You might be forgiven for believing that EUR employees’ stress levels have risen in the past year while their level of engagement in their work has decreased. According to the Employee Well-being Monitoring Survey, a survey about staff well=being in times of coronavirus conducted for the first time in December 2020, the impact has not been that dramatic on average. However, experiences differ vastly from group to group. The study will be repeated periodically in the upcoming period so as to allow the researchers ‘to measure not only temperatures [of employees’ well-being] at a given time, but also temperature fluctuations,’ says the principal researcher, Roos Schelvis, who works at the university’s HR department.

55 percent is extremely busy

The Wellbeing Monitoring Survey was conducted by Sarina Verwijmeren, Roos Schelvis under supervision of Arnold Bakker. The Employee Well-being Monitoring Survey will be conducted three more times in the course of the current academic year. The next survey will be held this month.

Arnold Bakker, Professor of Work and Organisational Psychology, has conducted research on mental health on the work floor for 25 years and supervised the scientific aspects of the HR department’s study. He says he did not identify any ‘alarming findings’ in the results of the EUR staff survey held in December. Fifty-five per cent of respondents indicated that they were very busy. On the other hand, there are other employees whose workload has decreased now that the campus is closed. On average, then, the survey results are not too alarming.
“One potential reason for the relatively positive result might be the fact that much of the additional work was performed by a small group of people,” says Bakker. “For instance, the central service units that support remote working, and lecturers who had to completely revamp their courses.”

This being the case, the survey results did show some signs of reduced mental well-being, with the most common complaints being social isolation, interrupted workflows (e.g. because employees had to look after children while going about their work, or because they had to share a workspace at home) and the difficulty of striking a proper work-life balance.

Lecturers suffer from technostress

The researchers stated in their report that the problems encountered by employees vary strongly from one group to the next. Therefore, the solutions must be geared towards specific groups, says Schelvis.
For instance, among lecturers, technology-related anxiety is one of the main issues. Other concerns raised in the employee survey include a lack of working-from-home resources at home, insufficient communication and the lack of social contact with colleagues.

The majority of the respondents said they were happy with their supervisors. However, 13 per cent said they were not. “This translates to at least five hundred unhappy people on the EUR-wide level. Some hardly ever see their supervisors. Proper leadership can be hard to find in universities. After all, just because you’re good at your job doesn’t mean you’re a great manager,” says Bakker. “Supervisors should be more involved with their people. They should establish WhatsApp groups or have weekly Zoom meetings.”

‘Supervisors should be more involved with their people.’

Arnold Bakker, professor of Work and Organisational Psychology

Bakker also believes that employees must make an active effort to improve their situation. “I’m not seeing many people get proactive. My impression is that many people go on living life as usual, except they now work from home. Few of them seem to be taking a different approach to work of their own accord.”

That’s where Bakker says there is room for improvement, using skills such as ‘job crafting’ and ‘playful work design’. “See, it’s easy for an organisation to eliminate technology-related anxiety. It’s a quick fix – all you have to do is make more staff available for technical support. But as far as enjoying their work more and leading less isolated lives are concerned, that’s partly up to our employees themselves.”

Revise the ambitions

In addition to that piece of advice issued to all of EUR’s supervisors/managers, the report on the first staff survey of its kind also contains some stern advice for upper management, i.e. the Executive Board and senior management. “Don’t expect the results and outcomes you were aiming for, but check – in association with your people – what is manageable. How does this period fit in with the ambitions outlined in the strategy? Maybe it’s a good idea to revise those and allow more time for their realisation,” Roos Schelvis explains.Bakker adds: “And when you’re conducting performance appraisal interviews, be mindful of the circumstances. Adjust your expectations and be lenient and understanding. The pandemic is hitting the entire planet. Everyone can see that.”

Sounds nice, obviously, but Schelvis and Bakker understand that actual interventions are required, as well, and that these interventions require funds. For this reason, the researchers refer to funding options such as the funding allocated by the government as part of the National Teaching Programme, to fund additional support in the education sector.

Not feeling well?

Are you an EUR employee or guest lecturer and having a rough time of it? If so, don’t hesitate to get in touch with OpenUp’s psychologists.

Well-being monitoring survey