For the second time in five years, the University is introducing a Voluntary Severance Scheme in order to free up resources, this time with the declared intention to invest in staffing (https://intranet.cardiff.ac.uk/staff/news/view/928530-voluntary-severance-scheme-for-academic-staff). In the recent meetings with the UCU, the University management referred to the Scheme in terms of “refreshing staff” and maintained that the purpose of this exercise is not to save money.
We recognize that there are some people, particularly those who are towards the end of their careers, for whom the financial incentive offered by the Scheme will enable a fulfilling retirement or career-change. We also acknowledge that a formal scheme which is open to all staff, is preferable both to redundancies (whether voluntary or compulsory) or to ad-hoc individual arrangements that are made under the radar: indeed, UCU and the other trade unions have argued (in vain) that the Scheme should be open to all staff, not just academic staff.
However, there is concern that the Scheme will be used to encourage those who are deemed to be under-performing, which so often means the disillusioned or critical, to be eased out and replaced by fresh young academics who are socialised by the current job market into accepting high pressure and insecure working conditions. There is a clear danger that the message coming through is: if you’re old, or tired, or ground down by your working conditions, the University’s management would rather you left in order to be replaced by ‘new blood’. There is no automatic correlation between age and length of service, but there will inevitably be an ageist component to a tiered scheme.
In this context, we remain highly critical of the culture of management and managerialism at Cardiff University. The last two years have seen the introduction of a Performance ‘Development’ Review which is setting some colleagues up to fail, and reduces the complexities of academic work to targets that are to be met, and a Workload Allocation Model which frequently reports that colleagues who are working 50- or 60-hour weeks are in fact ‘under-allocated’.
We hear increasing reports of colleagues being ground down by their working conditions: by bullying and petty managerialism, by bureaucracy, by observation and monitoring, by the progressive erosion of trust and collegiality. Our culture of management frequently takes people who are highly intelligent, motivated and able, wears them down, and then offers to ease them out to be replaced by ‘younger blood’.
During the introduction of the PDR process, senior management emphasised that the key driver for rolling out a system of professional development reviews was to avoid another MEDIC Forward. This begs the question: if PDR is working effectively, why is it necessary again to encourage staff to leave the University when PDR was intended to avoid precisely this eventuality?
Management scientists have pointed to the risk inherent in severance schemes of the perpetuation of a culture of bullying: the opacity of such schemes creates for the bully an ideal opportunity simultaneously to eliminate and buy the silence of his/her victim(s). The perceived need for regular or continuous exercises of reorganisation or refreshment is recognised as an indicator of fundamental mismanagement. As we’ve repeatedly said in discussions with management: the best way to ‘refresh’ our academic staff would be to improve our working conditions. Although it is commonplace in business to speak of refreshing a brand or a logo, the concept of refreshing human beings would represent a troubling, development in management science.
While we have received reassurances from the University’s senior management that no one will be pressurized to take voluntary severance, we remain sceptical. Of course there will be situations in which it is appropriate for someone to ask you if it’s an option you have considered, but if you are approached, especially by your line manager or Head of School, and feel pressured into taking voluntary severance, please get in touch with us as soon as possible and ask for a caseworker.
The Cardiff UCU Branch Committee