The last Well-being monitor survey sent to employees in December 2021 showed that things are better in general for employees. However, around 40 percent still say they are suffering from burnout complaints, and an EUR employee works five hours of overtime per week on average. These numbers aren’t very reassuring.
Lieke Skidmore: “Our vision is that the university must be a healthy working environment, and that means if 38 percent of employees have burnout complaints, that number is too high. This figure has dropped, so I think that’s a positive development. What I see here is that we have spent a lot of time on this theme, especially with raising awareness among managers and supervisors to make them more alert to this problem, and we’ve offered resources to deal with it.”
Ellen van Schoten: “And what we’re dealing with here is a number of systemic problems, for example in the funding of higher education in general and of Erasmus University in more specific terms. In a comparison with other universities, the student-lecturer ratio at EUR is highly unfavourable. That’s why we have negative budgeting until 2023. We wouldn’t be able to manage otherwise. We also communicated this point to Robbert Dijkgraaf, the Minister of Education. We hope the 700 million set aside in the coalition agreement for higher education will remedy the situation.”
What is the university doing to resolve these systemic problems?
Van Schoten: “We’re looking at the time spent on teaching. A comparison carried out by The Young Academy shows that Dutch universities spend two months more on average on classroom instruction and examinations than other good universities in Europe. And out of all the Dutch universities, EUR has the highest number of weeks spent on classroom instruction. The Rector has established a working group to study whether the timetables could be harmonised. Giving fewer lectures means more time is available for preparation and recovery. Additionally, work pressure is being discussed at all organisational levels by directors, deans and all the supervisors and managers under them. That makes it an important topic.”
- Thee academic calendars of universities in the Netherlands have 30 weeks of classroom time on average, not counting examination periods.
- Erasmus University leads all Dutch universities with 35 weeks of classroom time annually.
- In our international random sample, the number of weeks of classroom time varied between 21 and 29, with an average of 24.5 and a median of 24.
Bron: De Jonge Akademie-rapport ‘Een slimmer academisch jaar’
It still seems that things are moving too slowly. We’re hearing more and more protests against temporary appointments at universities, high levels of work pressure, and the lack of certainty. Are you sure you’re talking to the right people?
Van Schoten: “I’m aware of the problems and we’ve been working to resolve them for a long time. I don’t need letters from the action groups to make me aware of this issue. But I’m always prepared to meet and engage in a discussion. We believe the well-being of our employees is very important, and that means this topic is as well.”
Skidmore: “The only thing I would like to add is that everyone is doing their best to offer tools to reduce work pressure and stress on the work floor. But we’re dealing with a multi-factor problem. If it was simple, we would have resolved it already. It’s like trying to steer an oil tanker: it’s very slow to respond to any course changes.”
To a certain extent, the new CLA concluded last year was supposed to put an end to temporary contracts. There’s criticism that this only applies to the higher positions and that this has led to the university becoming more risk-averse, thus issuing fewer permanent contracts. Is this something that needs to be rectified in the next CLA?
Skidmore: “There are also many people who were actually given a permanent job thanks to this CLA. However, I can imagine that there have been several cases where the new CLA has had a detrimental effect and no permanent appointment was granted. I think it’s possible this happened due to the immediate implementation of the new rules. The intent of the new rules is good, so let’s see how that works out.”
Van Schoten: “We’ve also made a transition fund available to the faculties. This can be used to finance a permanent contract when there are doubts about overstaffing. We’re dealing with a difficult issue here, and insufficient funding is a problem. But then again, that’s something that’s not unique to universities.”
Want to know more about the university’s approach to work pressure? Take a look at MyEUR.