Adjuncts Matter: A Qualitative Study of Adjuncts' Job Satisfaction

Telvis M. Rich
Capella University, University of Pittsburgh


The extrinsic factors that influence the workplace experiences of 27 adjuncts teaching online were explored. In this qualitative research study, the adjuncts' lived experiences were examined through in-depth interviews. The results indicated three emergent factors which influenced the participants' workplace experiences, and the alternative methods adjuncts employed to ensure their professional well-being. The emergent extrinsic factors are 1) Professional Inclusion, 2) Work Schedule, and 3) Resources. In this article, the rich and thick descriptions of the results, implications for practice, and limitations are presented.


In American society, higher education institutions are the pioneers in refining and preparing people for career opportunities through training and educational methods. Colleges prepare graduates to engage in service in ways that benefit individuals and communities (Gappa, Austin, & Trice, 2007, p. 3). Specifically, adjuncts lead the majority of student preparation in colleges. Seventy percent of all faculty teaching in public, community, and technical colleges are adjuncts (Wallin, 2005, p. 373). The American Association of University Professors reported that nearly 90% of for-profit colleges’ faculty members are adjuncts (Yeoman, 2011). Moreover, there is a significant trend in higher education to increase the dependence on adjunct faculty, to include social work programs.

With a surge in college enrollment and the emergence of online social work programs, adjunct faculty members are more visible in college classrooms more than ever before. Yet, adjuncts are often marginalized and strangers in their respective colleges (Gappa et al., 2007). While adjuncts address multi-course needs by teaching at the most undesired times (weekends, nights, and early morning hours), they are not regarded as integral members of the academic community (Gappa et al., 2007; Wallin, 2005). Adjuncts are viewed as secondary entities in higher education. Additionally, adjuncts are often excluded from decision-making and faculty meetings (Umbach, 2007).

While adjuncts are the growing faculty majority, they are often absent in faculty leadership teams and lack the support needed to foster their workplace success (Gappa et al., 2007). Usually, adjunct faculty members do not receive benefits, lack job security, and not afforded the essential resources in their respective colleges. Moreover, research studies indicate that adjuncts have been absent on decision-making committees, underappreciated, and marginalized in higher education institutions (Lyons, 2007; Wallin, 2005). Further, many adjunct faculty members feel disconnected from the institution (Lyons, 2007).

Significance of the Study

In the researcher's review of quantitative and qualitative studies concerning adjunct faculty (Baron-Nixon, 2007; Bergmann, 2011; Cashwell, 2009; Cunningham, 2010; Diener, 1985; Dolan, 2011; Edwards & Shepherd, 2007; Fouche, 2006; Gappa et al., 2007; Gappa & Leslie, 1993; Green, 2007; Hoyt, Howell, Glines, Johnson, Spackman, Thompson, & Rudd, 2008; Kayworth & Leidner, 2001; Leslie & Gappa, 2002; Lyons, 2007; Scott, 2010; Truell, Price, & Joyner, 1998; Wallin, 2005), there are limited studies that center on the extrinsic factors that influence job satisfaction. Therefore, this study addresses a gap in the current literature concerning adjunct faculty.

Literature Review 

Tuckman (1978) conducted the first study on adjuncts’ workplace characteristics and roles. The findings from Tuckman’s (1978) study with 3,763 adjunct faculty led to the first adjunct faculty related taxonomy. According to Tuckman (1978), persons working as adjuncts range from semi-retired, those with no interest in full-time appointments, to part-mooners, and those teaching part-time while working other jobs outside of academe. In this study, researcher defines adjunct as any professional teaching courses at a higher education institution on a part-time, temporary, at-will or contingency basis. 

In 2004, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center of Education Statistics reported that 67% of new faculty members hired at public two-year colleges were adjuncts (p. 93). Increasingly, adjuncts are replacing aging and retiring full-time faculty and teaching the majority of college introductory courses in the United States traditional colleges and universities (Gappa et al., 2007).

In social work education, a growing number of traditional and for profit institutions are hiring adjuncts to teach in their hybrid and online undergraduate and graduate programs. In addition, it is likely the number of adjuncts will continue to soar based on the rising student enrollment (Yeoman, 2011), and increasing number of social work programs launching online courses and degree programs. Wallin (2005) reported the use of adjuncts can be attributed to rising the demands for flexible course offering, and college administrators’ decision to fill faculty positions at the lowest financial cost. To this end, adjuncts are essential assets to the financial well-being and academic success of institutions.

