Breaking the silence? Exploring (the lack of) wellbeing in academia

  • Wed 11 May 22

    12:00 - 13:00

  • Online

    join this seminar

  • Event speaker

    Dr Marjana Johansson and Professor Sarah Robinson

  • Event type

    Lectures, talks and seminars
    Centre for Work, Organisation and Society (CWOS) Research Seminar Series

  • Event organiser

    Essex Business School

  • Contact details

    Dr Sophie Hales

In this seminar we ask whether employer-led well-being initiatives in academia are silencing mechanisms which render complaints difficult and mask detrimental structural conditions, all while purporting to offer a remedy to the mental health issues arising from increasing workloads.

Seminar abstract

Over a decade ago Rosalind Gill (2009) wrote about the hidden injuries of academia produced by the intensification and extensification of work, the individualized responsibilisation that underpins it, and the shame and guilt produced when the individual ‘fails’ to keep up. These experiences were commonplace, yet ‘remain[ed] largely secret and silenced in the public spaces of the academy’ (Gill, 2009: 229). Gill therefore called for a breaking of the collective silence in order to bring to light the hidden detrimental aspects of academic labour, which have real and lasting effects on lives and careers. Since then, a burgeoning literature on work in neoliberal academia has shed light on many of these processes, charting issues of work intensification, of navigating cultures of ‘excellence’ and performativity; and of living with cultures of bullying and terror. An increasing amount of work also details the resulting academic anxiety, insecurity and mental health issues. This literature shows that many of the secrets are no longer hidden.

With deteriorating working conditions there has been a simultaneous increase in discourses and interventions related to wellbeing. Alongside legally compliant support structures, universities have increasingly started to offer a range of voluntary wellbeing activities, recently further accelerated by COVID. Hence, there is an assumed increased openness towards disclosing how work affects body and mind, indicating a breaking of the silence. However, has it brought a language with which to articulate felt anxieties, provided a framework for observing and addressing physical and psychological experiences, and importantly offered a means for lessening feelings of guilt and failure? Or, does it contribute to legitimizing particular expressions of (a lack of) wellbeing while maintaining or producing other forms of silences under the guise of care? What might still be, in Gill’s (2009: 234) words ‘rendered difficult to speak of’, or indeed subjected to forms of silencing other than speech, for example through the internalization of wellbeing edicts? In this paper we explore if and how academic staff engage with employer-led wellbeing initiatives, what the meanings and practices associated with wellbeing are (including the perceived value of the concept itself), and the ways in which wellbeing is being ‘managed’, if at all. Ultimately, we ask whether employer-led initiatives are silencing mechanisms which render complaints difficult and mask detrimental structural conditions, all while purporting to offer a remedy.


How to join this seminar

This seminar is free to attend with no need to register in advance.

Join this seminar online on Wednesday 11 May 2022 at 12pm.


Speaker bios


Marjana Johansson

Marjana Johansson is a Senior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour at the University of Glasgow. Her research interests include gender, diversity and difference in organisations, organisational power and inequalities, and work and wellbeing in academia.Current and previous research includes examining gender and class in academia and in celebrity women CEOs’ autobiographies, intersectional analyses of work in academia and counselling, and linguistic diversity in organisations. Her work has been published in journals such asCulture and Organization, Gender, Work & Organization, Human Relations,andOrganization.


Sarah Robinson 

Sarah Robinson is Professor of Management and Organisation Studies at Adam Smith Business School, Glasgow University. She has worked at the Open University and Universities of Leicester and Lancaster where she also completed her PhD in Management Learning. Her interests include organisational and individual learning; issues of power, resistance and identity within organisations; socialisation, wellbeing and restoration the within professions, including a long running study (with A. Bristow and O. Ratle) on early career academics. She has recently co-edited a book on Bourdieu and Organisation Studies and is co-editing another on Doing Academic Careers differently. She is Editor-in-Chief of European Management Journal, Associate Editor of Management Learning and co-edited a Special Papers Series on Populism and Critical Management Studies for the journal Organization.

Related events