UCL News


Provost's View: Staff Survey 2015 - what you said about working at UCL

16 March 2016

During November 2015, UCL asked all staff to fill in our Staff Survey.

staff survey Running every two years, the Staff Survey is your opportunity to feed back to us your experience of working at UCL. The survey provides valuable insight into what is functioning well at UCL, but more importantly, where there is room for improvement - providing the basis for an action plan formulated by UCL's senior management team (SMT) and implemented across UCL.

The results of previous staff surveys have helped to make improvements to many areas of life at UCL, ranging from a review of staff rewards through to new initiatives to further enhance the leadership and direction of UCL. This article summarises the results of the most recent survey.

Response rates

We achieved a 42% response rate which resulted in £25,590 being donated to the student hardship fund. Thank you to everyone who gave their 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 UCL level results were shared with all staff and in line with this promise, you can access the report here: Staff Survey.

What you are positive about, and where we need to do more

In terms of individual questions, the survey results are very positive in a number of respects.

  • How your work contributes to UCL

87% of staff say they understand how their work contributes to the objectives of their department, 84% of staff feel their work gives them a sense of personal accomplishment, 84% tell us they understand how their work contributes to the success of UCL as a whole and 80% say they are proud to work for UCL. This demonstrates a very committed and engaged workforce, of which I am extremely proud.

  • Equal opportunities

I am also pleased to see that 82% of you say that you think that UCL respects individual differences and 80% of you believe that UCL is committed to advancing equal opportunities. I am passionate about this agenda and it is great to see that the considerable efforts made across UCL on delivering on our commitments to equality and diversity have been acknowledged.

  • Grading process

Only 22% of respondents feel that the grading process is applied fairly and I have therefore asked UCL HR to look into this further over the coming year.

  • Infrastructure and systems

Only 31% of staff responded positively to the question of whether UCL gives sufficient priority to infrastructure and systems.

Given our rapid growth over the past few years which has exacerbated existing demands on space across the campus, it is perhaps unsurprising to see this reflected in the latest staff survey results.

However, I am pleased to say that we are already taking significant steps to invest in the UCL estate and other infrastructure. A range of projects are taking place across the campus as part of a vision to transform UCL and we clearly need to ensure all our staff are kept more aware of the progress we are making and our ongoing plans. A new Digital Masterplan has also been drawn up, aimed at ensuring that UCL IT systems support the changing needs of UCL.

There is a necessary lag effect with any significant investment initiative, but I am confident that staff will start to see the real benefits before the next staff survey.

Areas that have improved since 2013

  • Recognition of good performance

The most significant improvement since the 2013 survey (with positive responses up 19% compared to last time) related to the question 'my good performance is recognised appropriately'. This is clearly important to you and I am pleased that we are making progress in this area. It is also why we have recently introduced a new Provost's Excellence Scheme to recognise truly exceptional contributions from across UCL, with a particular emphasis on furthering UCL values.

  • Fair pay and good performance management

Other significantly improved responses include you feeling that pay is fair in comparison to people working in similar roles in other organisations, that poor performance is being dealt with effectively by managers, that the UCL academic promotions process is being seen as fair, and that you feel you have a choice deciding how to do your work, as long as it gets done (this received the most positive response of any question in the survey). I am in no doubt that there is more we can do in all these areas but these are heartening trends.

Areas performing less well than in 2013

  • Appraisals

Areas performing less well include a decrease in satisfaction that your last appraisal set work objectives for the coming appraisal period and led to you developing your skills to achieve them. This is worrying and a reason for us to review the way we do staff appraisal at UCL. While we have clear appraisal policies and processes, I think it is important to reflect on how appraisal actually operates on the ground to determine why you are telling us that it needs to improve and in what way.

I have asked UCL HR for more focus to be given to appraisal training and over the next year we will be looking to improve the schemes we currently have and the guidance that is provided to both staff and managers at UCL.

  • Personal and career development

This should also address another poor performing area in the staff survey - the opportunity for personal and career development and growth. Appraisal can certainly ensure conversations take place to address these concerns. The work being led by Professor Anthony Smith, Vice-Provost (Education & Student Affairs) on academic promotions and reward will also be highly relevant and we will shortly be consulting widely with you about these important proposals

Environmental sustainability

Another area which showed a large fall in satisfaction was in response to "UCL acts in an environmentally sustainable way".

