By Jack Taylor & Tom Mitchell
As the UCU announce they will once again strike later this month, in part due to casualiation and workloads, Palatinate can reveal that at points last academic year up to 28% of staff absences were due to mental health.
An internal university document seen by Palatinate presents data for staff absences from February to March 2019, showing that in total 27.56% of absences were due to mental health. This breaks down as 8.39% Stress, 7.28% Anxiety, 6.78% Depression and 5.11% ‘Other Mental Health’.
An Associate Professor reacted to these findings by telling Palatinate: “The mental health crisis amongst students is also present amongst staff. Sixty hour weeks are not uncommon, many staff are suffering from anxiety themselves even as we try to encourage you, our students to look after your mental health.
“No amount of free yoga classes will make up for heavy workloads and inhuman research expectations around writing or grant capture. These are systemic problems – a competitive research culture and a marketised university system funded through student debt creates pressure and it is students and staff that pay students and staff that pay the price.”
No amount of free yoga classes will make up for heavy workloads and inhuman research expectations
As a percentage of total absences, the occasions of staff taking time off due to mental health issues has fallen from 33.34% in the fourth quarter of 2017/18. In particular, occasions of stress-related absences have fallen from 14.49% to 8.39%.
The University stated, in the document seen by Palatinate, that this was due to the number of days recorded falling but also due to the rise in other sickness such as colds.
The UCU announced on Monday that members at 74 universities, including Durham, will strike for 14 days later this month and into early March. This is in part due to what the UCU describes as universities’ “failure to significant improvements” to pay, equality, casualisation and workloads.
An academic that plans to strike told Palatinate: “Locally, Durham is no stranger to using casualised contracts. Some members of our branch were on zero hours teaching contracts for up to nine years in one case. Hourly paid and short-term contracts which provide no job security are a source of anxiety and both emotional and financial stress.
“They mean people cannot plan for their futures – having a family, buying a house, receiving long-term medical care – all of these things are impossible on zero hours or short-term contracts. We know this because these are our colleagues, our friends and our partners.
“These people teach your seminars, they teach you language classes in the evening, they help you with academic skills, they help run your library and many other activities that make your university tick”.
People cannot plan for their futures
Joanne Race, the University’s Director of Human Resources & Organisation Development, said: “People are our most important asset and we recognise the importance of the wellbeing of our workforce.
“We have supportive structures and services in place, ensuring our staff can raise problems and seek help – be this from their line management, Occupational Health, Health and Safety, the University Counselling Service or HR and Organisation Development.
“We are currently undertaking a University-wide project to develop a comprehensive Wellbeing Strategy to ensure we are providing a healthy and productive workplace. We have invited all staff to feed into this project through a Health and Wellbeing Survey and consultation events. We will soon be announcing new initiatives which are based on these findings.
“Alongside this work we are also reviewing the way in which we engage staff on flexible contracts and how we can ensure they are only used when appropriate, and with defined conditions. Representatives from the Students’ Union and our Trade Unions are involved in these discussions.”
Photography: Zoë Boothby