Exploring the main drivers of academic frustration: a systematic scale development

Entrepreneurial universities and academic entrepreneurship

Exploring the main drivers of academic frustration: a systematic scale development

Marco Balzano, Guido Bortoluzzi, Mbieke Stephen Ndula

Academics’ perceptions of their work environment not only affect their work motivation and psychological well-being (Zhang & Fu, 2019), but also their overall productivity and their growth in the scientific environment (Winter & Sarros, 2002).

Academics tend to take in high consideration the psychological contract based on mutual trust and perceived reciprocity with universities. However, when workload are felt to be excessive and extremely time pressuring, academics have a proclivity for reducing their commitment by a re-evaluation of their psychological contracts (Winter & Sarros, 2002). The underpinning idea that corroborates to this thesis is based on the pervasive nature of role overload as a potential driver for academic frustration.

Scholars identified some main sources of academic satisfaction and dissatisfaction.

In particular, the main sources of satisfaction are related to the teaching activities, to the ones research-related and to the nature itself of their work (Da Wan et al., 2015). Thus, the flexible nature of the work inside Academia involves the decision on how to spend working hours and choosing whether to undertake a certain type of research tasks. Contrarily, the main sources of dissatisfaction deals with red tapes, job progression, evaluation of research, administrative duties, and a substantial lack of resources (Da Wan et al., 2015).

One of the possible reasons why academics can lack of motivation and psychological well-being is the level of frustration connected in carrying out their job.

In the psychological field, the concept of frustration is associated to a interior reaction to an obstacle that is introduced between a person and her or his goal (Coon & Mitterer, 2010).

Past scientific literature has already developed multi-dimensional scales for capturing the essence of human frustration (Harrington, 2005).  Anyway, as urged by Sword et al. (2018), the existing theoretical framework on frustration has not been fully articulated by researchers since it addresses a set of different disciplines that necessitate a specific focus (e.g. the world of academics). And, in particular, no measure of academic frustration has been developed so far.

Our study attempts to fill this literature gap and to provide a sound, reliable and empirically validated measure of academic frustration. Based on the current conceptualizations of frustration pertaining to a multi-sided literature (psychology, psychology of work, organizational science, management), we develop and validate a multi-dimensional measure of academic frustration following a multi-step process.

In the last decades, the main duties of scholars have been subject to a radical reshape (Enders and de Weert, 2009). On the one hand, pressure towards scientific obtaining scientific publications of high ranking (summarized in the mantra “publish or perish”) have dramatically increased. Further, today’s academics bear growing responsibilities in communicating and transmitting values to the rest of the society (Da Wan et al., 2015). As responsibility increases, also the social commitment and pressure tend to intensify their effects on academics.

In a paper by Sword (2017) the word “frustration” appeared as the most generally felt emotion, mentioned nearly twice as often as the next most frequently cited emotion word, anxiety across various disciplines worldwide. According to the author, there is up to now no clear definition as to what “frustration” is all about nor the reason why some academic writers get frustrated. In addition, a review of the literature from fields such as cognitive psychology, neuroscience and linguistics revealed little consensus as to the causes, the symptoms or even the definition of frustration. In the same way, there is no single study in the higher education literature that exclusively or comprehensively deals with the nature of frustration for scholarly writers, despite a growing interdisciplinary interest in academic studies (Sword et al., 2018).

Both internal and external causes of frustration faced by academics have long been recognised in the literature, especially in relation to the influence played by the social context (Aarnikoivu et al. 2019; Sword et al., 2018; Shenton, 2008).

Sword (2018) divided the causes of frustration experienced by academics into internal (ineloquence/craft struggles; inefficiency/poor discipline; difficulty of beginning; length of writing process; writing in a second language; writer’s block) and external ones (lack of time; academic conventions; negative feedbacks; lack of guidance/support; academic politics).

As described by Abler et al. (2005), this negative feeling boils down to what they termed frustration, which symbolizes the emotional reaction that follows the delay of either an item or event to be rewarded. It is regarded by other researchers as the “fire of desire” that energies the day-to-day efforts (Cardon et al., 2009). This leads them to keep on mindful the challenge and difficulty encountered with the adversary and the working environment (Cardon et al., 2005; Cardon and Kirk, 2015).

Da Wan et al. (2015) identifies five major sources of frustration: bureaucracy; promotion and reward system; administrative duties; unrealistic expectations; lack of resources. In this light, this paper represents a first step of a wider research project that aims at enriching the debate on the main drivers of academic frustration and its effects on the university environment. Finally, this study responds to a specific call by Sword et al. (2018) who claims that more studies on the assessment of the actual impact of frustration in different contexts are needed, Academia included.

#Academic frustration #Dissatisfaction #Factor analysis #Frustration #Intolerance #Scale development