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Academic anomie: Implications of the ‘great resignation’ for leadership in post-COVID higher education

Watermeyer, Richard; Bolden, Richard; Knight, Cathryn; Crick, Tom

Academic anomie: Implications of the ‘great resignation’ for leadership in post-COVID higher education Thumbnail


Richard Watermeyer

Richard Bolden
Dir of Res Ctr - Ldrship & Behav Change

Cathryn Knight

Tom Crick


The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic has ignited a near universal rethink of what is tolerable or desirable in work settings. In higher education – where discontent has been exacerbated by the pandemic – the potential for a 'great resignation' is a very real threat. The long-term impact of a crisis management approach in universities has led to a state of ‘pandemia’ (Watermeyer et al. 2021b), whereby academics feel alienated and subjected to a ‘toxic’ work environment that lacks shared purpose and values. This article draws on Durkheim’s notion of ‘anomie’ to explore what leads academics to leave the sector and to consider how the outward migration of staff could be addressed through changes to leadership and management practice. Evidence is taken from an online survey distributed in the United Kingdom (UK), which collected demographic information of n=167 academics and open-text responses to a question which asked respondents to provide their reasons for quitting higher education. Four key themes emerge which elucidate a trajectory of academic anomie: (i) declining quality of academic management; (ii) the pandemic as a disruptive awakening; (iii) the erosion of values and meaning; and (iv) a sense of being ‘trapped’ within academia. Potential resolutions are suggested in respect of what respondents identify as the route-cause of staff attrition — toxic management culture. Collective and inclusive governance and commitment from academics at all career stages to the leadership of groups, departments, institutions and the wider higher education sector are advocated as antidotes to academic anomie.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jul 9, 2024
Online Publication Date Jul 19, 2024
Deposit Date Jul 9, 2024
Publicly Available Date Jul 19, 2024
Print ISSN 0018-1560
Electronic ISSN 1573-174X
Publisher Springer (part of Springer Nature)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Public URL


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