Following courses on online teaching, editing videos and coming up with extra exam questions: These are just a handful of some of the additional tasks that many university staff members have had to deal with since the crisis hit. “Plenty of people have a six-day working week, even though they have a contract for five days,” Pieterman says. “Work pressure and work climate pose problems that should be treated as crises.”
More recognition should be given to the fact that these issues are just as much a problem among employees as students, Pieterman believes. Students were promised earlier this year that it would turn out to be a good academic year. “But then you also have to promise that to your staff. It can’t be the case that students are reassured but teachers aren’t.”
Assertiveness training and relaxation exercises
The high level of work pressure experienced by staff is nothing new. Years ago, the Dutch Labour Inspectorate visited the Erasmus School of Law (ESL). It transpired that one third of the employees suffered from structural stress. “Employees at the university have been receiving assertiveness training for some time now or are learning to cope more effectively with stress through coaching or relaxation exercises. We at EUROPA do consider that the employer has provided a good amount of support within a very short period of time.” Nevertheless, there is one key point missing in this type of approach, Pieterman maintains. “If you really want to solve the problem of work pressure successfully, we will all have to decide that we will stop taking on extra work.”
'The current remuneration does not cover all the extra work you have to do'
Juup Essers, assistant professor at the Rotterdam School of Management, gives online lessons to large groups of students and also feels that the work pressure has been increasing in recent months. “Students are done with being constantly stuck behind a screen and are starting to expect more. You still feel pressure to polish up your video recordings by editing them or adding film clips and opinion polls to the lessons.”
In terms of technology, the university has adopted some good measures and spent money where needed, Essers states. Despite this, too much is left up to teachers to provide high-quality online lessons. “We are following extra courses and that takes up a lot of time. The current remuneration does not cover all the extra work we have to do. Lots of teachers end up thinking: ‘Let’s just do it the easy way with a PowerPoint presentation.’” In order to safeguard the quality of education, Esser reasons that it is important that the extra hours that teachers put into their online lessons should be compensated. “I think that the remuneration should be re-evaluated.”
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Put on the back burner
Lowering the workload has been a topic of discussion within EUROPA for years now. “A year ago, we worked together with the University Council on a statement declaring a ‘work climate emergency.’ Unfortunately, due to the crisis resulting from the corona measures, we were not able to bring this to a proper conclusion at that time.” Despite the fact that the theme is now more relevant than ever, as Pieterman points out. “And employers would be wise to speak openly to employees and let them know that not all the work agreements that had been made can be honoured under these exceptional circumstances.”
Essers also hopes that the government will make more resources available so that the quality of education can be guaranteed. “Ultimately, if we do not start hiring more people, we should do less work. The trade unions within EUROPA are well placed to draw attention to this issue persistently.”
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Take days off in December?
We are nearing the end of the year and the employer wants to encourage staff to take as many days off as they can. Pieterman and Essers emphasise that rest is crucial for reducing stress and improving mental well-being. Their advice is: “Take a break, you may not need to take days off, if you didn’t work too much earlier this year!”