Labour Authority: UT, tackle problems in the workplace at the source

| Rense Kuipers

The UT needs to take a closer look at the causes of problems with work pressure and undesirable behaviour in the workplace. This is what the Netherlands Labour Authority writes in an elaboration of a recently published report on psychosocial workload.

Photo by: Enith Vlooswijk

Stress, overwork, and misconduct are still normal in science. Universities are not doing enough about it, according to the Netherlands Labour Authority in a report published last month. More than 9,000 academic staff members from Dutch universities completed the corresponding questionnaire from the Labour Inspectorate – 691 of whom were UT employees, only from the academic staff.

While the earlier report was still generic in nature, the UT recently received the findings for its own institution from the Labour Authority. These are largely in line with the national findings. At the UT, too, the Authority insists on systematically identifying the underlying causes of work pressure and undesirable behaviour.

38 percent of employees exhausted

The survey results show that there is work pressure and undesirable behaviour at the UT. 70 percent of respondents indicated that they had experienced stress due to work pressure ‘more than occasionally’ in the past two years (compared to 74 percent nationally). The Authority also looked at the term 'exhaustion'. 38 percent of respondents suffer from a high or very high level of exhaustion (compared to 36 percent nationally). According to the Authority, with such high levels, it is 'very likely that these employees are at increased risk of burnout'.

'Too many tasks' (59 percent), 'pressure to perform' (53 percent), peak load (47 percent), lack of research time (45 percent) and bureaucracy (37 percent) are the main causes of work pressure.

Undesirable behaviour

The Labour Authority also looked at misconduct, in the form of bullying, aggression and violence, sexual harassment, discrimination and 'scientifically related undesirable behaviour'. The respondents were asked whether they had experienced these forms themselves in the past two years or had seen them happening to colleagues. In the case of bullying, 37 percent experienced it themselves, compared to 49 percent for another colleague. Discrimination was also relatively common – 32 percent experienced by people themselves and 39 percent by others. Similar statistics can be seen for scientifically related undesirable behaviour: 28 percent experienced by themselves and 40 percent seen by a colleague.

Aggression and violence (10 versus 13 percent) and sexual harassment (9 versus 15 percent) were relatively lower. In addition, it is noticeable that undesirable behaviour occurs relatively less at the UT than the average at all Dutch universities. Yet it does happen.

What the Labour Authority mainly gives the UT 'homework' in is tackling problems at the source. According to the Authority, there is a lack of thorough problem analyses to identify and tackle the underlying causes of work pressure and other forms of psychosocial workload.

'No insight into causes'

Very concretely, the Authority writes the following about this: 'The employee satisfaction survey shows that work pressure is related to 'role overload' (measured as taking vacation days to complete the work) and dissatisfaction with HRM. However, why employees take vacation days to complete work and why employees are dissatisfied with HRM remains unclear. It is therefore not clear whether the university has insight into the causes of work pressure that lie within its own possibilities of influencing.'

The Authority draws the same conclusion about how the UT deals with undesirable behaviour. 'At the moment, there is no insight into the causes of undesirable behaviour. As a result, it is also not clear how measures against undesirable behaviour are in line with the causes of undesirable behaviour', writes the Labour Authority.

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