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May, 2019:

Protected: Taking the PIP? Some concerns about appraisal, line management and performance improvement plans

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Wellfest and a wish list

We’ve had a great UCU recruitment week here in Southampton, cleverly aligned with #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek so that we could highlight our local campaign priority about workloads and wellbeing. Thanks to all of you who visited our info stand and took part in the events. On the info stand at Highfield we asked people to tell us – via a post it note – how the University could help staff wellbeing. We were delighted to talk with the Interim VC Mark Spearing and some members of the senior management team, and we also got lots of feedback and ideas from staff and students.

Staff spoke of the need to feel able to balance the quality and quantity of work, but also how difficult it was to take regular breaks, and how often they felt guilty and stressed about their workloads. Talking with students it was clear that they are acutely aware of our workloads, indeed some shared that they didn’t feel able to come forward because they felt they were too much of a burden on staff. One post it note said “As a student I think that staff are overstretched and struggling to support students” – this is not what any of us want. Others commented that they have seen lots of staff leave and not being replaced, and said how disruptive this was, an indictment of the repeated rounds of cuts and reorganisations we have experienced.

Here’s a few of the ideas and comments from the UCU message board.

Things that might help:
• Counselling for staff (face to face) and mental health first aiders
• Massage
• Flexible working/ working from home (where reasonable)
• Lunchtime mindfulness session held somewhere peaceful
• Chill out/ Sleep Zone

Actions suggested to address the problems:

• A workload audit – look at workload implications for all new systems and processes.
• Cover for staff on long time sick. More temps!!!
• Stop cutting staff numbers / replace staff when they leave
• Stop the culture of working and emails 24hrs a day!
• Policy of no emails on home phones!
• Tell temporary staff all the details of their job

And instead of ‘Work-life Balance’ one comment requested ‘Work-Life Separation’ – How many of us feel able to achieve this? Others spoke of the need for respect for the diversity of staff and student expectations, experiences, and emotional triggers, and the need to work with a spirit of generosity to address the mental health challenges people face. Mental Health Awareness Week and Wellfest are small parts of our journey to improve mental health and wellbeing. We hope there will more attention to the problems caused by excessive workloads and, importantly that there will be action in coming months to improve the mental health and wellbeing of our staff.

Protected: The Dinosaur is extinct, but Solidarity is forever.

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General Secretary elections #1 – we put member’s questions to Matt Waddup

We’ve asked all three candidates to answer questions posted by members. Matt has responded and we are sharing his answers with you. More to follow from the other 2 candidates Jo Grady and Jo McNeill – so please bookmark our blog.

Matt Waddup’s responses to our questions

We don’t doubt your passion for defending Post-16 education but can you give us 3 top reasons why our members, in a large pre-92 Russell Group university should vote for you.

1. I have nearly thirty years experience with RMT and now UCU in representing members at the highest level to employers, politicians and media.
2. I have a track record of organising successful campaigns, latest example being the successful USS action which saved the average member more than £200k in otherwise lost retirement income.
3. I have expanded UCU’s policy influence substantially, eg. our research on issues like TEF, admissions, academic freedom, casualisation etc. This was recognised by my appointment as a commissioner on Labour’s Lifelong Learning Commission.

How will you engage a largely non-activist membership such as ours?

I believe this is the key challenge facing UCU. In the USS dispute we engaged with members because we were fighting for something tangible. Subsequent pay campaigns have by contrast been ill defined and less people have voted – a signal that the union needs to rethink. In my view we need to consult widely, including with those who currently don’t vote or participate about what they want the union to prioritise.

UCU is a large national organization with 200 staff, volunteer activists and a large perhaps less actively engaged membership. What skills/experience you have that will get the best from each of these three groups (paid staff, activists and wider membership)?

UCU is a great union with talented staff, brilliant activists and engaged members. We are at our best when the three groups work in synch rather than independently of each other. I have a great deal of experience of managing a very large team within UCU and of working with activists across the political spectrum. I have also shown that I can construct campaigns (such as USS) which capture the imagination of less active members.

What is your view of internal factions and sub-groupings within our union, and what will you do to unite our membership?

I am not a member or supporter of any faction or group within UCU. I was nominated by members who previously supported both the UCU Left candidate and Sally Hunt! I think factional politics has been very damaging to UCU, not least because the trivial arguments it engenders hinder the strategic discussion we need to have as a union about our future priorities.