Adjuncts in Social Work Education

In social work education, there is a growing number of adjunct faculty teaching in traditional, hybrid, and online programs. With a growing number of programs offering a portion or all social work courses online, many teaching opportunities are being filled by this new faculty majority. There are nearly fifty accredited social work online and distance education programs (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], n.d.). With pressure from senior administrators to increase enrollments with limited hiring budget dollars, more social work programs are developing online and hybrid courses. In 2016, the first fully online institution, Walden University, earned CSWE accreditation. In the same year, another online university, Capella University, received CSWE candidacy status for its Master of Social Work program. With a growing number of universities developing online programs, the need for adjuncts will undoubtedly increase. Therefore, understanding the factors that impact the well-being of adjuncts is critical in social work education.

Challenges Facing Adjuncts

Historically, the lack of basic resources has been a common challenge for adjuncts (Wallin, 2004; Witt, Wattenbarger, Gollattscheck, & Suppiger, 1994). In a national study conducted by the American Federation of Teachers Higher Education (2010), 50% of faculty reported they were unhappy with work conditions in their respected institutions. Additionally, one-third of those that taught humanities reported an overall dissatisfaction with their work environment (American Federation of Teachers in Higher Education, 2010).

In a 2010 University of Michigan study of 343 adjunct faculty members, participants shared they perceived their work as temporary (Bergmann, 2011). To address the adverse perception of the workplace, Bergmann (2011) recommended a four-tier protocol to foster job satisfaction among adjuncts. The recommendations ranged from establishing a sense of belonging, inclusion in mentoring and workshops, advanced notification of future course offerings as a professional courtesy to adjuncts, and the creation of interconnectivity among full time and adjunct faculty.

Job Satisfaction

There are workplace mediators and triggers which lead to job satisfaction. The three key mediators are motivational factors, demographics, and environmental conditions (Hagedorn, 2000, p. 1). The first mediator encompasses achievement, recognition, the work itself, responsibility, and salary. The demographics factors include gender, ethnicity, institutional type, and academic discipline. The environmental conditions comprised collegial relationships, student quality or relationships, administration, and institutional climate or culture (p. 2).

Antony & Valadez (2002) conducted a study on job satisfaction among 31,354 adjunct faculty members at 974 institutions utilizing the 1993 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty (NSOPF). The study centered on fifteen items that pertained to job satisfaction. Utilizing an exploratory factor analysis, the researchers grouped the items into three dimensions: Satisfaction with Personal Autonomy, Satisfaction with Students, and Satisfaction with Demands and Rewards. The researcher found adjuncts were drastically more satisfied with their jobs than full-time faculty (p. 12).

In a more recent study, Gappa, Austin, & Trice (2007) found adjuncts are often excluded in faculty engagement opportunities, and thus, feel invisible in the academy. To address these adverse workplace experiences, it was recommended that institutions employ good communication, positive interactions, academic freedom, and a supportive climate for adjuncts.

Theoretical Framework

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory was the guiding conceptual framework used in this study. The researcher sought to explore the factors that influence job dissatisfaction. The Two-Factor Theory was chosen based on its extensive use to examine the workplace experiences of employees (Riley 2012). The theory was developed by Herzberg and his associates to explore the workplace factors that contributed to employees’ job satisfaction and dissatisfaction (Riley, 2012). According to Herzberg, et al.  (1993), the factors that lead to job dissatisfaction are known as the extrinsic factors. The factors that lead to job satisfaction are known as the motivation or intrinsic factors. Job satisfaction and job dissatisfaction are not opposites, thus must be addressed separately to ensure an engaged, happy and productive employee.

 Herzberg et al. (1993) posited that when extrinsic factors are present in the workplace and properly addressed, an employee experiences no dissatisfaction. Conversely, if not addressed, an employee can experience job dissatisfaction, which could influence workplace production. Therefore, extrinsic factors do not lead to job satisfaction; rather these factors, when addressed by administrators can only ensure there is no employee job dissatisfaction. Examples of extrinsic factors include company policies and administration, supervision, interpersonal relations, status, working conditions, and job security.


This qualitative study was conducted to explore the extrinsic factors that influence the adjuncts’ workplace experiences. A phenomenological approach was adopted to explore the lived experiences of the adjuncts. This approach aims to establish what an experience means for participants and provides the opportunity for the researcher to gain comprehensive descriptions of the experience (Moustakas, 1994, p.13).

The phenomenological approach was useful to the researcher as it provided first-person reports from the participants’ lived experiences.  In doing so, a sense of newness was embraced to elicit rich and descriptive data (Creswell, 2013, p. 329).

