Workload protection

Workload protection is increasingly an issue for staff across all sectors - as resources are reduced, the demands on staff to perform, and to perform well, are increasing.

The UCU recently completed a major survey into how members are dealing with workloads and working hours, across the UK in both the higher and further education sectors.

The results are astonishing. Our report has 5 key findings:

  1. staff in both the higher education and further education sectors are working an average of more than two days unpaid every week
  2. workload is unmanageable and unsustainable for the majority of academic staff and lecturers
  3. staff are taking on more responsibility and administration
  4. student expectations have increased
  5. professional and career development is suffering as a result of increasing workload pressures.

Copies of the report and the executive summary can be downloaded here:

Executive summary - Workload is an education issue: UCU workload survey report 2016 [485kb]
Workload is an education issue: UCU workload survey report 2016 [1Mb]

UCU workload survey 2016 results: Click here to access the survey results from your institution.


Workload protection is not about limiting what staff may choose to do - rather UCU wishes to put limits on what employers can demand of employees, by demonstrating the negative consequences of overloading


Important for union strength in the workplace

Workloads are one area of the union's work which has resonances across all staff groups - it is clear that almost all staff have a sense of workloads increasing while resources either fail to keep pace, or are in fact diminishing. Many of the issues that currently face members in the workplace - redundancies, bullying, pay, casualisation, the implications of the points-based system for immigration and of course stress all connect with issues around workloads.

Proper work-planning reduces work related stress, a health and safety issue

Sometimes showing that workloads are unreasonable can be critical in presenting a grievance around stress. This is easier to do if there is an agreed or widely accepted workload model. Where the individual's workplan is clearly excessive, this supports the claim for work-related stress - and offers an immediate course of action for tackling the problem. Sometimes too the individual member will benefit by seeing the workload is unreasonable, since this will counteract feelings of personal inadequacy or a feeling that they are to blame for not being able to cope. If the workplan is ill defined or non-existent, then the defence should be that management has failed to manage properly. Where the workplan is excessive, this has to be challenged.

Staff increasingly need contractual protection against overloading

The perception seems to be that things are getting worse. Workload pressures can, of course, become particularly acute in a post-redundancies situation. While staff may have left, their work often remains. As well as challenging redundancies, there is the issue of addressing insufficient resources. Where workplans show that all staff in a department or subject area are at or near the contractual limit in terms of teaching hours and time allocations for other duties, this information can be used to make the case for more posts in a work area. Such information can be used in a collective grievance over workloading.

Workload models in HE

In some parts of the HE sector there are already models or templates in use for calculating workplans or workloads. Sometimes these are institution-wide or have been developed within departments. Some of these models have been formally agreed with UCU, some produced by staff groups, and of course some imposed by management. Clearly there are some workload models which are being used for detrimental purposes and need to be challenged.

If you think you may be working excessive hours try our HE workload calculator [33kb].

For further information on how excessive workloads are being tackled in your workplace please contact your local branch. See also further guidance and resources produced for our workload campaigning.

Last updated: 1 December 2016