'Staff happy to stay put' shock

September 15, 2006

I had a good hoot reading your front-page article ("Dissatisfied staff plan exodus", September 8).

For several years, when teaching social research methods to management postgraduates, I have used the idea of discovering the career intentions of staff as a good example of the difficulties of getting reliable answers. Almost unanimously my students have agreed that just about everybody they work with would answer positively if asked whether they were considering a career move in the next two years, although nowhere near that number actually move jobs in that period.

We generally conclude that if you ask a silly question... Therefore, a statistic of 25 per cent of staff thinking of getting another job in the next year strikes me as being suspiciously low. The spin should be in the opposite direction - "large majority of higher education staff happy to stay put this year" or similar.

I would comment further on this survey were it not for the fact that the website to which the article refers does not obviously offer the further details on the survey that we were promised. But the offhand remarks about confirming the "psychological contract" make little sense unless we know just which interpretation of this elastic term is intended. It would be more helpful if someone at The Times Higher put a date in their calendar for this time next year, and the following, and check back to see what really has happened with staff turnover and retention.

Paul Griseri
Management Studies Centre
University College London

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