Two research questions guided the study.

What are the work experiences of adjuncts?
What extrinsic factors influence the work experiences of adjuncts?


The researcher of this current study has worked as an adjunct in distance education and on-campus social work and general education programs for nearly twenty years. In this time, the challenges and rewards of being an adjunct have been experienced. A few of the challenges include, but are not limited to, teaching courses where the syllabi were received a one day before the start of the term, working with little support from program directors, and receiving limited training on the online learning management system prior to teaching an online course. The rewards include working flexible hours, working with diverse students from across the world in online courses, and sharing my professional work experiences in an effort to inspire undergraduate students to seek their master-level degrees. With limited research concerning the extrinsic factors that influence adjuncts teaching in online and hybrid programs, the researcher sought to the address the gap in the literature and learn more about this growing faculty majority through a phenomenological research approach.

With vast adjunct teaching experience, it was imperative that the researcher apply reflexivity to ensure biases, values, and past experiences were explicitly reviewed, prior to conducting the study (Moustakas, 1994). Additionally, the researcher employed phenomenological reduction, also known as epoche, to set aside preconceived ideas about the workplace experiences of adjuncts. In doing so, the researcher was able to explore and hear the lived experiences of this study’s participants as a new phenomenon (p. 85). The researcher’s personal goal was to give voice to the lived experiences of adjuncts for the ultimate prize of having administrators promote inclusion and engagement among online and on-campus faculty.


After receiving Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval in August 2012, the researcher commenced to recruiting participants for the current study. A criterion-based sampling protocol was employed to identify and recruit participants. A recruitment letter was emailed to five institutions’ program directors and deans. The institutions were located in the southeastern United States and employed adjuncts to teach social work, human services, business, and general education online courses. By October 2012, forty-two adjuncts’ names and email addresses were received. Three program directors submitted the names. After combining the list of names in a secure file, the researcher emailed the informed consent form to each of the forty-two adjuncts. The informed consent form outlined the purpose of the study, and the criteria for participation. Of the forty-two informed consent forms that were emailed, thirty-one (73.8%) forms were returned. Three (7.14%) adjuncts responded and shared they were unavailable to participate. The remaining adjuncts (n=8, 19%), did not respond.

Twenty-seven adjuncts comprised this study due to obtaining data saturation. The study’s demographics include 12 (44%) men and 15 (56%) women with an average of 7 years of online teaching experience as an adjunct. Further, 15 (56%) of the adjuncts self-identified as Black, 7 (25.9%) as White, 3 (11%) as Hispanic, and 2 (7.4%) as Asian. In this study, 19 (70.3%) participants taught social work or human services courses.

The following criteria was used to determine eligibility: 1. Currently teaching online as an adjunct, 2. Have one year of teaching experience as an online adjunct, 3. Willing to participate in a research study, 4. Willing to participate in two 90-minute telephone interviews where each would be recorded.

Data Collection
To ensure the extrinsic factors were examined in this study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 27 adjuncts. In-depth and open-ended questions were presented to each adjunct to provide the opportunity engage in dialogue to explore the lived experiences of this study’s participants. Open-ended questions allow for the understanding of the historical and cultural setting of the participants’ experiences (Creswell, 2013, p. 25). Further, was the instrument use to record audio exchanged each interview.

The initial interview was approximately ninety minutes in length and held was held a time that was determined by the participants. This approach promoted informal communication and engagement where adjuncts could share their experiences freely (Kvale, 1996). With some predetermined questions, there was structure with the freedom to pose probing questions to gain clarity on the workplace experiences and influences. For example, adjuncts were asked, “What are experiences as an adjunct? What are the challenges in your work as an adjunct?” Further, the adjunct faculty members were encouraged to elaborate on their responses without interruption (Seidman, 2006). The interviews were designed to address the adjuncts’ professional backgrounds, workplace experiences, and reflections on the extrinsic factors that influence their workplace experiences. During the interviews, the researcher recorded the non-verbal communication (i.e. pauses between words), audible gestures (i.e. “Oh my…”, “wow”) for comparative analysis.

In the second interview, transcripts from the initial interview were shared with each adjunct. Further, each adjunct was asked to elaborate on each response, as desired, and to offer updates to any response. Three (11%) adjuncts added additional content to their initial responses. Each participant (n=27, 100%) agreed their responses were accurately captured in the initial interview. The second interview was approximately sixty-minutes in length. Pseudonyms were assigned to protect the adjuncts and to ensure confidentiality. Interviews were conducted from November 2012-March 2013.

