stress; Outcomes; and Recovery