Kiki and Esther show that lowering work pressure takes hard work
All those new initiatives and new policies are nice, but how do they affect work pressure and student welfare? You can judge that best by walking around on the work floor, according to Kiki Zanolie (Faculty Council) and Esther van Leeuwen (Institute Council). As chair persons, they work diligently to serve the interests of their colleagues and students. But how do they keep their own workload in check?
When asked how well she and Kiki know one another, Esther replies with a smile: ‘Not all that well.’ That’s meant in jest, because as fellow lecturers and researchers, they have been meeting regularly in the corridors of the Institute of Psychology for years. Then again, from their chairperson roles, they speak to each other less than they would like. Both think that's a shame.
‘When I became chair last year, it struck me that there was little contact between the participation councils. My first thought was: this has to improve,' Kiki says. ‘So we met with all the chairs of the institute councils and study programme committees. I asked everyone: what things do you see coming your way? Everyone has a different view, and I wanted to see how we can support each other and learn from each other. The idea is definitely to keep having these kinds of discussions, so I'll schedule another meeting soon.'
‘Good idea,’ Esther adds.
E: 'At the Institute Council we only have our own chair person since last year. Before then, at meetings it was mainly a case of being informed by the board about different issues and responding to what they told us. We decided to turn that around - a minor revolution - and are now more proactive; these days we propose agenda items ourselves, for example. For me as chair, it’s still a bit of trial and error; time management remains tricky. I want all agenda items to be addressed, but the topics we put on the agenda can take hours to discuss. You find that too, don't you, Kiki?
K: ‘Definitely. We too are in the process of strengthening employee participation, so we are super happy that since last year we’ve been given hours for our work for the Faculty Council. That means we can be more proactive.'
K: 'Working with the board by looking critically at issues and, when new policies are implemented, questioning how they will affect the work floor, is an important task for employee participation. One of the things we are concerned about is the workload, so when a new initiative comes along, we ask ourselves: will this help reduce it, or will it have the opposite effect? And in that case, how can we reconfigure it? If we want to do that well, we have to be good at picking up signals in the organisation; we are a conduit to the board in this.’
E: ‘A few years ago, at the Institute Council we decided we needed hard data to start the discussion on workload. We already have the Staff Monitor, but that only asks a few questions about workload once every few years. We wanted to look at it at a much more concrete level: where exactly is the workload? In which groups? What do they experience as reducing or increasing work pressure?
Marret Noordewier and I did some extensive research on this from the Institute Council. As organisational psychologists, we were familiar with the theory and knew that work pressure is not as simple as working more hours than stated in your contract; it’s about feelings like autonomy and whether you still get energy from your tasks. We then used those insights in discussions with the board.'
‘We decided we needed hard data to start the discussion on workload.’
Modify your ambitions
E: 'To keep in balance myself, I watch how many hours I put into everything. You have to set boundaries for yourself: up to here and no further. That can be difficult at times, because you want to do things well: make your lecture just a bit more fun, add more information to your Brightspace page. Sometimes that's just not possible, which can be frustrating. You have to learn to temper the perfectionist in yourself and sometimes modify your ambitions.’
K: 'Yes, I definitely recognise that you have to watch your time. Education has hard deadlines: you have to give a lecture and it has to be finished on time. That can sometimes come at the expense of other things. I mainly try to look for things that give me energy, such as the Faculty Council. If you realise that you no longer get energy from something, you can ask yourself: what isn’t going well here? How can I improve it?'
K: ‘Before joining the Faculty Council, I was mostly curious about the organisation and management. I generally get energy from administrative tasks, from thinking about the bigger picture. Then the elections came around in the corona period, when issues like workload and student welfare became even more relevant, and I thought: now is the time, now I want to get involved. I really enjoy learning about the complexities of the organisation and seeing it from a different angle than as a teacher.'
‘I thought: now is the time I want to get more involved.’
E: ‘I joined the Institute Council when I had just came to work here, about eight years ago. I saw it as a good way to get to know the Institute and, as a new member, I didn't mind at all that we weren't that proactive yet. As I became more involved in issues among the staff, I felt the need to have some influence on those issues. That's when it really becomes fun. Frustrating, too, by the way, because you have only a limited ability to make concrete changes. Everyone is willing to talk about everything, but being in such a complex organisation with all kinds of different cogs interacting together, there’s only limited scope for decision-making.'
K: ‘There are a huge number of different opinions, but that’s great. For me, as chair, the biggest challenge is to identify the key issues: what is important for the whole community?'
K: ‘As a member of the Faculty Council, I’ve learned how much energy I get from that, and being involved within the organisation in a way that brings people together. I also like seeing how willing the board is to listen to what we have to say.'
‘Doing this work has made me discover the activist in myself.’
E: ‘In recent years, I’ve discovered the activist in myself. You wouldn’t normally see me joining demonstrations, but when it comes to an issue like work pressure, I really feel I have to get my teeth into it like a pitbull and not let go until the message has got through how important it is. If you’re part of it and hear a lot of what’s going on, you can’t just ignore it. You represent a group of real people. So, when you’re in a position where you can have a say, you do want your voice to be heard.'
Interested in becoming a member of the Faculty or Institute Council?
The Faculty and Institute Councils will hold elections again in April/May 2023.
Esther: 'Do you have an opinion about what happens in the Institute, or are there things that you think could be done better? Or maybe you just want to get more of a feel for the university? If so, this is a good place to be.'
Kiki: 'And now you get hours for it too, which is great!'
To learn more and apply, you can send Kiki or Esther an e-mail