Post-92 academics report greatest stress over lack of autonomy

Academics at post-1992 universities are less happy about levels of management control than staff at older institutions, a study has found.

March 7, 2013

Staff at newer institutions tended to report higher stress levels regarding the level of autonomy they enjoyed in their job, according to an occupational stress survey completed by more than 14,000 university employees.

Staff were asked by the University and College Union how much freedom they had to choose how they did their jobs, including whether they were able to set their own hours, work at their own speed and teach or research their own areas of interest.

Of the 20 institutions where academics were least happy in this area, all but three - City University London, the University of Salford and the University of Ulster - were post-1992 universities.

All 20 of the universities where staff were the happiest with their degree of academic autonomy were older institutions, including the universities of Bath, Cambridge, Leeds and Cranfield, as well as The Open University.

“Research-intensive universities seem to have more of a culture of freedom and staff autonomy,” said Stephen Court, senior research officer at UCU, who coordinated the study.

The survey showed that levels of stress over management control had slightly worsened in the four years since the Health and Safety Executive’s report Psychosocial Working Conditions in Britain 2008.

On a scale of one to five (with one being the highest level of stress), the average stress level for university staff in this area was 3.62 in 2012 compared with 3.75 in 2008.

However, the survey also showed that university employees were better off than the general population, where the level of stress over control averaged 3.52 in 2008.

This was in contrast to other areas of the UCU stress survey covering workload and workplace relations, where academics tended to have higher stress levels than those in other professions.

“While the overall level of well-being has fallen slightly, people are still being given open-ended contracts that give them some flexibility over amount of teaching hours, which allows them to do research,” Mr Court said.

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