The results of an internal staff satisfaction survey have shown major weaknesses in the University of London’s (UoL) organisational structure and overall staff morale, with questions on the university’s senior management scoring the lowest.
Asked whether they had confidence in senior management overall, only 25% agreed. Only 33% of staff agreed “the university’s senior management has communicated a clear strategy for the University of London” while 23% of staff were “confident in the way that Senior Management are leading the University.”
The biennial survey, obtained as part of a Freedom of Information request, gleaned responses from over three-quarters of the university’s non-academic staff in October2014. Despite what the university considers “high levels of engagement,” an average of 62%,only one question out of 51scored higher when measured against the previous survey carried out in 2012.
The overwhelming majority (80%) of questions scored worse. Among the most alarming findings was the lack of communication within the university and between departments, as well as an atmosphere which discourages members of staff from speaking out or dissenting. Just over 1 in 10 (13%) agreed that “communication is good between different parts of the university”, while only one in four (25%) said they “[felt] able to speak up and challenge the way things are done in this university.” Similarly just 34% of staff felt they had “the opportunity to contribute my views before changes are made which affect my job.”
The university also measured its responses against surveys held across the sector as a whole. Only 14% of questions scored higher than the benchmark, with the remainder falling in line with (50%) or scoring worse (36%).The university set up a series of focus groups in May “to shed light on the issues behind some of the job satisfaction scores”. One document seen by London Student highlighted a range of comments from participants against some analysis from the university.
A recurring theme to emerge was the university’s weakness on diversity, especially the “significant differences in the satisfaction levels” of disabled staff and staff from black and minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds. The university reported: “The general view was that managers were not intentionally discriminating but were ‘old fashioned’ and lacking knowledge of their obligations under the legislation [Equalities Act].”
One staff member said: “managers should reflect the make-up [sic] of London, not all white and male,” while another noted: “managers need to understand the value of diversity.” Speaking on more general themes, staff were quick to lambast the physical working conditions, and question their intrinsic role within the institution. “We are like a call centre basically,” noted one participant as another claimed: “I no longer know what Finance and Planning are for….we don’t add any value – we produce reports no-one reads.”
On the subject of management, meanwhile, contributions ranged from bemoaning managers’ unwillingness to engage with ordinary staff to the “lacking [of] leadership skills”. “Staff need to be able to vent and senior managers need to be brave enough to listen,” one participant said, with another revealing: “managers refuse to accept they could be wrong.” Some comments hinted at the possibility of an ‘us and them’ attitude developing between senior management and lower-level staff. For example, one comment read: “There are long running cultural issues between managers and non-managers, they don’t listen”.
Meanwhile a seemingly senior member of staff similarly complained: “You [managers] improvise, beg for resources, get no resources…and then you’re told you’re failing and we will spend fifty million [£50m] on Managers from the outside.”
Summarising the survey results in the immediate aftermath, an HR memo noted that each department was “requested to celebrate what was working well and to formulate areas upon which to focus for their team in the future.” The university also formed an action plan to resolve some of the issues raised, to be followed with a short “pulse survey” in October to “check whether the actions taken have improved our engagement scores.”
A spokesperson for the University of London told the London Student: “In the most recent staff survey … 75% of staff said they were proud to work for the University along with many other positive comments. However, we acknowledge that there are areas of dissatisfaction that require action. These have been identified and action plans put in place to address the issues.”
“The survey results were disappointing in some aspects. However, there are several major projects underway at present and inevitably some staff find change unsettling.”
Asked whether the university would replace any of its senior management team in light of these results, the spokesperson responded: “The leadership issues that emerged from the survey are of concern and there are significant efforts being made to address these. “These include senior staff attending each other’s departmental meetings to directly update staff on ongoing and future projects and to discuss issues face to face. ”The spokesperson added: “The University continues to take the findings of surveys very seriously and will conduct further research at regular intervals.”