Data Analysis

Moustakas (1994) highly structured approach was used to analysis the data. A general inductive approach draws on uncovering the emergent themes from the raw data acquired in qualitative research (Thomas, 2003). The researcher transcribed each of the 54 interviews (2 per participant) to ensure a closeness with the data and understanding of the phenomenon (Siedman, 2006). Next, each interview was uploaded in MAXQDA for analysis and coding. Each transcript was reviewed line by line three times over several days to understand the phenomenon. In the second and third review, the research engaged in memoing. In this process, the researcher was immersed in the details to get a sense of the interviews as a whole (Creswell, 2013), while writing notes in the margins of the transcript in MAXQDA. The data was further analyzed through the development of significant statements about how the participants experienced the phenomenon (Moustakas, 1994). Color coding was used to ensure any repeated statements were not included in this stage of the analysis. Next, statements were grouped into meaning units using Saldana’s (2009) first and second cycle coding methods.

Coding Data

In Vivo coding was used to code the actual words and phrases of each participant. This method of coding permitted the extraction of indigenous terms common to the participant. Additionally, the MAXQDA color-coding system was used to readily identify the participants’ words and phrases for continued ease of use and to maintain organization in the coding process. Next, axial coding was used to transcribe texts that were central to the purpose of this study. This included the adjuncts’ responses to workplace challenges. The codes were derived from each adjunct’s actual words or phrases expressed in the interview. Axial coding was appropriately used to reduce the number of initial codes.

The pattern coding method was employed to aid in uncovering the emergent themes, their meaning, and how each aligned with the two research questions. It was important to examine how one category related to another in the data. This coding method brought together the collected data and allowed the meaningful units of analysis to emerge. According to Miles and Huberman (1994), pattern coding is simply a means of grouping the sum of data into smaller sets (p. 69). In doing so, this allowed for the commonalities to arise and the establishment of the emergent themes. This rigorous and systematic reading and coding of the transcripts allowed the major themes to emerge (Thomas, 2003). After reviewing the interrelationships of the codes and the redundancy of information regarding the experiences of the 27 adjuncts, data saturation was achieved.


To ensure this study’s trustworthiness, the researcher employed recommendations offered by Creswell (2013) and Lincoln and Guba (1985). First, the researcher provided his clarifying bias in this study under the reflexivity header. According to Creswell (2013), researchers should express their position, relationship and assumption concerning the phenomenon as a means of research study creditability (p.251). Next, member checking was employed to ensure this study’s creditability. Each participant was emailed their respected transcript for review. Member checking afforded each adjunct the opportunity to review the transcribed interview for accuracy. Additionally, each adjunct was asked to share any updates or deletions to the transcribed data to ensure its accuracy. Each participant responded via email confirming the data was accurate. Member checking is the most critical technique for establishing creditability (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Additionally, the researcher employed rich and thick descriptions of the participants lived experiences of the phenomenon in the results section of this study. The thick descriptions offer interconnected details and allow the readers to determine if results can be transferred to other settings (Creswell, 2013, p.352).


The adjuncts in this study were open and candid in sharing their workplace experiences. During the individual interviews, each shared the extrinsic factors with detailed supporting examples. While some appeared more comfortable in elaborating initially on their experiences, each shared more insight when prompted to expound on their workplace challenges and the factors that influence these challenges during the second interview.

Three extrinsic factors emerged from the data analysis that influenced the adjuncts’ workplace experiences. The extrinsic factors are 1) Professional Inclusion, 2) Flexible Work Schedule, and 3) Resources. The frequency of each extrinsic factor was overwhelming. In this study, 100% of the adjuncts identified professional inclusion and flexible work schedule as the leading workplace factors. In addition, 89% of the adjuncts in this study indicated the lack of resources as another prominent extrinsic factor.

Professional Inclusion

In this study, professional inclusion is defined as the adjuncts’ experiences towards being integrated into their respective department as integral members of the faculty. One adjunct shared, “I am simply excluded from faculty events and provided very limited support in my work as an adjunct.”  Other participants expressed that they were not included in graduation planning, faculty meetings, and important student advisement discussions. Eugene, an African American male with ten years of adjunct teaching experience, added, “Adjuncts are not considered for vacant full-time positions.”  Susan, a Hispanic woman that taught at several colleges simultaneously, offered that adjuncts are not invited to sit with full-time faculty and administrators during graduation ceremonies. She said, “We are ignored.”  Others expressed similar matters related to faculty meetings and faculty inclusion. Sharon, a social work adjunct instructor stated:

When there is a faculty meeting, I try to attend. I have noticed that the agenda is always focused on the full-time faculty and administrators. I feel like an intruder at the meetings. I recall someone asking why was I attending the meetings. But I continue to show up because I want to know what is going on at my college.

