Well-being survey: UT staff dedicated, work pressure remains

| Rense Kuipers

With an average score of over 7.5, UT staff were very satisfied with their university last year. However, this satisfaction is offset by hard figures that indicate considerable work pressure, the 2021 staff well-being report reveals.

Last year, the UT conducted a well-being survey among its staff in three separate ‘waves’: in spring, summer and autumn. 1,406 UT employees completed the survey. The figures from the autumn survey – when the university was in a bit of a milder lockdown – were particularly positive. The level of satisfaction with the UT as an employer was higher compared to the two previous surveys (7.7 versus 7.5). Other indicators also showed a more positive picture, observed head researcher Jan de Leede. ‘Even the work pressure was a few per cent lower compared to the figures of the spring and summer. But no trend could be discerned there yet.’

Persistent

De Leede sees that the majority of UT staff is committed and enthusiastic. ‘Around 78 per cent. That’s really high and it corresponds with the image of the average academic. However, that satisfaction is offset by strain: work overload or pressure. And you see that about half of the employees struggle with that. This combination of dedication and work overload is a persistent finding.’

There are several figures in the report that reflect this work overload. The academic staff experience the highest work pressure, followed by managers. Approximately 10 per cent of UT employees work more than 10 hours overtime per week on a structural basis. 28 per cent of the employees take days off to get their work done. And according to the most recent figures, 6 per cent call in sick to get their work done. De Leede’s conclusion: ‘These are all indicators that suggest that staff experience high pressure of work. These problems occur at all Dutch universities, and they are just as prevalent here.’

A UT-wide approach to work pressure

That is why he argues in the report that the employees’ well-being must come first when creating or changing policies. ‘Precisely because it’s such a persistent problem’, De Leede explains. ‘Every manager will have someone in their group who experiences this - if not the manager themselves. That’s why I think it’s not enough to put all the responsibility on the manager, or on the individual. A time management course will probably help a little, but it won’t solve the entire problem.’

De Leede thinks that work pressure demands a UT-wide approach. ‘You can start small, of course. For example, we see that employees feel they have to spend a lot of time on meetings and administrative work. So one option would be to choose not to have any meetings before 10 o’clock on Monday morning, because now, people have to spend their Sunday evenings preparing for them. But this needs to be open for discussion. A serious approach to work pressure and the integration of staff well-being in your policy does not have to come at the expense of the university’s ambitions.’

Tailored work solutions

De Leede feels that an integrated approach is less suitable for one of the other focus points in the report, namely working from home. ‘Over time, people’s preferences have actually become more diverse. Roughly speaking, there is a fairly large group that wants to work from home a lot – about 20 to 30 per cent – but on the other hand, there is a group of predominantly younger employees who mainly want to work on campus. Since younger employees should have the opportunity to learn, you want to avoid a situation in which they are on campus while older employees work from home.’

That is why we need tailored solutions, says De Leede. ‘A generic policy for hybrid working is bound to disappoint a lot of people. It depends on so many factors – and sometimes even on momentary instances – that you have no choice but to opt for tailored solutions and coordination with the other users of the building. This is another subject that needs to be opened up to discussion.’

Undesirable behaviour

The well-being survey also covers a current social topic: undesirable behaviour. ‘We included questions about this in each of the waves. In 2019, we had also included this in the survey’, says De Leede. ‘What is striking is that the numbers have not increased, except in one area: discrimination. That number rose from 48 to 59 employees who said they had experienced this themselves.’

The differences are not large and the numbers are low, De Leede observes. ‘But of course, any occurrence of undesirable behaviour is one too many. The UT would do well to continue working on and investing in a safe culture. Make sure you are aware of it, take it seriously and act on it too. In the end, it’s all about behaviour, and your own awareness also plays a part. And – once again – make it a topic of discussion.’