Call for declaration to protect staff well-being

Elsevier vice-president calls for manifesto on well-being signed by institutions so researchers are not seen as ‘paper-producing machines’

October 26, 2021
Source: iStock

The research sector should sign up to a declaration that calls for the protection and promotion of staff well-being, a Times Higher Education summit has heard.

The research community needed to “urgently” review the way it look after staff mental health, according to Claudio Colaiacomo, vice-president of academic relations and research partnerships at Elsevier.

He told the THE Leadership and Management Summit, hosted in partnership with the University of Glasgow, that the mounting evidence of poor mental health among research staff means there is “a strong need for a manifesto, specifically on well-being”.

This would be along the lines of the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment, known as Dora, or the Leiden Manifesto, which both call for the more responsible use of metrics in research, and are signed by individuals, or organisations such as research funders.

He cited a Wellcome Trust survey of academics showing that more than 50 per cent had sought, or intended to seek, professional help for depression and anxiety.

“And the pandemic has made it worse,” Mr Colaiacomo said. “We have to be very careful not to focus on the symptoms, to say ‘you’re stressed? Well do mindfulness’. We have to tackle the main issue, what people call the toxic work culture [in research].”

The sector needs something that “clearly speaks out”, which says “there is a toxic research culture, people are suffering” and is a “further push to the community”, he said.

Publishers and academic institutions would be asked to sign up to it, he continued.

Mr Colaiacomo added that Elsevier’s data analytics department had undertaken an in-depth analysis of research output in the field of well-being. There were about 1,000 papers per year on student well-being, a number that has grown exponentially since the 1990s, whereas on staff well-being there were about 100 to 250 papers per year.

“This is an indicator that well-being in academia is seen as a local issue,” he said. “The assumption here is that if there is research done on a topic, that’s a predictor that that topic is of growing interest.”

Mr Colaiacomo added that creating metrics around well-being would also be a good way to force leaders and institutions to focus on staff mental health.

“It is now very urgent to review the way the community thinks of the researcher not as a paper-producing machine, but as a human being acting within an organisation and society as a whole,” he said.

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