Your request for a raise will be negotiated on Skype

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Due to the risk of infection, this spring’s salary negotiations have been moved from physical conference rooms to digital ones. What will that mean for the negotiations? We spoke with three union reps who are currently negotiating requests for salary increases on behalf of their colleagues.

2020.04.24 | Marie Groth Andersen

Graphics: Astrid Reitzel

The annual salary negotiations are well underway at AU. Normally, most of these negotiations take place between employee representatives and managers seated on either side of a conference table. But this is no normal year. Because while the university is still physically shut down, salary negotiations must take place online or by phone. 

Helle Colding Seiersen is an international coordinator and joint union representative for employees under the National Union of Commercial and Clerical Employees (HK). She only managed to close one ‘normal’ salary negotiation before the university shut down on 13 March. Since then, she’s done six negotiations on Skype – with more scheduled for the coming weeks. 

Straight to the chase

“The one big difference about negotiating on Skype is that there isn’t any of the small talk we normally have right after we shake hands and greet each other, and before the negotiations really get underway. It’s more straight to the chase. I miss that small talk, especially because this time I’m negotiating with a number of managers I don’t know, and it’s a good way to find out what kind of person I’m sitting across from, “ Seiersen said. 

But so far she hasn’t felt that the situation has had any negative effects on the results of the negotiations. 

“But something is lost – it’s a different thing to sit in front of a computer. And I don’t feel that I’m quite as convincing on screen as when I meet with people face-to-face.”

Right now, Skype negotiations are a necessity, but Seiersen has no desire to use Skype for negotiations in future if she can avoid it. And she also hopes that restrictions on meeting face-to-face will have been eased by the time some of the bigger salary negotiations in her diary are scheduled to take place.  

It’s also an option to postpone negotiations to a later date if both management and the union rep feel that this would be a good idea.

On the same wavelength

Anders Branth Pedersen, senior scientist at the Department of Environmental Science, has a more positive impression of the Skype negotiations: they’ve gone really well, he said. He is union rep for employees under the Danish Association of Lawyers and Economists (DJØF) and Academic Agronomists (JA) at the Department of Environmental Science and the Danish Centre for Environment and Energy in Roskilde. 

“And one reason for this is that we have a relationship of trust and a positive climate for negotiation in relation to our current management team. I already know the managers I’ll be negotiating with well and we’re on the same wavelength. But I understand the union reps who think negotiating online with people they’ve never met before is an uphill battle,” said Pedersen, who had just completed a salary negotiation on Skype.

He also explained that his department has begun conducting more salary negotiations collectively, so that four unions are represented at the negotiations he participates in: in addition to DJØF and JA, the Danish Association of Master and PhDs and the Engineering Society (IDA). 

“It’s worked fine; we were able to see the same documents on the screen at the same time. And it’s actually efficient as well. We reached an agreement pretty fast. But in this respect I think the fact that we’re used to holding online meetings is a factor, among other reasons because we’re involved in a lot of international projects,” Pedersen explained. 

The problem’s not the platform – it’s the money

Ida Juul is an associate professor at the Danish School of Education (DPU) and joint union rep at DPU and Arts. She agrees that this year’s salary negotiations have proceeded more or less the way they always do. Apart from the fact that the sound disappeared for a few seconds.

“The problem wasn’t so much that the negotiations were on Skype, but rather that there wasn’t enough money available to approve all the relevant requests for raises. We had three times as many applicants as we had funding for,” she said.

Four people were present at the negotiations: another union rep in addition to Ida Juul, department head Claus Holm and an HR supporter. 

“We started with a little small talk and then took turns talking about our priorities, the way we always do. We had been sent good materials before the negotiations, and it went faster and easier than expected,” she said, adding:

“Even though you’re not sitting together, you get a little glimpse of the others’ private lives because you get to see a little corner of their homes.” 

Juul has also participated in another online negotiation in her capacity as union rep during the university shutdown – and it went fine as well.

Translated by Lenore Messick

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