‘We have to continue talking about a healthy work balance’
The 2015 and 2018 Personnel monitors show that maintaining a good work balance remains difficult for staff at the Faculty of Humanities. Lecturer and researcher Judith Naeff and holder of the operational management portfolio Suzy Sirks have joined the Work Balance Steering Committee to examine the multifaceted issue called work balance.
What is it that the Work balance Steering Committee does exactly?
Suzy Sirks: 'The Work balance Steering Committee was set up to think about this difficult issue and to come up with solutions. The steering committee consists of about ten colleagues, a mix of academic staff, support staff and board members.’
Judith Naeff: 'The committee’s aim is to provide tools for employees to look at possibilities to reduce their task load, within their tasks and team. Unfortunately, we can't immediately create a high number of new people, but we can make a start.'
Suzy, according to you, what are currently the biggest challenges when it comes to a healthy work balance?
Suzy: 'It would certainly help if we could finally get some recognition from the government for what we do and for the importance of the humanities. It is very difficult to maintain a high quality of research and education with scarce resources. But something else I notice, is that ambitions are very high. That we are adding ambitions for which we actually have no resources. We should not set our own bar too high. It is a multifaceted issue and a very complex one. We have to start thinking about the basics: what can we do and what do we want to do in order to create a better work balance?’
Judith, what challenges do you see as a lecturer and researcher, a risk group according to the Personnel monitor?
Judith: 'An important bottleneck among lecturers is the enormous loyalty towards students. Lecturers are reluctant to compromise at the expense of students, and this is understandable. But even if an individual lecturer is willing to compromise, they still face legal obstacles. You can't just cancel an exam, for example. And if students are added but there are no extra lecturers, the teaching load remains heavy. Moreover, many lecturers are on temporary contracts and this lack of social security also creates pressure. The problem has a lot of facets.’
‘The covid crisis has also created a lot of extra work pressure across the board. For people who have young children at home, or care for an ill family member, it has been very hard. We were often told: you’re allowed to put in a little less effort, but if you are then not told specifically how you can put in a little less effort, this offers too little support. This is something superiors really have to stand up for. It remains a complicated puzzle, but we have to continue talking about this.’
Does the solution for a healthy work balance come from politics or the university?
Judith: 'As far as I am concerned, both politics and the faculty need to do something. The faculty plays a part and the superiors and employees also play a part, but I won’t be satisfied if the ministry does not also offer more resources. A lack of resources to hire people is a big part of the issue. What the steering committee is hoping for, is that work balance will become an issue that we will be discussing regularly. We hope that it will become normal to discuss it with each other: we have six meetings planned, can we lower that amount? Or, all of these assessments, can we remove some? We need the room and safety to ask questions like this.'
What concrete solutions is the steering committee working on?
Suzy: 'We have drawn up a whole list of measures, you can find these in the online dossier Work Balance. Initially, we will work with generic measures, but later on there will be more room for customisation. The measures also require that people can and dare to let go of things. When colleagues look at their range of tasks to see which ones they can remove, they have to have the feeling that there is room to make this decision. Someone’s supervisor plays a part in this. During the covid crisis, we started working with supervisors on the development of tools that we can offer them to make those choices. In addition, the online dossier contains tips & tricks and workshops that might help. One of the things we find very important is that people feel heard. Because of this, we have created a mailbox firstname.lastname@example.org where people can tell their story.'
Judith: 'The platform Healthy University, with tips and workshops, is also a great initiative. And another concrete measure is that the subject has been included in a list of suggestions for the preparation of P&D interviews, so managers can ask employees about their experience with work pressure during annual interviews and employees can also prepare themselves for this. This proactively invites staff to think about how things are going and whether there is room for improvement. It is important that we continue talking about work balance on a regular basis. This way, we can slowly find our way towards a solution.'
A balanced Faculty of Humanities
This is the first part of a new series on work balance at the Faculty of Humanities. In the coming months, colleagues from all over the Faculty will be interviewed about work balance. What are bottlenecks both within work and within the faculty, what are good solutions and what can we learn from each other?