Survey of academics finds widespread feelings of stress and overwork

 Survey of academics finds widespread feelings of stress and overwork

Conducted a survey to assess the university staff’s satisfaction with their senior managers. We had more than 5,500 responses and the results highlight many of the issues academics are currently facing.

In the main, academics expressed their discontentment at how in recent years, more and more metrics – measures of performance, productivity and quality – have been introduced in UK universities, and how these are then used as supposed evidence for the need to change academic practices. Academics in our survey felt this had generated an audit culture where many things are measured, but few things are valued. 

Our survey also asked university staff for their thoughts on how senior management actions impact students, university values, performance, work pressure, and the wellbeing and treatment of staff. We used this data to produce a national league table of senior management teams. It showed a mean satisfaction score across UK higher education institutions of 11%. The highest-ranking institution, the University of Oxford, scored 37%, while three institutions scored 0%. Such consistently low scores across the sector suggest that many teaching and research staff are unhappy and have lost confidence in the way their institutions are being run.

Job dissatisfaction

As well as collecting data to construct the league table, we offered participants the opportunity to provide comments on their experiences. We collected and analyzed more than 2,400 written comments and a number of major themes emerged.

The comments highlighted how staff felt they had an excessive workload and a lack of voice. Academics also highlighted a perceived lack of senior management accountability and priority given to what were seen as vanity projects, such as new buildings or international campuses outside the UK. Senior management was repeatedly described as “distant”, “uncaring” and even “inhumane”. A large number of academics also reported that the actions of senior managers were having a negative effect on their, and their colleagues’, mental health. 

Research culture taking a toll

The report found that 78% of researchers think that high levels of competition have created unkind and aggressive conditions. It also found that 61% of researchers have witnessed bullying or harassment and 43% have experienced it themselves. Just 37% said they felt comfortable speaking up, with many doubting appropriate action would be taken. And 57% of researchers that responded said they had sought or wanted to seek, professional help for depression or anxiety. Senior managers of universities have a duty of care to their staff, but our results highlight how many academics working in universities feel this care is absent. This must be addressed urgently, particularly given that other research has found academics and students are reporting more mental health problems and that many academics feel overworked and isolated. This is important because, as centers of learning, universities set examples for the rest of society – and happy academics help to set the stage for happy students.

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