Making sense of the Staff Survey 2017 – First thoughts

Cardiff UCU branch members are continuing to review the results from the staff survey conducted earlier this year.

The results contain much data and a level of detail that it will take some time to interpret. However, there are some noteworthy differences in responses which become apparent when comparisons are made between the colleges and professional services.

Employee engagement, as the ORC rubric on the survey states “is about … a mutually beneficial relationship between the employee and University. Engagement is a good indicator of how connected they are to the University and in helping it to achieve its goals“. The most engaged grouping is professional services followed by the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering (PSE).

A key element in how engaged staff become, is how valued by the University they feel. Here the results are more revealing. Between 60-61% of staff surveyed in the colleges of Arts Humanities and Social Sciences (AHSS) and Biological and Life Sciences (BLS) are not positive about feeling valued, whereas in PSE and Professional services 51-50% of staff surveyed are not positive. Significant improvements have been seen in this feedback statistic for Professional Services and PSE since 2015 but the responses have remained unchanged for AHSS and BLS.

Clearly further investigation and analysis needs to be conducted to understand what is going on here. A university where between half and three fifths of staff cannot report that they feel valued by the organisation, will be in a weaker position when it comes to delivering on its mission, unless you take an approach characterised by the popular view of how the Egyptians built the pyramids. The point of staff surveys is to help with identifying how to improve engagement and thus effectiveness. Not feeling valued by the employer will be putting a brake on many who report this.

One concern which has been raised with Cardiff UCU and shared with senior management is the impact of competing values and managerialism. This seems to be relevant in the context of this survey and a large proportion of staff not feeling valued.

The competing values framework highlights the tensions in organisations where the emphasis is on either stability and control and flexibility and discretion also where the emphasis is on either an internal or an external focus. These parameters can be represented on two axes resulting in four quadrants. The lower (stability & control) quadrants can be characterised as ‘Control’ and ‘Compete’. The upper (flexibility and discretion) quadrants can be characterised as ‘Collaborate’ and ‘Create’.

The competing values framework would seem to have some relevance for Cardiff University and understanding the tensions and disengagement that exist.

Academics tend to operate with the values represented by the ‘collaborate’ and ‘create’ quadrants whereas administrators and professional services staff are more likely to operate with the values represented by the ‘control’ and ‘compete’ quadrants.

There is a concern that the culture of Cardiff University may be dominated by an emphasis on ‘control’ and ‘compete’ to the detriment of ‘collaborate’ and ‘create’. Clearly a balance is needed.

The differences evident in the staff survey results concerning employee engagement and feeling valued may in part be a result of the competing values between those running the organisation and those collaborating to create the outputs. Professional services staff feel valued because their day job is about ‘control’ (e.g. finance) and ‘compete’ (e.g. marketing) whereas academic staff in AHSS and BLS feel less valued because their job is about collaborating and creating.