Universities as good employers

Every year the US journal Chronicle of Higher Education carries out a survey designed to establish which US higher education institutions are best to work for. This year 43,000 staff were surveyed, with a response rate of just under 50 per cent. The questions asked ranged from the extent to which senior university leaders took employee well-being seriously, to questions about the work-life balance.

On the positive side overall, the survey found that even during these more difficult times most higher education faculty and staff enjoy their jobs and are proud to work for their institutions. On the other hand, may indicated they were suffering from stress and could not identify much in the way of a work-life balance. One other (for me) surprising finding is that university staff can be motivated by the same sort of things that are used in industry, such as discounted purchases or holidays, subsidised veterinary care for their pets and even opera tickets.

This blog, by the way, is intending to do a survey on this topic in the autumn in Ireland, and on the whole I expect similar findings: a continuing commitment to university work, but growing disenchantment with the conditions.

Overall one of our problems is that we treat academic employment as vocation rather than profession, meaning that the world expects academics to make sacrifices in order to be allowed to do work that they love. Of course many careers can involve a sense of vocation, but it is not reasonable to treat university faculty and staff as people who do not need to enjoy the conditions and benefits considered normal in other employments. Or at least, not any longer.

To return to the Chronicle‘s survey, the journal has used it also to compile a table of the best higher education institutions to work for. Interestingly, none of the Ivy League institutions make an appearance in the ‘honor role’, containing the top 40 institutions. There is presumably some lesson in there somewhere.

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2 Comments on “Universities as good employers”

  1. kevin denny Says:

    The idea of payment in kind seems odd. Clearly if you offer, say, subsidised vet care then you have to offer something else to non-pet owners. Then you are going to have declare a benefit-in-kind and it all gets messy: cash is king in my view.
    I look forward to the survey. But you need to be very careful how you phrase the questions as you can easily get potentially misleading results. By coincidence I was just looking at some data on primary school principal’s reported stress at work: well a lot of them are pretty stressed it seems. But when you look at job satisfaction they are very satisfied. So if you only asked about one of these outcomes you would get a misleading impression.

    http://gearybehaviourcenter.blogspot.com/2010/07/job-stress-and-satisfaction-amongst.html

    • wendymr Says:

      But is it actually subsidised, or is it the – very common practice in North America – ‘we have negotiated a discount with these businesses and suppliers for our employees’ kind of program? If that, then there’s zero cost to the employer.

      Even if there is an actual subsidy, for years benefits packages have included things that are not/less relevant for some employees. Health benefits are a good example: spouses and offspring are covered as a rule by these. So if I am single, or married with no children, I’m getting less of a benefit than someone with a partner and four kids under the age of 18.


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