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Stress levels in higher education way above recommended levels

11 December 2008

A damning report on UK universities reveals today the levels of stress in higher education are considerably worse than recommendations from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The 'Tackling stress in higher education' report from UCU lists individual institutions' stress scores and paints a worrying picture of a higher education sector that is failing to meet standards of psychosocial working conditions set out by the HSE.
 
In the report individual institutions are ranked by an overall average for scores on each of the seven HSE stressors: demands, control, managerial support, peer support, relationships, role and change. On all of the stressors, apart from control, higher education institutions on average reported lower well-being than the levels recorded in the HSE report 'Psychosocial Working Conditions in Britain in 2008'.
 
The HSE says that 'organisations should strive to ensure their employees achieve the level of those currently in the top 20% of the distribution for each of the standards.' It is clear from the UCU report that the higher education sector is far from achieving the HSE aspiration.

'Universities need urgently to do more to address the worrying levels of stress in higher education. It is unacceptable that so few institutions are reaching the levels recommended by the Health and Safety Executive.'
Sally Hunt

No institution achieved the HSE recommended scores for the following stressors: demands, managerial support, peer support, role and change. For the control stressor, a number of institutions were above the target average, although none achieved the HSE's 'aspirational benchmark'.
 
On the relationships stressor – including questions about the level of bullying and harassment of employees - only one institution (the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) was higher than the HSE 2008 report average and none achieved the 'aspirational benchmark'. At the other end of the spectrum, UCU members at a large number of institutions reported stress levels considerably worse than the HSE average for the working population.
 
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'Universities need urgently to do more to address the worrying levels of stress in higher education. It is unacceptable that so few institutions are reaching the levels recommended by the Health and Safety Executive. Harassment and bullying can play no part in academic life.
 
'An important factor contributing to stress among our members is a mismatch between demands and control. We have genuine concerns that if the problems are not properly addressed then staff will be subject to burn-out at earlier stages in their careers, and the most talented and dedicated staff will never be attracted in the first place.'


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