Allan, a social work doctoral student that teaches at night, expressed that he felt disconnected from his department. He also discussed that the administrators at his college “treat full-time staff and faculty much differently” than the adjuncts. He indicated that full-time faculty discuss their challenges in the faculty meetings and receive feedback. However, adjuncts do not have the same opportunities for inclusion.

While the aforementioned workplace challenges were openly shared during the interviews, each adjunct confirmed that they had not shared their concerns with a program director, faculty led, supervisor or college administrator.

Work Schedule

The work schedule, an extrinsic factor in this study, is defined as the adjuncts’ self-governing of their work schedules. More specifically, this includes the ability to work mornings, evenings, and/or weekend hours while pursuing other professional and personal endeavors. Also, this theme includes the adjuncts’ decision to teach as many classes as they desire each term. This was the most discussed workplace factor in the study. The workplace flexibility offered adjuncts the time to explore other work opportunities, spend more time with family, and pursue personal endeavors.

The adjuncts discussed very positive experiences surrounding this extrinsic workplace factor. Jamie, an adjunct instructor with two years of teaching experience, shared that he enjoyed the flexible teaching schedule. According to Jamie, his teaching schedule “provides time to pursue business ventures” outside of academia. Stephany, an adjunct who indicated that she enjoyed her mornings off, offered that working afternoons worked well with her personal schedule as a single mom. She added, “I can take my girls to school and log into my online class in the afternoons.” Holland, an African American male online adjunct, indicated that his flexible online teaching schedule offered time to teach at multiple colleges [online and on campus] “to make ends meet.”   

Each adjunct shared that each academic term was so vastly different with the course offerings, and they appreciated the variation. The adjunct faculty members in this study expressed they had worked online, days, afternoons, nights, and weekends, based on when they preferred to teach and when classes were offered. One adjunct exclaimed, “My flexible online teaching schedule is what I enjoy the most about being an adjunct instructor!”


Resources, another set of extrinsic factors in this study, are defined as college-provided essential materials for adjuncts to perform their workplace duties. Barbara, an adjunct instructor with twenty-one years of teaching experience, shared there was an ongoing shortage of required materials at her college. She shared that online faculty often begin a new term without their electronic book. In these instances, adjuncts must find reading content on their own to ensure students are engaged. Jason, a new adjunct faculty member with less than two years of teaching experience, added that adjuncts in his department are not afforded an office space, nor an access code for the department copier. He went on to share, “our online adjuncts do not have access to the textbook publishers’ instructor resources and the university library.” Other adjuncts in this study indicated that they did not have an institution-issued email address and used their personal email to communication with students in their online classes.

Although adjuncts discussed the lack of resources, each shared they found the means to acquire the materials needed to perform their duties as adjunct faculty members. For example, adjuncts in this study expressed that they have implemented virtual office hours, used personal Skype accounts, Zoom technology, and text messaging to meet with students. Adjuncts teaching hybrid courses have used college hallway space, storage areas and parking lot space as a meeting venues with their students. Tidus, a bi-lingual social work adjunct faculty member with four years of online teaching experience, expressed that he had used Google Chat to meet with students because his institution did not provide an Adobe Connect room for adjuncts’ use. The majority of the adjuncts (60%) in this study discussed their need for a virtual office support. One adjunct in this study recalled having to create a GoToMeeting account to ensure she could meet with the student concerning a classroom assignment. Shawntelle, an adjunct that taught policy and social welfare at two colleges, indicated that adjuncts at her college “created a buddy system” where resources were shared among the adjuncts via the Google Docs platform.  Donnell, a male adjunct, added that adjuncts teaching online share articles and other resources via social media to support each other.

In this study, there was a sense of teamwork discussed by each adjunct to ensure the required resources were obtained. Where there were no solutions, the adjuncts in this study found alternatives in their respective institutions.  


Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory was the guiding theoretical framework for this study. Through the inductive analysis of the data, the results confirmed many components of this theory and indicated areas for further exploration.

Extrinsic Factors      

Extrinsic factors, as described by Herzberg, are extrinsic workplace influences that, if not met could lead to workplace dissatisfaction (Herzberg, et al., 1993). In this study, three extrinsic factors emerged. These include professional inclusion, work schedule, and resources.

