Fast 15 With Donovan Nichols: Work-Life Balance


Casey Cornelius (00:02):

Hey everyone, and welcome to the latest episode of the ForCollegeForLife Podcast. My name is Casey Cornelius and I am the founder and president ForCollegeForLife. And I also get the distinct pleasure of getting to interview the speakers and consultants who make us who we are. This is part of our FAST 15 series where we tackle a really big important topic in 15 minutes or less. Today I’m joined by Donovan Nichols, and we’re talking about a topic that is primarily intended for our professional listening audience. Although if you’re a student listening to this, my hunch is you’ll probably get some important tips from it as well. So here’s the big question for the day, Donovan. What advice would you give to professionals who are looking to achieve balance in all areas of their life?

Donovan Nichols (00:49):

I think one of the most important things, as I’ve been talking to people about work life balance that I’ve realized is that it is not just about self care. And a lot of times when we think about balance, it’s, it’s more on an individual and say, Okay, how do you balance yourself? And we need to look at it from a more global perspective and realize that work life balance comes from self care plus community care. And what I mean by community care is all the other individuals in your life need to be on board with what you are trying to accomplish and what your balance is. So if you are trying to accomplish work life balance at work, but your supervisor is constantly overworking you, they’re contacting you at night, they’re expecting things to be done. When you’re spending time with your family or friends, then you are not going to be able to achieve work life balance.


And so it needs to be a partnership, and we need to look out for each other’s balance as well. So as I’m working with colleagues or a supervisor, I need to also understand, okay, if I send this text message at 10 o’clock at night, I’m essentially interrupting their personal time. And so I need to overcome that feeling of what do I need done right now versus how do I ensure that I can help other people have balance? And if we’re all focused on each other, then as professional staff, we’ll be able to better accomplish what we want to accomplish.

Casey Cornelius (02:15):

I really like that. And I guess my follow up question to you would be, I remember in years past the phrase managing up came as part of the lexicon. What advice or tips would you give for someone who feels like they need to invite their supervisor or supervisors into this more holistic vision of what balance might look like in their life?

Donovan Nichols (02:39):

Another really important part of work life balance is boundaries and boundary management. And I think that’s something that we as a society have gotten away from. And we have this idea that we should be able to be able to access everybody in our life at any given point in time. And so being able to set your own boundaries and know what you want your boundaries to be. Most people that I talk with that are professional staff and student affairs kind of scoff and laugh when I talk about boundaries. And I ask ’em what their boundaries are, and they will say that they don’t set boundaries, but I wonder how much of that is because they don’t want to create those boundaries or how much of it is because they feel like they’re not allowed to have boundaries in the profession and that they should always be available to those that need them.


And while we want to be very serving of the individuals that we work with, we also need to be able to take care of ourselves. So I think the boundary management is a huge part of it. And so understanding what boundaries we need for ourselves and then being able to allow people to know what those are. And if you’re a professional staff in student affairs, letting your supervisor know, it’s letting colleagues know. It’s letting anybody you supervise know. It’s letting your students know what those boundaries are, because if they know what they are, then they’re more likely to be able to respect them.

Casey Cornelius (04:05):

For sure. Yeah, it sounds like comes back to communication quite a bit, Donovan. I also think that some organizations probably do this better than others. What would you say about those who seem to reward individuals or groups within an organization that don’t prioritize this type of balance? That it’s more work on the work life continuum where they’re constantly available, constantly on campus, constantly on call, all of that kind of stuff. And that’s really the mindset that gets rewarded. What would you say, if you could speak to those organizations?

Donovan Nichols (04:41):

Yeah, there was a book that came out in 2020 that talked about ideal worker norms. And these ideal worker norms is essentially that you should be at the beck and call of your work 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And that idea is one of the biggest barriers to balance. But I think another one of these barriers to balance is what I call the stress Olympics. And it’s that I, it’s this unhealthy competition of who’s the most stressed at their job and that we pride ourselves and we wear this badge of honor if we’re super stressed and have way too much to do in such a little amount of time. And so we need to change that and reverse that and recognize that it’s important for us that to have these boundaries to be allowed to say no when things come up. There’s a big fear of negative evaluation and career penalties.


And what I mean by that is if I say no, when my supervisor says, Hey, I want you to do X, but my plate is completely full already, if I say no, trying to have balance for myself, my fear is that my supervisor will never ask me me to do another project again. My supervisor will think that I’m not committed to my work or that I don’t care about what it is. And so we need to learn to be able to say no in an effective way of saying, I would love to do that project. The issue is that I have all of these other things that I’m trying to accomplish. Can we work together to see what’s the biggest priority so that we can accomplish our goals together? But I also wanna focus on my work life balance because my health is really important to me.

Casey Cornelius (06:26):

I really love that Sometimes when we’re doing these interviews, I think to myself, What’s going to be the sound bite? Like what’s going to be the thing that’s extracted and uses a sound bite? I think stress Olympics is a phrase that I’ve, I’ve never heard before. And if it’s yours, I’m gonna completely steal it. I mean, I’ll give you credit, but it immediately made sense to me what you were talking about when you were saying that we compare our stresses, it almost wear them like a badge of honor. I also wonder whether or not the phenomenon of quiet quitting <laugh>, I think that’s been one of the catchphrases of 2022, quiet quitting has been a response to this idea of the overburdened professional. What do you think?

Donovan Nichols (07:15):

Well, first of all, stress Olympics. I don’t think I came up with that. I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere. I am just bringing it to a higher platform because I think it’s a phrase that we can all rally around and understand what that means.

