January 27, 2007

High stress levels in colleges and universities 'caused by management culture' - UK

High levels of stress are widespread amongst staff throughout further and higher education and staff widely believe that management - far from addressing the issue - are contributing to the problem.

The problem is revealed in results of a survey conducted on behalf of
UCU and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL). Around 5,000 staff in FE and HE in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received a questionnaire on workload and stress during September 2006. More than a thousand responses were received, providing the unions with a representative snapshot of current workplace pressures and recent trends.

The main sources of work related stress were heavily linked to demands for hitting targets and deadlines, long working hours, increased workloads and frequent changes of timetables or courses. Not being able to exert control over demands made - and being given responsibility without the authority to take decisions - also scored highly, as did feeling undervalued and lack of administrative support.

A massive 82% of respondents reported that their overall workloads had increased in the last three years. The same proportion felt that this had directly or indirectly increased stress levels.

Respondents were asked which factors had contributed to the increase in workload. (They could tick more than one box). Overall 88% indicated 'more administration' (83% in HE, 92% in FE) and 46% said 'having more students per lecturer' (in both HE and FE) were the key causes of increased work.

Long hours are common in both further and higher education. Of all respondents, 41% work an average of 46 hours or more per week during term time, with 19% working 51 or more hours. 23.5% of staff in colleges work 46-50 hours (22.1% in universities). 12.5% of college staff work 50+ hours a week, while this is normal for 24.4% of university staff.

An astonishing 82% said their institution had a management culture which 'actively contributed to stress' ( 87% in colleges, 80% in universities). 27% thought their management 'acknowledged the causes of stress' but only 15% thought their management 'sought to address the causes'. Managers in HE appear to be making a slightly better effort to tackle the problem (17.7% of universities, 11.6% of colleges).

Many respondents recorded pronounced symptoms of stress. The symptoms reported as most frequently occurring were poor sleep patterns (46%), exhaustion (39%) and anxiety (35%). However high percentages of HE and FE staff said they also sometimes experienced many other stress symptoms: 58% reported an inability to concentrate, 56% reported headaches and migraines and 54% reported erratic moods.

15% of respondents had taken leave due to work related stress, a third of these for over 2 weeks and in 39% of cases the respondents' GP said their illness was work-related.

High numbers of staff considered their stress was partly due to their powerlessness to control their work: 71% said they found it stressful or very stressful that they are given responsibility without the authority to take decisions, 69% cited their lack of participation in decision making.

Not surprisingly, 78% of respondents said that morale had worsened over the last 3 years. Despite this 32% said they would recommend their job as a career, but 45% said they would not. Asked where they might be in 5 years time, 25.4% of university staff expected promotion compared to only 17% in colleges. 32% of university staff expected to be retired. This was 38% in colleges - further evidence of an ageing workforce which may soon create staff shortages.

UCU head of equality and employment rights
Roger Kline said: 'Across the whole of post-16 education stress is now at epidemic levels. We have warned for a long time that something has to be done but this survey suggests things have deteriorated still further.

'Tackling the causes of stress - excessive workloads, a long hours culture, a lack of influence over their work, job insecurity, a bullying culture and burgeoning administration - is now the top priority for our union. It is bad for staff and damaging to students, learning and research.

We are now actively seeking legal test cases on excessive hours and against employer's breaching their duty of care to staff, to back up our local campaigns. As student staff ratios rise and bureaucracy rockets, it appears that only collective action and legal threats will serve as a wake up call.'

Dr Mary Bousted, ATL general secretary, said: 'We are surprised, but still horrified by the story this survey shows. Staff working in FE and HE should not be suffering harassment - 61% - or being bullied - 58% - at all, let alone in these large numbers. We are deeply concerned that so many of them feel undervalued - 72%. Staff can't work effectively in colleges which treat them badly - not only do the staff suffer but their students also suffer as a result and it's not good for the colleges in the long-run either.

'We can't allow these appalling conditions to continue unchallenged - it really is not good enough in the 21st century.
ATL urges members to report any instances of poor behaviour so they can be contested for the good of everyone working and studying in FE and HE.'

Help and advice about dealing with stress: The College and University Support Network (CUSN) is a support network which provides support by qualified professionals for FE/HE staff and their families. It includes a 24 hour helpline 08000 32 99 52

Press officer, Trevor Phillips
press@ucu.org.uk | Tel: 020 7520 1032 or 07773 796 882 (mob)
From: University and College Union


Anonymous said...

are these the results of the recent survey

which was supported by worklifebalancecentre.org

how does this compare with previous surveys?

If there is a need for case studies, there is also a need to ensure a well defined framework for the use of information from those case studies. I do not trust union rep's.

can I draw your attention to the fact that some universities are targeting academics for simply being on the "defendeing academic freedom jisc list" and for attending academic integrity courses held by institutions independent from the university. I have been recently asked about such an attendance by my manager, who was in the process of framing me for making comments, he failed though to state those incriminating comments.

uni's are using the safeguarding our interest argument to an extreme. "You are paid to do a job and you accepted that job", irrespective of the number of hours you spend to finish the job. overloading is compromising quality, but then one is blackmailed with the appraisal "it is coming soon" and "we want high quality work irrespective"

The outcome is irrespective of one's performance, one's destiny is still determined by a collection of subjective manipulative venegeful people.

Pierre-Joseph Proudhon said...

1) We have no idea of the UCU survey relates to http://www.24-7survey.co.uk/ or not. But it would be easy to find out by contacting: UCU Press officer, Trevor Phillips, press@ucu.org.uk | Tel: 020 7520 1032 or 07773 796 882 (mob)

In terms of workplace bullying, our union produces nice booklets, policies with no real bite when it comes to monitoring, interesting surveys that identify the core of the problem (management culture), BUT that is how far they go...

One can get this info from most anti-bullying charities.

One's performance often never comes into it. For many senior managers only the outcome matters. Targets, performance etc etc.

This climate, this atmosphere is very condusive to abuse and workplace bullying - but also to 'white collar' crime... And if somebody was to test the whistleblowing policy, more than likely they would loose their job...

Stuart said...

Perhaps the biggest problem of the anti-bullying policy is what to do when a complaint is upheld - have you ever heard of a complaint being upheld? My barrister said most employers would more readily admit to rape. So the policy is a political document that nobody dare implement because they cannot conceive of a fitting punishment.
But really it is an immature behaviour that is easily challenged - take the bullies aside, tell them to stop and if they don't comply then strip them of title, authority and responsibility. Prevention is the aim, not punishment - motive is harmless without opportunity. They probably did their old job better anyway, and were promoted to Bully.