The first extrinsic factor, professional inclusion, could be characterized as a hygiene factor since it related to the job context. The job context is the workplace factor that surrounds the job itself. In this study, there was a lack of professional inclusion. While Herzberg and his associates did not discuss professional inclusion in their original description of extrinsic factors, they did discuss elements of supervision and support, which are most often presented in the context of one-on-one relationships in the workplace. In this study, the adjuncts emphasized how they were not integrated and supported in their respective colleges.  

Another extrinsic factor in this study was the work schedule. This factor, which can also be categorized as a hygiene factor, centers on the job itself. Each adjunct referred to the flexible work schedule as a major contributor to their desire to work as an adjunct. While Herzberg et al. (1993) findings indicated an extrinsic factor does not contribute to employee job satisfaction, in this current study, the adjuncts expressed overwhelming job satisfaction based on their work schedule and the flexibility it offered. Thus, the findings surrounding this extrinsic factor disputes Herzberg and his associates’ assertion surrounding the influence of extrinsic factors.

The third finding centers on the resources in the workplace. This finding most closely aligned with Herzberg’s extrinsic factor known as the working conditions. According to Herzberg et al. (1993), the adequacy of the facilities, the office space, and the tools to perform the work are key components of the working conditions. While this study’s results indicated that there was a lack of resources, such as the unavailability of office space, electronic textbooks, email for adjuncts teaching online, and online instructional resources, the adjuncts found alternative and collaborative methods to address this extrinsic factor. Thus, the findings with regard to Herzberg’s initial assumptions, contradicts the notion that only the organization can address working conditions. In this study, the adjuncts indicated that they worked collaboratively with adjuncts through social media, email, and educational technology mediums (i.e. Google Chat and Zoom) to meet the resource needs without the aid of their college and department administrators. By doing so, the extrinsic factor, resources, was addressed, and led to no dissatisfaction.


The first limitation was the study was comprised of only adjuncts living in the southeastern United States. While this study provided results that may be present in other institutions, the results cannot be generalized to all adjunct faculty members working in the United States. There are institutions that employ adjuncts in fully online social work programs and hybrid programs where the results may indicate different extrinsic factors. Therefore, adjuncts teaching and living in those settings may have different work experiences.

Another limitation of this study is the data collection method. In-depth semi-structured interviews was the primary data collection method. Documentation review of faculty handbooks, institutional websites, and professional development training modules could offer additional insight on the support, engagement, and professional inclusion of adjuncts.

To promote adjunct job satisfaction, the researcher offers several recommendations.

Recommendation for Social Work Administrators

Sweeney (2009) shared a good start to embracing adjuncts would be valuing their input, providing fair treatment, honoring their contributions, and asking their opinions. The undervalued adjunct faculty is the largest faculty group in traditional and career colleges (Yeoman, 2011). This faculty majority lack job security and viable status in the academic culture (Gappa et al., 2007; Wallin, 2004); therefore, engagement is paramount to reducing adjunct job dissatisfaction.

The results in this study indicated that adjuncts were not embraced as integral members of the faculty. One adjunct questioned if his administrator knew his name. The results indicated that adjuncts desired to have this extrinsic factor met in the workplace; however, the adjuncts’ administrators did not address this need.

Administrators could consider involving adjuncts in the shared governance of the college. For example, adjuncts teaching online can attend faculty meetings via cellular telephone. In addition, administrators can record the faculty meeting and share the recording with adjuncts via email or upload the recording on a secure intranet site for adjuncts review. To further engage adjuncts, the administrators can add adjunct related topics to the agenda, and request adjuncts communicate their needs during the meetings.

Additionally, administrators can request that a full-time and adjuncts teaching online work collaboratively and share ideas as colleagues, when teaching similar courses. In doing so, the department will promote inclusion and establish a community of practice among all faculty.

Classroom Materials. In this current study, adjuncts indicated that they found alternatives to obtaining resources, as they were not readily available at their institutions. While adjuncts found solutions to this initial workplace challenge to perform their duties, each expressed that supplies were limited at the colleges. Administrators, based on the results in this study, were not informed of the adjuncts needs. To best address the lack of resources as an extrinsic workplace factor, there are several recommendations that I offer.

First, social work administrators should consider a web-based medium where faculty can access the available resources whether on campus, in their car, or at home. The college could provide an intranet site that all instructors could access to preview a list of available resources. When a resource is needed, the adjunct teaching online should have a contact name and email address to share their request for resources. Further, ensuring equal access to all faculty resources is paramount for successful implementation of this recommendation.

