Universiteit Leiden

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Anna Loh

5 questions on Work Balance in Action

In recent months, the Work Balance in Action core group has taken several steps to improve the work balance at the Faculty of Humanities. The programme is now ready to be shared more widely across the faculty. Core group members Annemiek Hogendorp, Jaap Kamphuis and Ylva Klaassen tell us what to expect.

Why did the core group Work Balance in Action come into being?

Ylva: 'The staff monitor shows that work pressure is an important issue at the faculty. So, over the past academic year, we set out with a group of 30-40 people from many different corners of the faculty to explore the problems, challenges and potential solutions.'

What have these core group meetings yielded so far?

Jaap: 'As a core group, we focused on concrete actions right from the start. What can you do yourself, for instance as programme chair, to create a better work balance in others and yourself? That led to a tips-and-tricksdocumentWe also tried to get people to talk to each other about their experiences and possible solutions: what works and what can we learn from each other?'

Ylva: 'These can be simple things like scheduling more coffee mornings, making agreements on how you communicate with each other, saying no to meetings you don't really need to attend or, as a senior staff member, setting an example for junior staff. In that context, the teacher coaches examined how to improve the onboarding of new employees, as a result of which many institutes have implemented changes in their onboarding policies. Concrete plans have also been put forward and in some cases already implemented in teaching, such as fewer tests or digital tests which make marking them easier.'

How do you involve the rest of the faculty in this theme?

Annemiek: 'We recently visited all the faculty consultation bodies: the programme directors, the academic directors, the institute managers, the operational management, the programme chairs. We put the design of the Work Balance in Action programme on the agenda everywhere, as well as what we call the action matrix, which lists who the action holders are and how they can communicate a work balance improvement to others. Everyone has been added to a Teams environment so that people are invited to get into doing mode as much as possible.'

Jaap: 'In the coming period, we want to involve all employees and encourage them to take steps. These may be small steps, experiments may possibly fail, but we can’t look only to the Faculty Board for improvements. Of course, it’s important that more money is available so we can hire more people, but work balance also has to do with things like perspective, appreciation, autonomy and atmosphere. We are jointly responsible for that.'

What specifically will happen in the coming period?

Annemiek: 'We obviously have the implementation of the Starter and Incentive Grants that will hopefully improve the work balance. Furthermore, it is nice to notice that the Faculty Board has embraced this theme and is committed to it. We initially advised the board members to structure the teaching organisation more clearly. Responsibilities are not clearly assigned there now, so institutes and programmes sometimes get in each other's way and processes run less efficiently than they could.

In addition, the career perspective of academic staff is a spearhead. Most scientists are now focused on development towards higher academic positions, but there are not enough of those to allow everyone to progress. We want to reduce the resulting frustration by managing expectations better.

We are therefore starting a pilot with a different form of annual interview in which different ways of development can be discussed. The staff plans of the institutes will be shared more widely, so that staff members know what developments are coming up, and dialogue sessions will be held on the theme of recognition and appreciation. Moreover, at the end of 2024, there will be a project group to look at the appointment and promotion criteria of academic staff.

At the same time, the most important thing for the coming period is that everyone in our faculty starts working on these plans individually and with each other. What works very well for one person may not suit another. We therefore urge all colleagues to think about what could contribute to improving your work balance and job satisfaction and to take action! Discuss your ideas with your manager and your colleagues, and start taking steps to change things - within your sphere of influence.'

What do you hope to achieve in the long term?

Jaap: 'Work balance should become a normal topic of ongoing conversation between managers and staff and in the various consultations at our Faculty. If you only commit to it for a short period of time, things eventually  backslide. Then people start planning their schedules all over again.'

Ylva: 'This is also due to the culture that prevails in academia, with a focus on hierarchy and competition. Almost everyone we spoke to said they would like to change that. It would be great if, through concrete measures such as annual appraisals or assessment criteria for promotions, we could also achieve positive changes in the culture and way we work together.'

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