Staff Survey: Management failure and employee (dis)empowerment

The staff survey results were truly awful. Management decisions are to blame. It is time for change. For an effective university, employees need to be respected and valued. Your voice should shape your work.

The staff survey results were truly awful. Management decisions are to blame. It is time for change. For an effective university, employees need to be respected and valued. Your voice should shape your work.

Bullying

Almost one quarter of staff (23%) have been bullied in the last twelve months. One third witnessed bullying in the same period. In the 2016 survey, 10% of staff said they had experienced bullying. In 2014 it was 6%. What explains the increase?

Management likes to characterise bullying as individuals not getting along, or an odd bad egg (so long as they are not managers). For such a big increase in three years, staff must have become nastier and/or Queen Mary recruited a lot of bullies. These explanations are simply not plausible.

The cause of wide-spread bulling is structural. Management decisions have created the conditions where bullying is licensed in order to meet management targets.

Inclusivity

Management’s new marketing messaging and Strategy 2030 present Queen Mary as “[t]he most inclusive university of its kind, anywhere”. The staff survey results put lie to this. Half of all staff feel they cannot bring their full selves to work. That is not inclusivity.

Again, the most likely explanation is structural. Management decisions strip us of the physical and mental space and energy to work well together.

Increased workloads and increased surveillance erase the time for collegiate working and listening to each other. Colleagues are under too much pressure for them to learn to work with new and different people, so cliques emerge, excluding others.

Less control over your work makes it harder to let your character and life experiences offer new perspectives on how things are done. That is the very opposite of inclusivity.

Wellbeing

Almost two-thirds of staff say Queen Mary does not have effective policies to support them when they experience pressure and stress. Employers have a legal duty to protect employees from stress at work by conducting arisk assessment and acting on it. Irrespective of the legal requirements, this is a moral failure to staff, and the students they are expected to suport.

Staff Wellbeing in Higher Education concluded wellbeing is maximised when people feel valued, well-managed, have good workplace collegiality and can act with agency and autonomy.

Pay, Pensions and Redundancies

Queen Mary has too many colleagues employed precariously. Many are forced to sacrifice pension savings because they need the 8% (rising to 10.4%) individual contribution to survive.

Because of real-terms pay cuts and threats to pensions, full-time employees also feel vulnerable. Brutal restructuring and redundancies practices stifle open discussion. An inclusive university is not one where only the independently wealthy can afford to speak their minds.

Threats to job security make it harder for colleagues to stand up against bullying they experience and see, and make it harder to provide alternative viewpoints in discussions, research and teaching.

University World Rankings

All of the above are management decisions that where the toll is paid by individuals. Queen Mary as an institution also pays its price, as the rankings show.

The principal was pleased to announce that Queen Mary went up 10 places in the last year, to 110. Maybe decreased inclusivity, increased bulling, real-pay cuts and threats to your pension increase your productivity?

Probably not. In 2015 and 2016 Queen Mary was ranked higher (107 and 98, respectively). This year’s rank is only 4 places above the average rank for the previous five years.

In short, bullying, increased workloads, decreased inclusivity, pay cuts and increased pension contribution have done nothing to improve Queen Mary’s relative performance on the metrics management chooses. Almost certainly they will undermine future performance.

Solutions

The problem is clear. Now for the solutions.

  • Management should immediately conduct a stress risk assessment for the university and act on its findings.
  • Relentless centralisation and bureaucratisation needs to be reversed.
  • Decisions need to be made collectively by colleagues (academic, professional services, and estates) close to the point of actual education and research.
  • Management’s superficial consultation exercises need to be jettisoned and replaced with shared decision-making and shared responsibility.
  • Negotiations with trade unions need to be expanded and not curtailed (more on this in another email).

Ruling by fear and fiat from a bunker in the Queens Building is no way to run a university.

Toward a Better Balance

It is clear that management will not reverse its direction based on sound argument and the evidence of failure.

Key issues above are the subject of the industrial dispute between the unions and management. UCU has common cause with the other unions on campus to deal with gender pay inequality, workload and overall pay. Redressing these will go some way to fixing some of the common national structural issues.

This is why you should vote and vote YES in the pay ballot.

As a UCU member, you face increased costs to your pension, exacerbated by years of below inflation pay adjustments. Employee contribution increases will make it more likely that Queen Mary’s precariously employed colleagues will be forced to opt-out in larger numbers, forced to choose between eating and rent now and eating and rent in old age. Or, more likely, they will be forced to look for work outside the sector.

This is why you should vote and vote YES in the pensions ballot.

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