To promote inclusion, administrators should provide adjuncts with access to technology mediums used by full-time faculty. For example, adjuncts teaching online will benefit from an institution-issued conference line number, email account, and virtual meeting technology (i.e. Adobe Connect account). By offering these resources, the university promotes inclusion and shows there is a vested interest in the well-being of its adjuncts.

Acknowledgement. While fellow adjuncts appear to have recognized the work of the adjuncts in this study, there is a need for administrators to promote adjunct recognition. The recommendation is for adjuncts to openly express their needs and workplace successes with administrators, full-time faculty, and staff. For administrators, it may be helpful to be aware of the adjuncts needs and successes that may warrant recognition. The creation of an adjunct monthly email or blog where adjuncts can share their accomplishments (attendance at conferences or non-academic work accomplishments) could promote recognition and celebration among all faculty.

Administrators should consider working a flexible schedule one or two days a week, so they observe the contributions adjuncts bring to the online classroom. During this time, the administrator can schedule meetings with the adjuncts to discuss how the course is progressing, and the well-being of the adjunct as a valued member of the faculty. Also, the administrators can offer virtual office times to meet with adjuncts teaching online. The administrators should use a webcam and audio to promote engagement during the virtual meetings. If the administrator’s institution does not offer such technology, the administrator can establish a Skype or Zoom account to ensure there is a sense of connectivity during the virtual exchange. The telephone is not recommended as the sole tool for conducting the meeting.  This time may yield important information that the administrators would otherwise not receive in their traditional workday or by telephone alone.

Virtual Adjunct Council. In addition to the communication recommendations, administrators can create an adjunct council. This hybrid council would meet quarterly to discuss one success and one challenge presented by adjuncts. Each adjunct would discuss their workplace challenges and success among their peers, and the group would decide which would be on their agenda for discussion. The meeting would occur online, and afford adjuncts the opportunity to attend from any location using their computer or smart devices. The goal is to have a short meeting that allows the administrators to know the most pressing needs and success impacting the adjunct faculty.

The aforementioned recommendations to administrators could create a partnership in social work and human services programs where adjuncts can feel interconnected with their colleagues, leadership, students, and the academic culture by giving them an active voice. For the administrators, they can become knowledgeable about the talents and services adjuncts bring to their institutions beyond their teaching skills. For adjuncts, a sense of belonging will be perceived as administrators acknowledge the work and well-being of adjuncts, openly exhibit professional inclusion, and consistently provide essential resources to support their adjuncts. 


The adjuncts in this study indicated they were enthusiastic and desired to be valued as integral members in their respective institutions. The results indicated that the adjuncts were innovators. They collaborated to ensure the essential classroom resources were present to perform their duties, and they supported and acknowledged other adjunct’s work. The 27 adjuncts were aware of the strengths and challenges in their workplaces. They made a concerted effort to forgo becoming dissatisfied with their work and embraced a teamwork mantra in their respective institutions to ensure their work efforts remained effective and professional. One adjunct chose to create an online student support group, while another volunteered time to tutor students from other disciplines than he taught.

The adjuncts in this study did not rely on their administrators to change their leadership methods toward providing support, classroom, and virtual office equipment, and acknowledgement of their work. Rather, the adjuncts in this study made no excuses. Each found alternatives to the extrinsic factors that could have adversely influenced their job satisfaction.

Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory clearly offers that extrinsic factors can only lead to dissatisfaction when not address in the workplace. However, the results in this study presents a new opportunity concerning workplace factors. For example, adjuncts in this study embraced the work schedule factor as a motivating contributor leading to their job satisfaction, instead of viewing it as an extrinsic factor. To this end, the belief that an extrinsic factor can not influence job satisfaction is challenged by the results in this study. Administrators would be wise to embrace their adjuncts by examining both the extrinsic and intrinsic factors that influence the well-being of adjuncts.

Adjunct faculty members are the new faculty majority and will continue to provide professional and instructional services in traditional and online courses. They are here to stay and worthy of inclusion, engagement and support.



American Federation of Teachers Higher Education.  (2010). A national survey of part- time/adjunct faculty. American Academic, 2(3).

