Greater number of worn out and stressed employees at Arts and BSS

As was the case with the WPA in 2012, Arts and BSS are the two faculties where employees experience the greatest problems with the psychological workplace environment. The new WPA shows that employees at the two faculties today have an increased level of well-being, but it also indicates that stress, overtime and lack of recognition are still issues at both faculties.

[Translate to English:] Dekanerne Thomas Pallesen og Johnny Laursen er enige om, at stresstallene for deres medarbejdere på henholdsvis BSS og Arts stadig er for høje. Fotos: Anders Trærup og Lars Kruse

The deans of Arts and BSS, Johnny Laursen and Thomas Pallesen, are pleased that the results of the new psychological WPA show that well-being among their employees is better in all areas than in 2012. But the employees at the two faculties are still those who experience the greatest problems with stress, overtime and a lack of recognition. The two deans acknowledge that there is still plenty of work to be done.

READ MORE: Rector: Our WPA is comprehensive - and that puts us under an obligation

Deans: Stress levels are too high

The figures for stress levels in the WPA from 2012 made for depressing reading, and even though the figures have improved, 35 per cent of employees at Arts still feel themselves to be exhausted. In addition, 38 per cent think their work takes so much of their time that it negatively affects their private life, and 17 per cent experience severe stress symptoms.

"These figures are too high and we need to work on this. As is the case at other faculties, we have a situation where not least the academic staff are part of a very competitive career path. This can play a role, as can the way in which we have organised our study programmes. That’s also something we will take a look at," says Dean Johnny Laursen. He emphasises that the faculty will await the local dialogue processes before reaching any final conclusions.

BSS also has a more pronounced problem with stressed employees than Health and ST. Here, 27 per cent say that they feel exhausted, 30 per cent say they feel that their work takes so much of their time and energy that it negatively affects their private life, while 14 per cent experience severe stress symptoms.

Dean Thomas Pallesen has the following comments about this:

"It’s not alright for people to have such severe stress symptoms that they affect their family life. On the other hand, we’re also aware that we have a workplace where people are very ambitious, and where many people are in non-permanent positions and want to secure a tenured position."

Here he is thinking of PhD students, postdocs and research assistants.

Discussions about what is needed

Based on this, Pallesen believes that it is important for local managers to take a discussion with the individual employees about what is required for them to be tenured – and in the case of associate professors, about how they can become professors.

"These can turn into very difficult discussions, but it’s important to discuss what’s required and whether that person has it in them. I imagine that more of these kind of discussions are needed out there on the ground, as it were," he adds.

The majority work more than they get paid for

At AU as a whole, 52 per cent of all employees answer that they work considerably more than the agreed number of hours. A comparison of the proportion of employees with overtime at the individual faculties shows that the figure is significantly higher at Arts and BSS than at Health and ST. At Health the proportion of employees is 50 per cent, at ST it is 57 percent, while it is 65 per cent at both Arts and BSS.
The majority of employees ascribe their overtime to not being able to complete their duties within the agreed working hours, not having anyone else to take over these duties, and to it being necessary for the sake of their careers.

“As I said, we have some very ambitious employees, which we’re in many ways happy about. But it can also be too much of a good thing, and the price that an employee can end up paying can also be too high," says Pallesen.

READ MORE: Rector: I find it very difficult to envisage a working week that does not vary above 37 hours in a university culture

No ban on overtime

The dean emphasises that the management are not the ones who require employees to work more than their agreed hours. But at the same time, he will not prohibit it:

"We can’t have a situation where we kill off ambition. Our business is to be among the very best, so you won’t hear me say that we’re going to go out and say to everyone that they must stop with this. However, it’s important that we create clarity for the employees about what’s required for them to realise their ambitions," he says.

Competitive environment

Johnny Laursen agrees that the university is a competitive environment, but that overtime is an issue that the subject environments and local management must address. He explains that Arts has spent time focusing on creating a better balance between tasks and responsibilities and the staff resources that the faculty has, among other things in connection with the faculty's recent review of the study programmes.

As an example of this he mentions that a working group has analysed the faculty's many different types of examinations and has arrived at some simplifications, which according to the dean may relieve both the administrative and academic staff in relation to their workload.

Employees lack recognition

The new WPA shows that employees at AU lack recognition of their work. This applies to the day-to-day management, but also to a high degree among colleagues. For AU as a whole, 72 per cent state that they experience day-to-day management which recognises the work of the employees, while 57 per cent reply in relation to their colleagues that they receive recognition for doing a good job.

When it comes to recognition, Arts is below average. At Arts, 65 per cent of employees experience day-to-day management that recognises their work, while 46 per cent feel that their colleagues do this.

Johnny Laursen is pleased to see that the employees feel that recognition from the management has increased since the last WPA. But he also thinks the figure can be even better. His answer to the question of how the management will do this is that:

"This is something we’re going to discuss once we’ve heard what lies behind these figures. In the near future all departments, sections and functional areas will hold meetings, so we can increase our understanding of these figures on the basis of what the employees say. I believe we’ll end up working with several things. We’ve intensified the number of employee meetings and meetings with the faculty liaison committees and the academic councils, and also the meetings at the departmental level. We need to consider whether we should increase these further. The same applies to the written communication."

At BSS, recognition from immediate superiors and colleagues is also below the average for AU as a whole. Here, 58 per cent find that management recognises the work performed by employees and 51 per cent find that they receive recognition for doing a good job from their colleagues.

Thomas Pallesen believes that acknowl

Spread the praise

edging that here is an area where we can improve is the first step on the path towards reversing the trend.

"There can be different ways of doing this and maybe not that much is required in reality. It can be something you do one-to-one or more broadly at the department. It may very well be that things need to be communicated to a wider circle when, for example, a research group has done something really impressive," he explains.

The next step in relation to the WPA process is the initiation of local discussions of the results and initiatives at the different departments on the basis of the results. Both Johnny Laursen and Thomas Pallesen emphasise that the follow-up will be a decentralised process, but both also agree that their task is to ensure that the departments and units put the specific action plans into practice.

Translated by Peter Lambourne.