More stress in pre-92s

March 18, 2005

Staff in new universities are more likely to suffer from stress and to become ill as a result than their counterparts in old institutions, according to a survey.

The study found that university staff across the board are generally more stressed than workers in other industries. It was carried out by Cary Cooper of Lancaster University Management School and Michelle Tytherleigh of Plymouth University.

In the survey of almost 4,000 staff across 14 institutions, those in new universities reported significantly higher levels of work-related stress.

Causes of stress included the prospect of doing the same job for the next five to ten years and constant organisational changes.

Staff felt they received lower levels of commitment from their organisation than those employed in old universities.

Professor Cooper says that staff in old universities are used to balancing teaching and research. But many of those in new universities, who already have a heavy teaching load, find the pressure of research an additional cause of stress.

All of this contributes to greater levels of stress-related illness among new university employees, the study found.

Andrew Pike, national official for higher education at lecturers' union Natfhe, said that over the past five years, there had been a steady increase in stress-related legal claims against new university employers.

He blamed poor workload management.

"The new university sector exists in a state of perpetual crisis management," he said.

"If you are heavily dependent on teaching grants, then student recruitment is key - running more courses, increasing student numbers - but with the same number of lecturers."

Staff in old universities are more troubled by work-life balance and job security, according to the survey. The authors suggest this may be due to the abolition of tenure and the increasing number of staff on fixed-term and temporary contracts.

Overall, the perceived level of commitment both to and from their organisation is low for university staff compared with the wider workforce.

Professor Cooper says: "Academics are now expected to do everything. They are the ultimate jugglers - teaching, research, administration, third leg."

The paper urges employers and unions to develop strategies to address occupational stress. But it warns that funding cuts could easily cancel out such measures and calls for the Government to work alongside the sector to ensure success.

The research was funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It was published in the Higher Education Research and Development Journal .

caroline.davis@thes.co.uk

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