Antony, J., & Valadez, J. (2002). Exploring the satisfaction of part-time college faculty in the United States. Review of Higher Education, 26(1), 41-56.
Baron-Nixon, L. (2007). Connecting non full-time faculty to institutional mission. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Bergmann, D. (2011). A study of adjunct faculty (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. (UMI No. 3468611)

Cashwell, A. (2009). Factors affecting part-time faculty job satisfaction in Colorado Community College System (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. (UMI No. 3400990)

Council on Social Work Education. (n.d.). Online and Distance Education. Retrieved from
Creswell, J. (2013). Qualitative inquiry & research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Cunningham, E. (2010). Contingent faculty at extended campuses: Framework for leaders. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. (UMI: 3488921)
Diener, T. (1985). Job satisfaction and college faculty in two predominately black institutions. Journal of Negro Education, 54(4), 558­–565.

Dolan, V. (2011). The isolation of online adjunct faculty and its impact on their performance. International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(2), 62–77.

Edwards, A. P., & Shepherd, G. J. (2007). An investigation of the relationship between implicit personal theories of communication and community behavior. Communication Studies, 58(4), 359-375.

Fouche, I. (2006). A Multi-island situation without the ccean: Tutors' perceptions about working in isolation from colleagues. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 7(2), 1-21.

Gappa, J., Austin, A., & Trice, A. (2007). Rethinking faculty work: Higher education’s strategic imperative. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gappa, J., & Leslie, D. (1993). The invisible faculty. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Green, D. W. (2007). Adjunct faculty and the continuing quest for quality. New Directions for Community Colleges, 2007(140), 29-39. doi:

Hagedorn, L. S. (2000). Conceptualizing faculty job satisfaction: components, theories, and outcomes. New Directions for Institutional Research 27(1), 5–20.

Herzberg, F., Mausner, B., Synderman, B.B. (1993). Motivation to work. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishing.

Hoyt, J., Howell, S., Glines, L., Johnson, C., Spackman, J., Thompson, C., & Rudd, C. (2008). Assessing part-time faculty job satisfaction in continuing higher education: Implications for the profession. Journal of Continuing Higher Education, 56(1), 27–38.

Kayworth, T., & Leidner, D. (2001). Leadership effectiveness in global virtual teams. Journal of Management Information Systems, 18(3), 7–40.

Kvale, S. (1996). Interviews: An introduction to qualitative research interviewing. London, UK: Sage.

Leslie, D., & Gappa, J. (2002). Part-time faculty: Competent and committed. New Directions for Community Colleges, 118, 59–67.

Lincoln, S., & Guba, E. (1985). Naturalistic inquiry. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Lyons, R. (2007). Best practices for supporting adjunct faculty. Bolton, MA: Anker.

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenological Research Methods. Thousand Oak, CA: Sage.Riley, J. (2012, September, 23). Motivation in theory- Herzberg Two-Factor Theory. Retrieved from

Riley, J. (2012, September, 23). Motivation in theory- Herzberg Two-Factor Theory. Retrieved from

Saldana, J. (2009). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Scott, K. (2010). Managing community college adjuncts in the 21st Century (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. (UMI No. 3427253)

Siedman, I. (2006). Interviewing as Qualitative Research (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Sweeny, I. (2009). If colleges valued students, they’d value adjuncts. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Thomas, D. (2006). A general inductive approach for analyzing qualitative evaluation data. American Journal of Evaluation, 27(1), 237–246.

Thomas, D. (2003). A general inductive approach for qualitative data analysis. Auckland, NZ: School of Population Health, Working Paper University of Auckland.

Truell, A., Price, W., Joyner, R. (1998). Job satisfaction amount community college occupational-technical faculty. Community College Journal of Research and Practices, 22(2), 111-122.

Tuckman, B. (1978). Who is the part-time in academe? AAUP Bulletin, 64, 305–351.

Umbach, P. (2007). How effective are they? Exploring the impact of contingent faculty on undergraduate education. The Review of Higher Education, 30(2), 91–123.

U.S. Department of Education, NCES (2010). Enrollment in postsecondary institutions: Fall 2008 graduation rates, 2002 & 2005 cohorts; and financial statistics, fiscal year 2008.
Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Wallin, D. (2005). Adjunct faculty in community colleges. Boston, MA: Anker Publishing.

Witt, A., Wattenbarger, J., Gollattscheck, J., & Suppiger, J. (1994). America’s community Colleges. Washington, DC: Community College Press.

Yeoman, B. (2011). The high price of for-profit colleges. Academe, 97(3), 1-6. Retrieved from

Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, Volume XIX, Number 3, Fall 2016
University of West Georgia, Distance Education Center
Back to the Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration Contents