Works council presents workload plan: ‘If this continues, people are going to collapse’
The workload at universities is so high that employees are collapsing. That was once again emphasized with a nationwide protest. Because additional financing will take a while, the Nijmegen Works Council is making a start with eleven measures that will reduce the workload in the short term.
‘The workload has never been this high. I am afraid that some people soon won’t be able to take it any longer’. Ezra Delahaije, Chairman of the Works Council (WC), sounds serious, and not without reason. Delahaije believes that things must change at the university as soon as possible. ‘Many things have been arranged the same way for years, but that’s simply become untenable in this corona period. I see many employees with burnout-related complaints. If this continues, people will really start to collapse.’
His concerns are widely shared in the university community. Yesterday, for example, there were campaigns in various places in the country for a ‘Normal Academic Standard’. According to the activists, more money must be made available from the government in order to guarantee the quality of education and research. In Nijmegen, a puppet of Erasmus was carried to the Spiegelwaal and water was symbolically put to its lips.
Delahaije is happy that the problem is being taken so seriously but confirms that solutions must not only come from The Hague, but certainly also from Radboud University itself. To make this concrete, the Works Council and the University Student Council presented a joint workload plan last February with eleven points (see box).
Some of them have since been put into effect, Delahaije says. ‘Various departments have already informed employees that more money has been made available that can be claimed. Some contracts and investigations are also assessed differently or investigation deadlines are being extended.’
But that is only the beginning if it is up to the Works Council chairman. ‘There is still a lot to be gained – especially in terms of students being delegated to supporting tasks. We have a large number of student assistants and support staff who hardly have any work due to the corona crisis. On the other hand, there are employees who hardly get to work due to their domestic tasks. It may sound crazy, but why not deploy those staff who are currently out of work in the household to support another employee?’
How to handle the workload (according to the Works Council)
- Give priority to the primary tasks (education and research) and postpone secondary tasks (new initiatives and projects).
- Give the Executive Board, dean or director the ultimate responsibility for the choices that are now being made in terms of priorities within any given workload. This removes from the individual employee the moral responsibility that actually leads to a lot of work stress.
- Have all departments discuss with the staff their priority list of all tasks performed within the department and make it public in line with a university priority list.
- Adjust the performance standards for academics by, for example, extending the term and also taking into account actual research time related to the personal situation as a result of corona. At the Nijmegen School of Management, for example, academics are given an extra year for their research output. Identify and standardize similar ‘best practices’.
- Create clarity about regulations for employees with uncertainty about income security and job security and make (evaluation) criteria transparent. This applies specifically to PhD students and employees with a tenure track. It seems a nice gesture to offer a permanent contract now to the employees in the last two years of the tenure track and employees with temporary appointments but with the prospect of a permanent appointment.
- Focus immediately on a structural expansion of the system of standard hours and make extra efforts to recruit additional teaching staff.
- Make (partial) corona leave possible for employees who really need it (e.g. employees with small children) and prevent it from becoming a mere hypothetical reality. Consider using the campus employment office to support employees domestically (including home education for children and babysitters).
- Temporarily stop teaching evaluations for teachers (teacher evaluations, semester evaluations and annual evaluations) and broaden the support for student evaluations (e.g. automation or extra use of support staff for the preparation required).
- Consider having the introduction activities, study compatibility check and informational activities take place in a sharply reduced form.Implement the adapted information in such a way that the time investment for teachers is as minimal as possible.
- In view of the workload of the support staff, temporarily abolish the BSA. This measure is also aimed at preventing or reducing the highest workload for teachers during the summer.
- Ensure even better cooperation between academic staff and support staff in the provision of services and put together pools of student assistants that can be deployed via secretaries based on knowledge / skills. A nice side effect is that less time has to be invested in training and that student assistants can be deployed in a targeted manner.