Whilst pay has dropped in real terms by 21% over the past decade, workloads in HE follow a very different trend: More than 8 in 10 UCU members report a rise in their workload over the last two years.
Universities have for a long time relied on the goodwill of their employees to work excessive hours and to take on more work without increases in their pay. UCU estimates that academic and academic-related staff, on average work over two days per week more than their contracted hours. This unpaid additional workload amounts to an approximate total of £374 million per year in the UK.
Unsustainable workloads are found at almost all levels of the university structure. Indeed, UCU found that among the groups who reported the highest average weekly hours were both professors (56.1 hours) and teaching assistants (54.9 hours).
If in the UCU workload survey more than 1 in 4 respondents (28.8%) say that their workloads were unmanageable all or most of the time, and almost two thirds (65.5%) state that that their workloads were unmanageable at least half of the time, it’s easy to see that stress and work pressure are taking their toll on the mental health of HE staff.
The HSE reports that workloads and work-related stress cause significant harm. The latest Labour Force Survey shows that in 2016/17 stress accounted for 40% of all work-related ill health cases and that 49% of all working days lost due to ill health. This prevalence is even higher in the education sector.
We can, of course, rely on the employers’ non-binding offers to maybe gather more data on the issues of spiralling workloads, increasing stress and worsening mental health (and in the meantime, do a mindfulness course and a bit of yoga, to better cope with 60-hour-weeks?*)
Or we can insist on these issues that affect so many of us to be taken seriously, and with our pay and and equality claim, call for action – including a nationally agreed payment to recognize excessive workloads.
Disclaimer: There is absolutely nothing wrong with mindfulness and yoga. What is wrong is to abuse them as patches where the system is broken. Namaste.