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.

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.

Branch resources

UCU has produced guides to assist branches and local associations in negotiations at local level. An example of a simple workload calculator is also available.

Excessive workloads: UCU further education toolkit [887kb]

HE workload protection: A UCU local negotiating guide (revised October 2010) [367kb] (opens in a new window)

HE workload calculator [33kb] (opens in a new window)

See also:

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.

Our guide is not arguing that all workload models are good. What it does do is suggest some beneficial uses of workload models - especially to tackle overloading. In order to enforce contractual limits on workloads, whether expressed in terms of total weekly hours, teaching hours or both, there must be some system of accounting and recording workplans. Without this it is impossible for individuals or groups of staff to check whether they are being asked to work beyond their contract or not.

UCU hopes to collect examples of workplans where these have been introduced in universities and other HEIs. If you have examples, we would be very happy to receive these for possible inclusion in the resources we will place in this section (please indicate whether any submitted have been agreed with UCU locally). Please send to

Last updated: 19 April 2016