Employee monitor 2017: Educational achievements should be appreciated more

College Wetenschapsfilosofie in de Van Lier en Egginkzaal in het Bestuursgebouw

The results of the survey, which was conducted in March among all Utrecht University employees, have been made public.  In total, 58.7 per cent of UU’s 7069 employees filled out the survey – a little more than in 2013, when employees were last asked about their opinions on working at the UU.

In general, there seems to be a slight increase in happiness about working at the UU – going from a 7.4 in 2013 to a 7.7 now. Employees are , just like in 2013, least content about pressure and opportunities for growth and development.

The preliminary results have been shared with the faculty boards and service departments. The Executive Board, together with the deans and directors, wants to present a plan of action before this summer.

Educational appreciation gets a failing grade
For the first time, employees were asked about the appreciation of educational and research achievements. The results show employees think that research results are acknowledged enough, but education remains underappreciated – a sentiment that has lived among UU teachers for years. The results for the faculties show a grade of 4.8 for appreciation of educational achievements. The university’s service departments are generally more positive on the topic and award it a 6.4.

Marjan Oudeman, president of the Executive Board, agrees the grade is disappointing. “The Executive Board values education just as much as research. It’s definitely not being neglected.”

The past few years, more options for career development have been presented, and more training options have become available. These measures apparently haven’t managed to make teachers feel more appreciated, Oudeman says. “We need to find ways to better express that appreciation, make it more visible. We’ve already been talking about how to reach this goal.”

Oudeman does not want to speculate about the correlation between appreciation for education and the perceived pressure and stress at work. “There definitely is appreciation for education, even if it’s not perceived as such. The question is how to express it better than we’re doing now.”

Workload pressure needs to be tackled
Changing something about workload and stress levels is the most urgent issue for the Executive Board. “It’s also the hardest,” Oudeman says.

Over 33 per cent of the survey’s respondents claimed their workload is too high; the 2013 survey had a similar outcome. The result is also more or less the same at the other universities the survey was conducted. It’s a little different when it comes to those who perceive the workload as being much too high – this year 8.9 per cent of respondents say this is the case, whereas only 8.1 per cent said so in 2013. Benchmarking shows the number is only 6.2 per cent at other universities.

The workload seems to be heavier at the faculties than at the university service departments, especially among associate professors.  At the faculties, 35.5 per cent perceive the workload as too high, and 9.9 per cent as much too high. The statement ‘I have enough time to adequately perform all my duties’ received a grade of 5.4 in the survey.

“It’s a very adamant and complex issue,” Oudeman says. “Perceived workload is subjective and dependent on, for instance, changes within the organization. The results are different from faculty to faculty. A good way to deal with this issue is to really take action on a local level.”

The heavy workload is felt most strongly at the faculty of Humanities, followed by University College Utrecht. The third place goes to the faculty of Social Sciences, which is remarkable. This faculty is the only one that yearly invests 800.000 euros to counter workload-related stress and is the first to appoint more teachers to relieve employees’ stress levels.

Oudeman: “The past few years, the university has put a lot of energy into alleviating employees’ workload pressure, for instance by subsidizing an initiative called Small-Scale Intensive Education. The methods are different for every faculty and service department, because the issues may differ from place to place. Now it seems that our methods have not been as successful as we’d hoped, or perhaps we need more time to notice the effects of our efforts. The question is whether we took the right measures, and what else we can do. That‘s something we need to get clear soon, and then we need to prioritize.”

One way to get a better overview of workload pressure, is to give it more attention during employees’ performance appraisals, Oudeman thinks. “It would be great if there was a culture where employees can tell their superiors that they have too many tasks to perform, too much work to do, that they may need help. You’d get a much better idea of where we need more people or where we need to learn to prioritize.”

Room for improvement in development opportunities
The university needs to put extra effort into providing career development opportunities for its employees, Oudeman says.  Employees give their opportunities a grade of 5.7, which, at least, is higher than the 5.3 result of the 2013 survey.

The UU has since tried to improve on this aspect, but it hasn’t yet led to a passing grade. “It’s especially bad among scientific staff, where we’ve improved a lot with regards to career development opportunities.  Clearly, these improvements aren’t visible enough. As an organization, we need to work on that.”

UU staff: involved, enthusiastic, loyal
The grades awarded to enthusiasm (7.4) and involvement (7.1) make Oudeman “feel good”. “I wasn’t exactly surprised by these results, but it was definitely a confirmation of what I’ve been seeing and feeling, which is that this university is filled with involved, enthusiastic and loyal employees. It’s incredibly valuable to have so many people who are committed to this institution. It’s an important asset.”

She realizes the monitor is not omniscient. “It’s a way of gauging, capturing a moment in time. But it’s important in that it lets us know where we’re at, what we need to improve, and what we need to talk about.”

The survey’s response was 58.7 per cent, a little more than in 2013, but president Oudeman hopes it will one day be 80 per cent. “That’s a goal for next time.”

The Executive Board doesn’t know their employees’ concerns
The survey also contained questions about the Executive Board. The statement ‘the board follows a clear vision in leading the university’ just barely got a passing grade, but respondents seem to agree the Executive Board isn’t aware of what’s going on with their employees – that topic’s graded a 4.5, which, at least, is slightly better than 2013’s 4.1.

“I’m not going to fight this. This is perceived as such, and as a board, we need to reflect on how this happens, and what we can do about it. Our visibility within the university is a theme we’re very aware of. It’s difficult sometimes, what with how the university is organized in faculties and departments, but I don’t want to hide behind that.”

The best way for board members to know what’s happening, is to simply go around and listen everywhere, Oudeman says. “That was already the goal when we drafted the new Strategic Plan. We listened and listened to employees’ ideas about the university’s future. The rector magnificus held open office hours with students, to find out what matters to them. The monitor’s results show we need to work harder on this. I feel it’s a challenge to change this for the better.”