Casey Cornelius (07:29):

I’m still giving you credit for it, just

Donovan Nichols (07:31):

No way around it <laugh>. But the quiet quitting piece, I think a big part of that is, and especially in student affairs burnout extreme hours leading to burnout is number one cause of why people are leaving positions. And in the field of student affairs, by age 35, 70 5% of individuals who have come into the profession have left. And so we have a lot of these individuals leaving. And I think the other really interesting statistic is that over three times, as many new professionals leave the field within the first five years than intended to do so from the start. So at the start, about 10% expect within five years, they’ll no longer be in the profession. Well, you go to actually who leaves after five years, and it’s about 30 to 35% of the field. And so what is happening during that time? And so that’s where this attrition happens and people are leaving the profession. But now you’re also seeing this quiet quitting where people are doing just enough where they’re not getting fired, but they’re doing enough to keep themselves sane. <laugh>. Well,

Casey Cornelius (08:45):


Donovan Nichols (08:46):

Yeah. And a piece of it is, I think you have a couple different reasons of why people are quiet, quitting. For some, it’s burnout. They have burnt out and they can’t leave their position because they need the money. They’re somewhat, you tie yourself and you are worth to this position and your identity is your work, so you don’t know how to leave it. So I think there’s a piece of that. And then there’s the other individuals that are, they don’t know how to have the conversation with their supervisor or they don’t think that the environment will actually allow them to have work life balance. So their way of attaining it is by just doing the bare minimum of what they need. And so you kind of have these different versions of people and the quiet quitting that they’re doing and different rationale for why they’re doing it.

Casey Cornelius (09:42):

For those of you who are listening to this and are interested in Donovan’s work, I want to encourage you to go to, learn about his speaking, learn about his consulting, working, including doing some consultations with higher ed professionals and work groups and organizations on how to help achieve some of this balance as well. Donovan, I always like to take on at least for a moment, the perspective of someone who might push back at this conversation. And I can imagine a senior leadership executive saying, We would love to promote work-life balance and health and wellbeing and all that other kinda stuff, but we’ve had so many staff turnovers over the last two, three years, and people have to pick up the slack. We can’t hire enough people or budgets are so forth and on and on and on. What would you say to that person who’s like, We would love to do this. But

Donovan Nichols (10:37):

The first thing I would say is right now what you’re doing is you’re putting a bandaid on a shotgun wound, and you have to look at why do you have so much turnover? And the reason’s gonna be you have so much turnover is because individuals are not having the work life balance. It is the third leading cause of why people leave student affairs. And the research that I’ve seen, and it’s tied for a second amongst individuals in a new study that came out in 2022 of just people in general. And it’s because people are looking for positions where they’ll have better work life balance. So what’s gonna happen is you’re gonna have this continual turnover because you’re now, when somebody leaves a position, you’re putting more work on the people that are still there, that are loyal and committed to what they’re doing. Well, they’re gonna burn out soon and they’re going to leave next.


And so it’s this, you’re just perpetuating this toxic culture. And so you have to take a step back and say, Well, why are we overworked? What are some of the root causes of this? Are there things that we are currently doing that we don’t need to be doing? Or do we have too much expectation? Or are we overworking our staff? And so then once you start to answer some of those questions, you’ll recognize that the cause of the problem is in those answers. It’s the understanding, well, why are we overworking our people? Do we need to have them at every event supporting all these students? Or is it something where we only expect them to go to one thing and we have clear expectations of what they’re going to be doing? I think right now is when you get into student affairs, the expectation is it is more than 40 hours a week.


And I’ve heard that so many times, and we groom students during their grad program that you’re expected to basically do 50 to six hours a week. Well, why? Where does that come from? So I think we need to start asking deeper questions of why is this because we are causing our own problems? And so we need to re-look at our culture why it is, and then realize that we can change it. I’ve heard from a lot of people, and there is even research that will show that or individuals that will say, Balance is impossible. And for me, well, why do we say that? And maybe it’s not possible now. It’s kind of like the moon landing at first, people say, Well, landing on the moon’s impossible. And now it’s like, Well, it happened because we changed our mindset. We updated our technology. We figured out how to make it happen. But the biggest reason of why we were able to do that is we said it was possible.

Casey Cornelius (13:26):

I love that so much to, and I really do. This is one of those topics I think you and I probably could talk about for hours and hours. And my guess is that many of the listeners right now would like to hear more about this too, if you would. And if you’re interested in maybe working with Donovan on some of this for your organization as well, please visit for college for Wow, these 15 minutes go so fast. Donovan, thank you so much for our conversation today. Thank you for introducing me to a new phrase. And also in the back of my mind, I was thinking the elimination of the other duties as assigned. I think maybe that would be <laugh>, one of the ways that we could solve this

Donovan Nichols (14:03):

Car. Oh, for sure. It, it’s 5% on a job description, but when you actually look at your other duties as assigned, it’s probably like 55% of your job description. So eliminating that. And then the other thing too is there are some universities that are going to a four day work week, and in trying that out and in Britain, they did a pilot study of four day work weeks, and they’ve noticed that people are actually, in some cases, more productive in that shorter amount of time and giving them more – balance. So I think there’s gonna be more research coming out showing how we can make work-life balance for all of those individuals that don’t necessarily think it’s possible.

Casey Cornelius (14:40):

I love it. Thank you for sharing your information today, Donovan, your perspective on this. Folks, if you like this podcast, please make sure to do the things that you’re supposed to do with podcasts, like share, subscribe, comment, and we look forward to the next opportunity to get to chat with you. Thank you so much.

Donovan Nichols (14:52):

Live balanced everyone.

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