Industrial Action Key Issues – Workload and Mental Health

With national strike action underway at 74 universities, we are looking at  some of the key issues in the pay and pensions disputes.

As well as taking action over changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS), the University and College Union (UCU) is also striking over the 2019/20 pay negotiations, matters of contractual arrangements, job security, workload and mental health, and gender and ethnicity pay. Our second article examines the issues of workload and mental health.

Current sector-wide position

Following a period of constructive dialogue with UCU, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association (UCEA), which represents 147 HE employers on a number of employment issues, including pay, recently released a range of proposals which seek to conclude the pay round and end the current pay dispute.

The proposals set sector-wide expectations to address important issues around employment in universities, with a focus on workload and mental health; casual employment; and gender pay gaps and ethnicity pay.

This follows two months of constructive dialogue with UCU and national negotiations with all the trade unions including (as well as UCU), UNISON, Unite, GMB, and EIS, that began in March 2019.

On the issue of workload and mental health, UCEA is proposing that the unions and universities work together to further the develop the national Stress and Mental Wellbeing resources through the established HE Safety and Health Forum, Trade Unions, Universities UK (UUK) and UCEA involvement in advancing sector-level initiatives to address staff mental health issues.

Workload – Progress at Liverpool

Many roles, including academic roles, have high degrees of autonomy and self-direction and the University is very conscious of workload and supporting staff with their health and wellbeing.

In July 2019 the University approved the Academic Portfolio Planning Framework, providing principles and guidance for workload planning models which will allow managers to plan, discuss and agree the distribution of academic work across teams using a consistent institutional approach.

Academic schools and departments have always undertaken academic portfolio planning in one way or another. However, the new institutional-wide framework will provide clarity on what the University expects in terms of institutional best practice and minimum standards to help support equity and manage workloads effectively. The new framework isn’t designed to provide a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model – instead it builds on portfolio planning already happening on a local level across the University.

The framework will include reporting to meet Institute, School, Faculty and institutional needs for initiatives such as Athena SWAN. Staff are encouraged to engage actively with the development of their local model and tariffs in aligning them to the institutional framework.

More information on the Academic Portfolio Planning Framework Project can be found here.

Mental Health – Support Available

Work-related stress can have a significant impact on individuals and teams and the University is committed to tackling the issues surrounding stress at work and providing resources to help staff manage stress.

Colleagues are encouraged to raise concerns around work-related stress with their line managers, in order to identify and address any causes of stress at the earliest possible stage.

Where extra help is needed, as part of the University’s approach to wellbeing, we offer an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) which is available to all staff 365 days a year. The services available include:

  • Counselling including telephone, face-to-face and e-counselling
  • Manager support line providing a sounding board for handling difficult staff issues
  • Financial guidance including debt support and tax information
  • Legal guidance
  • Health and medical information including advice from an occupational health nurse

The confidential helpline number for staff is 0800 358 4858 (+44 141 271 7179 outside the UK). The online portal can be accessed here using the username UoL and the password EAP support.

The University’s Wellbeing Hub provides information and support around work-life balance, mental health, physical wellbeing and personal development. A range of online self-help modules are also available to support staff with wellbeing.

Further information

Frequently Asked Questions on the forthcoming industrial action for staff and students are available on our intranet.

Further articles on key issues in the dispute will be published over the coming weeks.