What we learned from the employee survey

Time for action

Each UG faculty and service department has calculated their individual results from the university-wide employee survey. The UK compared these results. What are the most common problems? Where do the departments differ from each other? And what’s next?
By Thereza Langeler / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen / Animation by René Lapoutre

1. UG staff is overworked…

Twelve of the survey questions specifically mention stress and energy levels. The scores tell a clear story: The UG staff works too hard. Period.

‘What’s striking to me is that support staff logs a lot of overtime as well’, says Bart Beijer, chair of the University Council’s Personnel faction. ‘You’d expect the scientists to keep working on their research at night, but not others.’

But apparently all UG employees regularly do work outside their scheduled office hours. 39 percent of employees work in their free time, and for 16.8 percent, overtime is a rule rather than an exception. The statement: ‘The amount of work I do is feasible within my contractual hours’, received a grade of 4.8.

Work/life balance gets an overall grade of 6, but the grade is much lower for individual faculties. At the faculties of theology and religious studies (TRS), behavioural and social sciences (BSS), science and engineering (FSE), and arts, employees grade their work/life balance below a 5.5.

The high work stress at the arts faculty was already well-publicised. As such, the low grade was no surprise to the board, says managing director Wouter Heinen. ‘We are familiar with the problems, and decreasing work stress is a key point in our policy.’

But seeing the grade in black and white wasn’t easy, nor were the discussions the faculty board had with various departments because of the results. ‘People would get emotional. It’s clearly very important to them’, says Heinen. During one of these meetings, a staff member wondered out loud if the people working at the arts faculty were working for the same employer as other faculties. ‘The difference with the rest of the UG is distressing.’

2. …but they love their jobs!

When it comes to questions such as ‘I enjoy my work’, ‘I am proud of the work I do’, and ‘I can handle my work well’, the results are far from distressing. Employees scored these areas with sevens and eights, sometimes even higher. That includes the beleaguered arts faculty.

‘It was a great positive note in the survey’, says Heinen. ‘People are so passionate and enthusiastic. They really love their work, there just happens to be too much of it.’

‘Work pressure doesn’t have to be a burden’, says Maarten Goldberg, who represents the FNV in the UG’s employee organisation. ‘I truly believe there are plenty of people who fully enjoy working forty- or fifty-hour weeks. But I do think that we as an organisation shouldn’t encourage this.’

Something that is enjoyable can turn on a dime ‘That’s why managers should protect their employees and stop them from taking on extra tasks they don’t have time for.’

3. Growing pains

There are other issues that received overall low scores. The statement ‘There are sufficient advancement opportunities at the UG’ gets a university-wide score of 5. The philosophy, TRS, spatial sciences and arts faculties all scored lower than that. The arts faculty is the worst off: the advancement opportunities are scored at a 3.6.

Wouter Heinen understands why people are unhappy. ‘We have a work force that has quite a few university lecturers and not as many assistant professors and professors.’ The lecturers are having a hard time making promotion. Unfortunately, this can’t really be helped: ‘We can’t just promote a bunch of people to assistant professor or professor willy-nilly. We would never be able to afford it.’

So what’s the situation in other departments? ‘It’s mainly because so many positions are temporary’, says Maarten Goldberg. Many faculties have temporary funds that won’t allow them to hire people on a permanent basis, because what if the funds run out in a year, or two?

4. The smaller the better

It looks like anyone who wants a position at the UG where they can feel truly appreciated, have pride in their work, and work in a great team should work at one of the smaller faculties. Spatial sciences, TRS, and philosophy each score relatively high in these areas, with philosophy as a clear winner.

‘I can certainly understand why there would be a connection between the size of a faculty and how satisfied its employees are’, says Bart Beijer. ‘Communication is simpler at a small faculty, the work is often more varied, and people’s individual efforts are more noticeable.’ His own faculty, law, is fairly small when it comes to personnel, which means the scores are relatively high.

For that matter, employees assign higher grades to matters close to them, such as their direct manager, their colleagues, and lower grades to the UG as a whole. So it looks like the staff is in fact happy with their immediate work environment in spite of the larger, university-wide issues. However, the numbers can also be interpreted differently: the less something concerns people directly, the easier it is to complain about it. But people might have a harder time complaining about people they have to work with every day.

5. What’s next?

It’s clear that something needs to be done. But what?

The arts faculty board is doggedly working on improvements. On Monday, they met with the Board of Directors about their plans for the next few years, says Wouter Heinen. He told them about the quiet desperation of the employee who asked if the arts faculty worked for the same employer as other faculties. ‘I think the Board should know how people feel.’

He’s hopeful that better times are ahead for his faculty. ‘For the first time in years, we were able to come up with a solid long-term budget. Hopefully, this means we’ll have the funds available next year to alleviate the work stress around here.’

The other faculties and service departments also have their work cut out for them. ‘This survey is really only the beginning’, says Frank Nienhuis, policy adviser at the UG’s HR department, which studied the employee survey extensively. ‘Now we have to figure out what we want to work on, and how to approach it.’

This week, each team will discuss their individual results. ‘We’ve asked the departments to come up with various issues before 1 April’, says Nienhuis. ‘Two things that are going well and that they’d like to stay that way; two things they feel they can take care of internally; and two issues that need solving through external means.’

After that, they’ll look at the next level: the faculties. They, too, will analyse what they can work on themselves and which issues need to be put to the higher-ups: the Board of Directors. ‘This means we’ll have a full overview of the issues at the university this spring. We’ll know what’s going well and where measures need to be taken.’

Nienhuis knows it’s a tight schedule. But they have no time to lose. ‘We can’t have this survey ending up in a drawer somewhere and not leading to any actions being taken.’


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