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Stress levels on the rise in higher education

3 November 2011

Stress levels in higher education are on the rise, according to a new report published today by UCU

A survey of UCU members working at UK universities revealed that four-fifths (81%) found their job stressful in 2010 compared to three-quarters (74%) in 2008.
Staff said a lack of time to undertake research and excessive workloads were the main reasons behind the increase in anxiety. Around half (45%) of those quizzed said they were never subjected to bullying at work.
UCU's report, The growing epidemic: Work-related stress in post-16 education, also found that the well-being of staff in higher education was considerably lower than recommendations from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in a number of key areas, including support from managers.
UCU's survey comes as the government prepares to cut public spending on higher education by 40% as it introduces a market in fees. The union said it feared that uncertainties over funding would add to stress levels in the future.
Key findings from the study include:    

  • Four-fifths (81%) of staff surveyed said they found their job stressful
  • Three-quarters (73%) said they had unachievable deadlines sometimes, often or always
  • Just one in 10 (10%) said they seldom or never had to neglect some task because of high workloads
  • Two-thirds (66%) said they sometimes, often or always were unable to take sufficient breaks
  • Only a quarter (24%) said they were seldom or never pressured to work long hours
  • Fewer than half (45%) said they were never subjected to bullying at work.

The growing epidemic: Work-related stress in post-16 education marks the launch of UCU's 2011 anti-stress and bullying week which runs from 7-13 November and will see UCU branches at colleges and universities throughout the country hold events on how to combat stress and bullying in the workplace.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'It is not acceptable that four-fifths of university staff find their jobs stressful or that only half can say they've never been bullied at work. Universities are getting a reputation as stressful places to work and this report reveals that the problem is getting worse.

'As we enter uncertain and challenging times in higher education we need universities to start taking the problem seriously. We hope institutions will engage with UCU branches during our stress week with a view to tackling the issues raised in the report.'

In March 2012 UCU will be carrying out an all-member stress survey to highlight the best and worst university and college employers in the UK.

Copies of The growing epidemic: Work-related stress in post-16 education are available from the press office.

Last updated: 11 December 2015