Staff Survey 2018: Pointless?

If you do decide to complete the 2018 Staff Survey, you might want to bear in mind what UCU and others have already said about some of the more problematic, or pointless, questions:

1. My work gives me a feeling of personal accomplishment

What does 'personal accomplishment' feel like to you? Probably not the same as me, or yesterday. This question will elicit responses so subjective and various as to make the results pointless. What action can feasibly be taken if most people say their work doesn't make them feel like this?

5. I am able to speak up and challenge the way things are done

Being able to 'speak up and challenge' is pointless if what you say has no effect: what we need to know is whether the challenges people offer when speak up are acted upon by decision-makers. But this question doesn't ask that, maybe because those asking it don't want to know.

8. Considering my duties and responsibilities, I feel my pay is fair

This is a pointless question if you are a UCU member, and unhelpfully vague if you're not. Academic pay up to Grade 9 is agreed nationally; other than being part of the employers' organisation (UCEA), Northumbria has no say in that. But the bigger issue is 'fair' in relation to whom or what? Because academic pay is set nationally there is no other industry to compare it to. If we were to compare academic pay (and benefits) to what teachers in schools or FE get, or to what someone in a professional role in the North East receives, we might say we were fairly paid. This question goes to all staff meaning professional support staff can compare their pay to, say, an accountant in the private sector. But this means, of course, that the data generated here is, again, so diverse and vague as to be pointless.This question also obscures the structural impediments to fair and equal pay. This is a big problem given the disparity in male/female salaries in this University: for example, the 2018 official Northumbria 'Gender Pay Gap Report' stated that we have a 16.38% mean and 22.74% mean disparity between men and women – AND a whopping 66.8% mean disparity on bonuses.

9. I am satisfied with the non-salary benefits provided by the University e.g. pension, annual leave

You might note that the question doesn't invite you to comment on bonuses paid to senior managers, and the examples don't invite you to consider our maternity provision, for example, which HR acknowledge that Northumbria's maternity provision is the worst in the area (why not benchmark that?!). The two things are connected: we pay more in bonuses than for maternity, so why can't the first be scrapped to improve the second?

13. I have the opportunity for personal development and growth at the University

This is similar to the very first question, and will only elicit similarly vague and subjective responses. What does 'personal...growth' mean in a work context? How would an employer improve that?

14. I am optimistic about my opportunities for career progression.

How can anyone gauge 'optimism' without any framing context, or giving an opportunity to explore the personal issues at stake? Why not ask: 'I feel that my opportunities for career progression are fair and equal among colleagues regardless of gender, age, ethnicity, sexuality, class, and physical and mental health'?

19. I am treated with fairness and respect

Treated with fairness and respect by whom? Colleagues, managers, students? Unless the question states this, how can action be taken? How would anyone know who needs to treat you better?Moreover, the University is legally obliged to treat all staff with fairness and equality. Why the repeated resistance to using this word? Would using the language of the 2010 Equality Act provoke responses that the University does not want?

20. I believe the University respects individual differences

This should happen anyway: Northumbria UCU would contend that for the university not to be in breach of its statutory duties under the 2010 Equality Act, respecting 'individual differences' is the very least employees might expect. Why not ask a less pointless question that might demand action: 'I believe the university promotes diversity'?

21. If I experienced discrimination at the University I would be confident in raising this

22. If I experienced bullying at the University I would be confident in raising this

And if you haven't, how do you answer? Arguably, these questions could be asking you to speculate about something you've never experienced. And if you have experienced discrimination and bullying, these questions don't ask if you were satisfied about how they were handled; perhaps the bullying and discrimination inhibited your ability to raise it because the person you were supposed to raise it with was the bully. Why not ask, first, whether people have experienced discrimination or bullying? Unless we ask this, we'll never know how bad the problem is that needs to be solved.

23. I feel comfortable with the pressure placed upon me in my role

There is no question about stress on the 2018 Survey, which marks a clear break with the headline result of the 2016 Survey (50% 'unduly stressed'). This is, perhaps, not a problem in itself: the HSE Indicator doesn't actually refer to 'stress'. Unlike the 2018 Survey, though, the HSE indicator does ask a set of questions that allow those using the survey to build up a detailed picture of where and how stress occurs in an organisation. The 2018 Survey doesn't, because it seeks to avoid the headlines.

29. I have the opportunity to contribute my views before changes are made which affect my role

See q5: contributing views does not mean those views have an effect.

33 and 35 ask us to say how much confidence we have in our local and faculty leaders.

This is important, in the interests of accountability. But why not ask the same question about the University Executive and the Board of Governors? Instead, we get these irrelevant, badly-worded questions. Back in 2016, only a quarter of us thought the University Executive managed and led the university well. It seems this time they would rather not know.

37. The University Executive are sufficiently visible

38. I believe the University has a clear vision for the future

Pointless questions, indeed. Being visible doesn't necessarily mean being effective, doesn't mean people like what you say, and doesn't mean you hear what people say. Likewise, you might 'believe' the university has a clear vision for the future, but you might not believe in it. But if the University Executive is so convinced by the power of its own vision, what is the risk in asking if others are convinced too?

50. If you could change one thing to improve your day to day working life, what would you change?

This is the only 'free text' box question. So, where do you start? Actually, maybe don't bother. Last time the 'qualitative' comments were very hard to come by, and only released selectively long after the quantitative results. To make the content of his section more "actionable", UCU and others wanted the free text box to encourage people to make as many points, and to write about as many topics, as possible. Instead, what we have got is a question that limits what people can say. UCU and others also advocated leaving it as a comment box (with no limiting rubric), but prefaced by a commitment to the effect that 'comments will (not may!) be used to inform future feedback and activities'. This has been scrapped – as with the way responses have been limited, make of that what you will.

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