What do you plan to do about unsustainable workloads in HE?

UCU needs to develop a coherent critique of the exploitative employment model at the heart of higher education which institutionalises work overload, inequality and precarity and depresses pay. From here we can formulate clear demands on workload – derived from members’ actual experience – to progress with each employer. To achieve these demands we will need to shift resources into our branches. There is no alternative to this kind of strategic approach – if we keep hitting the repeat button we will get the same results.

How will you tackle centralisation and lack of democratic processes in the University governance?

The breakdown in governance is a key factor in the managerialist agenda taking hold in universities. The managerialism project I am currently running in Education Committee brings together academics with experience of winning positive changes to governance including at DMU and Bath. Both these examples show that staff need to build alliances within the university itself and the side community in support of change. The idea of the project is to produce practical resistance strategies that can be used by branches.

Considering the constraints imposed by the anti-TU legislation, what is your preferred industrial action strategy?

When UCU balloted members on USS last April 63% registered a vote. In the last pay ballot that had shrunk to 42%. My view is that if we want USS style wins on workload, casualisation and pay inequality we need USS style planning and organisation. That means seeking members’ support for action only once we have consulted them properly over what they want; formulated a clear demand, explained what will be required and from members to get there. If we focus on those objectives we will get to the 50pc turnout required by the dreadful trade union act. If we don’t, we won’t.

Mental health – top tips from Ruby Wax, but can we also fix the structures?

We are pleased to see that our new Chancellor Ruby Wax has given a short interview in the latest staff magazine, drawing attention to mental health. [intranet only] This is clearly very well-intentioned, and a welcome intervention. Ruby reminds us to look out for the signs that someone is distressed and to be more open and honest about mental health matters. Like Wellfest – the University’s day of wellbeing – the message is aimed more at students than staff, but nonetheless this interview is a positive start to Ruby’s tenure.

UCU will be running and participating in events next week to raise awareness about workloads and stress and mental health. We hope that senior managers will begin to recognise that a key factor in reducing mental ill-health and a lack of wellbeing are structural factors e.g. excessive workloads, intolerable and unachievable performance expectations and metrics, and (as the staff survey shows) lack of the resources and support needed to do one’s job. Whilst we want to encourage healthy eating, exercise and mindfulness activities, we recognise that half an hour of these a week will not address the cultural and organisational contexts that staff and students report as damaging to their mental health and wellbeing.

Next week is UCU recruitment week and Mental Health Awareness week and so our events will focus on wellbeing at work and what we can do to help remove the stigma and discrimination that people living and working with a mental health condition or issue face. Please come along and talk to us about what you would like us to do to address wellbeing in the workplace – our reps/officers will be very interested to hear your ideas.

Schedule of events:

Monday 13 May – 1-2pm, room 2/1079, Highfield Wellbeing – An interactive session for all staff
This session will start with a brief presentation from Dr Sarah Kirby, a registered Health Psychologist in the Department of Psychology. Sarah is the FELS Wellbeing champion and has been actively engaged in this field of work for many years. Following this introductory overview, there will be an interactive discussion during which colleagues can raise their own concerns and/or concerns on behalf of their friends and colleagues.
The session will be mainly focused on well-being and everyday hassles, barriers, challenges and opportunities. The session is open to all staff, whether union members or not.

Tuesday 14 May – 12.30-1.30pm, room 58/1025, Highfield
Our sister union, Unison, will be running a Lunch and Learn event – How to Deal with Stress
Places are limited so to book a place please email unison@soton.ac.uk

Wednesday 15 May – 10-4pm, Garden Court
The University is hosting Wellfest and there will be mindfulness sessions running at 10 am and 1pm as well as other events. UCU will be hosting an infostand at the event, so please come along to say hello, pick up some information and share your ideas on how to improve wellbeing at the university. Free gifts available.

Thursday 16 May – 12-2pm, Staff club
Visit our infostand in the foyer of the staff club and discuss how you would like the University to address wellbeing and support staff facing mental health issues/concerns. Free gifts available.

Friday 17 May – 4pm onwards, Arlott bar
End the week with a coffee/beer and relax with UCU reps, officers and fellow members for an informal gathering.

We look forward to seeing you at one of our events. And please do feel free to pass this information on to non-member colleagues and encourage them to join UCU.