Provost’s Long View: UCL staff survey results

26 February 2014

All the achievements of this great university are driven by the quality and commitment of our staff. Our excellence in teaching, research and innovation depends on the efforts of people working at all levels; and our continued success will only come through having an engaged community, committed to the values that we stand for, and rewarded appropriately.

Staff survey

A real privilege of my job is to meet people right across the UCL community, which provides me with some insight into how they feel about their work and about the organisation. But equally important is for us to gain a wider picture of issues at the departmental and institutional level, and I am delighted to share in this month’s Long View the results for the UCL staff engagement survey, which ran from 4–22 November 2013.

Response rates

We achieved a 57% response rate (5,716 responses) that resulted in £57,160 being donated to the student hardship fund. Thank you to everyone who gave of your time to let us know what’s important to you, what keeps you at UCL and what we need to do better. We committed to ensuring that the overall results were shared with all staff within four weeks of being presented to the Senior Management Team (SMT) and, in line with this promise, you can access the staff survey overall results report online.

Staff engagement

Overall, we achieved a high 79% positive engagement index [i], with 95% of employees who responded being interested in the work that they do, gaining a great sense of satisfaction and understanding how their work contributes at both the team and organisational level.

Similarly, 94% of all employees who responded are willing to go the “extra mile” when required. This demonstrates a hugely committed and engaged workforce, of which we should all be very proud.

Trends

I am encouraged that in comparison to the 2011 survey, 24% of comparable questions demonstrated a notably more positive response (five points above the previous percentage positive rates), 71% were in line and just five per cent notably below.

Of these improvements, you told us that there are improved relations between staff and management, while senior management is considered more visible and effective (an ongoing upward trend for these from both the 2009 and 2011 results).

There is also increased trust in line managers’ abilities to deal with poor performance and provide support during times of change. This scored negatively in 2011, so it is reassuring that some of the developmental measures that we have put in place to support managers to manage more effectively are showing some stronger results. I am in no doubt that there is more we can do in these areas, but it is a heartening trend.

Areas performing less well include a decreased awareness of the availability and quality of staff benefits, and a decline in the opinion that pay is fair. We will be reviewing the range of benefits available and how these are communicated as a priority.

It has been a difficult and challenging time for pay across the sector in recent times. There is ongoing government pressure for pay restraint and we have a difficult balance to strike: rewarding staff for jobs well done, on the one hand, and safeguarding jobs and coping with the ongoing uncertainty of future funding sources on the other.

This is exacerbated by ongoing economic realities, particularly heightened in London with ever increasing housing and other costs. Nevertheless, the Senior Management Team and I are determined that we should look at all options on how we recognise and reward staff for excellent performance and ensure that our reward mechanisms are fit for purpose.

Benchmarking

One of our ongoing challenges is keeping UCL in the vanguard of the HE sector and the Russell Group in particular.

Of those questions that are comparable with other Russell Group universities, 75% of responses were notably above the norm, scoring highly on staff understanding of how their work contributes to team objectives, being more confident on the feedback received on performance and more likely to recommend UCL as an employer.

Benefits were the only area performing below the norm. This demonstrates that UCL is a truly great and inspiring place to work.

Different groups

Given the central academic mission that is at the heart of all we do, it is perhaps unsurprising that academics are the most engaged group of staff. Engagement also increases across all occupational types with grade and management responsibility.

It is our challenge to ensure that all staff feel part of UCL, understand how their work contributes to the greater good and that people feel genuinely valued for their contribution.

There are variable responses from staff in different demographics. More analysis needs to be done on this to identify why certain groups are less engaged and we will be working with our various equalities groups (gender, LGBT; race equality and the, to be newly formed, disability groups) to examine some of the reasons.

Key drivers – across UCL

Key drivers that have most impact on staff engagement are defined in the survey as being “my work” (sense of personal accomplishment in your job); “UCL values and goals” (alignment of personal values with UCL values); “management and leadership” (effective leadership and two-way communication); “equality of opportunity” (treated with fairness and respect); and “development” (opportunities for personal development and growth).

“My work” scores highly and we need to ensure that we consolidate and celebrate this area.

Values and goals also have a strong impact, but more work needs to be done in this area. This supports my view that our strategy needs to be better understood and accessible to all, with more clearly defined goals.

We will be sharing a draft of the new strategy next week, and I encourage you all to get involved with the online engagement activity and the three open meetings that are taking place across March.

While there have been improvements in the area of leadership and management, there is still much more we can do and I am certain that inspiring, courageous, consistent and fair leadership are the hallmarks by which we should be judged.

We will continue rolling out the refreshed leadership and management programmes alongside other innovative development programmes, such as coaching and mentoring which are proving hugely successful.

I talked last month about the challenges that we face in promoting equality and diversity. While I am encouraged that 80% of employees feel that they are treated with fairness and respect and 85% think UCL respects individual difference, the survey results indicate that these views are not consistent across different groups of people and we must in no way be complacent.

There are huge challenges ahead to make UCL a truly representative environment, providing great role models for our students, and it is a challenge I am committed to tackling head on.

Development scores reasonably highly on most questions, but falls on the issue of staff regularly working excessive hours to meet the requirements of the job.

The impact that this has on work-life balance is particularly deleterious for women and can discourage them from putting themselves forward for promotion as they see the imbalance increasing. This needs to be addressed.

What about locally?

It is important to identify cross-cutting themes and allocate resources centrally where they can make the biggest difference, but UCL is made up of very diverse groups and problems identified in one area will be different to another.

It is important that managers locally are empowered to tackle the issues that matter and create working solutions that will last. I have, therefore, tasked the Vice-Provosts, Deans and Directors of Professional Services to develop action plans that respond to local results and for progress on these plans to be reported back to SMT on a six-monthly basis.

I will maintain a strong interest to ensure that plans are drawn up and actions taken.

What happens next?

Local information has been shared with senior managers and will be cascaded to staff through team meetings or other local methods of communication. I encourage all staff to get involved with the ensuing discussions and contribute to action planning – as this will make the solutions all the more powerful and effective.

I am committed to sharing the outcomes of the action plans and will celebrate with you where this makes a difference.

Let me finish by re-affirming my belief that our future success depends on the quality and commitment of our team, right across UCL, and I hope you will see how much this is reflected in our new Strategy. I look forward to getting your input.

Michael Arthur

UCL President & Provost

i The ‘engagement index’ is the combination of six questions in the survey which give a value as to how engaged staff are with UCL, based on the ‘Say, Stay, Strive’ model. The questions ask what people ‘say’ about UCL as an employer, whether people have a strong sense of belonging to UCL and therefore likely to ‘stay’ with UCL and the level of discretionary effort people put in or the extent they ‘strive’.

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