Staff survey 2019
Basically, nothing really changed
After two years, people are still overworked
Many RUG employees work too much and too hard. They’re almost all working more than their contracted hours. Anyone who takes a vacation or gets ill should not count on their work being taken over during that time. The research-education balance gets a failing grade, as does the available research time.
Casper Albers, member of the personnel faction in the university council, is not surprised: ‘People are always telling us about this. The higher-ups have promised to do something about the work stress, but we haven’t seen that reflected in their policies, to be honest. We need a fundamental, structural change.’
Maarten Goldberg, FNV union consultant at the RUG, agrees. ‘There are too many things that are simply unacceptable.’ The problem, says Goldberg, is that people working in academic education are being judged by their research output. ‘But you can’t just leave your students out in the cold, and you also have to write articles. People’s work ethic is high’, he says.
You can’t leave your students out in the cold, and you also have to write articles
Just like last year, the arts faculty has the lowest scores when it comes to energy and stress. On the statement ‘the amount of work I have to do is feasible within my contractual hours’, the faculty scores a grade of 2.5. More than half the employees say they ‘regularly’ work outside their normal working hours.
The faculty board was not surprised by these results, says portfolio manager Wouter Heinen. ‘There is a lot to do in terms of education at the arts faculty. That’s because we have a lot of smaller programmes that require a relatively high number of lecturer hours to teach all the courses.’
The faculty also sees a lot of students who switch from other faculties, ‘and only bring with them one or two years of financing’. This means the faculty’s financial means are limited, resulting in high work stress.
Theology and religious studies are also having a hard time combining education and research. The best faculty to work at is Science and Engineering (FSE). It scored a grade of 7.4 on this statement.
But we love our colleagues
Nevertheless, people tend to have a pretty good relationship with their colleagues. All faculties graded statements on openness and whether or not problems could easily be discussed with colleagues quite well. The faculties of law and behavioural and social sciences and FSE even scored higher than 8.
‘People do appreciate each other for working so hard’, Albers says. ‘We sympathise with each other over the high work stress, that might create a bond.’
Most RUG employees are also happy with their direct supervisors, who scored an overall grade of 7.4. FSE has the best score on this subject: 8.6.
‘If anyone works hard, it’s the supervisors’, says Goldberg. ‘They set the example for people to follow.’ This can be both a curse and a blessing. ‘It does make people think that they have to work super hard as well. There is certainly a feeling of solidarity between people. But this also maintains the high work stress.’
The RUG organisation is less popular
People rate each other highly, but employees are less satisfied with the organisation that is the RUG. Few staff members feel appreciated by the RUG, giving it a grade of 5.7. The worst score of the lot, an average of 2.8, goes to research institute KVI-CART, which is currently being restructured. The much-plagued arts faculty also doesn’t have much love for the RUG: a grade of 3.8.
People feel connected to their faculty, not the university itself
‘The RUG organisation is further removed from people, less visible. That means that people have an easier time projecting negative feelings onto it’, explains Albers. ‘People do love the work they do, but they think it’s way too much.’ They feel the RUG organisation is responsible for this.
‘The RUG is more like an abstract concept to a lot of people’, Goldberg adds. ‘They’re more focused on their own department, their basis. People feel connected to their faculty, not the university itself.’
Increase in undesired behaviour
The increase in undesired behaviour is another interesting change. The number of people who experienced harassment has gone up by approximately 5 percent. This behaviour usually consists of verbal assault, bullying, and discrimination.
‘That’s obviously bad, but I am glad that people are reporting it more’, says Marjolein Renker, the RUG’s confidential adviser. She’s happy that people are comfortable talking about ‘what occupies their minds’. ‘We definitely have to do something about it, but we can’t do that until people tell us what’s going on.’
The RUG has also grown over the past year, which means there’s been an increase in internationals. ‘That comes with its own set of problems’, according to Renker. ‘The increase in discrimination could be correlated to this.’
Advancement is difficult
There are few opportunities for people who want a career at the RUG. All the faculties score insufficient in this area, which the RUG as a whole getting a grade of 5 and the Faculty of Arts scoring a dismal 2.8.
Frank Nienhuis, RUG policy adviser, has three possible explanations. ‘The support and managerial staff often want to advance vertically. They want to be promoted. But you can also advance horizontally.’ You could for example work in a different department.
Not all faculties have a tenure track and not everyone can advance
Nienhuis also says that PhDs and post-docs often only have temporary contracts and don’t feel like they have the potential to grow. Finally, academic employees are often focused on getting tenure and making professor. ‘But not all faculties have tenure tracks. Not everyone can advance.’
The arts faculty has no tenure track, for financial reasons, says Heinen. He thinks this is the main reason the faculty gets such low scores. Nienhuis says that employers should be reasonable and provide information about the opportunities. ‘A proper talk about what’s possible and what isn’t.’
How do we proceed?
Employees don’t feel like much has changed since the last staff survey in 2017. The statement ‘I feel that enough action is being taken in response to the previous survey’ has been scored with a 4.9. ‘The staff survey has proven to be a valuable catalyst for change over the past two years’, board president Jouke de Vries said earlier. ‘Now, it’s up to us to properly analyse the results and to take new action that will lead to a better work environment. We’re on our way, but we’re not there yet.’
Albers thinks the focus should be on measures to decrease work stress and improve opportunities for advancement. ‘I think the issue is mainly in our staff policies. All employees are forced to write a certain number of papers, year in, year out.’ He says this has to change.
‘We could start looking at performance on a team level. People who are good at writing papers could write a few extra, while gifted teachers take on extra courses.’
We’re on our way, but we’re not there yet
Arts scored slightly higher on all statements than the last time, but is still mostly below the RUG average. Heinen has noticed this as well. He says the faculty will invest in extra staff. ‘We’ll also continue to focus on integrity and social safety, where necessary by focused research and measures.’
A focus on individual growth could lead to more career opportunities, says Albers. ‘It doesn’t have to cost anything, and it’s easy to do.’ Employees will have the opportunity to explore their interests. ‘They’d sort of become students again and learn new things.’
The potential drawback to this is that the university’s ‘output’ could decrease. ‘We might publish only nine thousand articles a month instead of ten, which would see us go down in the rankings’, says Albers. ‘But’, he adds, ‘the RUG could also decide to choose this path in the name of being a good employer.’
Translation by Sarah van Steenderen