There are probably many reasons for this score. We are in a state of tremendous pressure on the estate with construction activities reaching their peak (and the campus feeling congested); and we are undertaking a lot of work to resolve residual maintenance issues with our buildings - with many people concerned about heating in winter and cooling in summer. I have no doubt that the physical improvements which are planned will improve the environment around UCL. There will be improvements to energy efficiency, cycling facilities will be bettered and we plan to construct more green roofs.

Environmental sustainability encompasses more than improvements to the estate. UCL is also undertaking a work to integrate sustainability into our teaching and research activities. For example, we have been seeking ways to use the UCL estate as the basis for some of our research. We have recently undertaken energy efficiency research on some of the buildings - testing the potential of the 'Internet of Things' to save energy and to create more responsive spaces. UCL's Grand Challenges programme and UCL ChangeMakers are both offering new exciting ways for learning about the environment and taking forward projects.

In managing our environmental impacts, UCL has recently achieved a Gold standard for its environmental management system which reflects the scale of activity which is being undertaken and the structures which we have put in place to manage environmental risks and issues. UCL also achieved its highest point in the 2015 Green League - 29th out of 150 plus institutions - and the number of teams in the Green Impact programme has increased year on year.

Staff engagement

As well as responses to individual questions, we also measure staff engagement. Overall we achieved a lower engagement index (72%) compared to 2013 (79%), although the methodology behind the measure this time is a little more sophisticated in terms of using responses to a broader range of questions.

The 2015 index measures responses to a range of questions such as whether you would recommend UCL as a good place to work, whether you feel proud to work here and whether you feel a strong sense of belonging to your department and the university as a whole.

Engagement is therefore a good indicator of how connected you are to UCL and how aligned you are to its goals, strategies and ethos. While the index is still quite positive, the slight fall since last time is disappointing. The Senior Management Team has acknowledged that more needs to be done at university-wide and local levels to address this.

  • Engagement with UCL 2034

We included a new index (again using a range of questions) in this survey showing staff engagement with UCL 2034. The results show that this stands at 56%. However, only 29% of staff responded positively to the specific question about having a clear understanding of the 2034 strategy and its impact on their own department. To contextualise this result, implementing an institution-wide strategy in such a large and complex university is a challenging task that I would expect to take some time. However, there is clearly room for improvement and over the next year I will redouble efforts to communicate the relationship between our strategy (UCL 2034) and your personal and departmental contribution more effectively.

  • How we will engage staff effectively with strategy

In my Provost's View of 14th January, published after the staff engagement survey had closed, I highlighted some of the recent developments in connection with UCL 2034 and looked ahead to what we want to achieve in 2016.

We will continue to prioritise staff engagement with our strategy, both by ensuring that all local plans relate directly to the priorities set out in UCL 2034 and also by communicating regularly on the strategy's implementation. It is very important that all staff are able to understand how their own work contributes to the direction of UCL and how they can support it.

Our next major update will be in June when we will publish our Annual Review. This will follow the annual Council Away Day where we will have the opportunity to assess our performance against our selected indicators. As I have said previously, we are also interested in your views, including any suggestions you may have for raising awareness and understanding of our strategy. If you would like to discuss UCL 2034 implementation further, please contact, in the first instance, Caroline Wickenden of the UCL Planning Team.

Benchmarking against our peers

It is of greater importance now than ever before that UCL is recognised as a leader within the UK HE sector and we remain an employer of choice within the Russell Group in particular.

It is interesting to note that of the questions comparable to the Russell Group, the level of positive responses about pay, benefits, being treated with fairness and respect and receiving regular and constructive feedback were in line with the benchmark.

I was pleased to see UCL achieved above the Russell Group norm for 'I would recommend UCL as a good place to work'.

We were disappointingly below the benchmark for 'balance between work and home life' and 'satisfied with my physical working environment', which obviously provides scope for further improvement in these areas.

When considering the questions comparable with the broader university sector, it is refreshing to note that UCL sits well above the benchmark (20%+) for 'senior managers are sufficiently visible' and 'senior management are open and honest in their communications with staff'.

However we fall short again and sit below the benchmark for 'my last appraisal set work objectives and led to me developing my skills' and 'I am satisfied with the support available if I experience stress or pressure in the workplace'. As well as the proposed review of appraisals, I would also like to emphasise the importance of managers having regular one to one meetings with staff, not just annual reviews, so that no member of staff is left to feel unsupported whilst working at UCL.

What happens next?

Local staff survey results have been shared with senior managers and these should be cascaded out to staff through team meetings or other local methods of communication.

I encourage all staff to get involved with ensuing discussions and contribute to action planning. Getting involved and getting engaged with the solutions makes them more powerful and effective.

It is important to identify cross-cutting themes and allocate resources centrally where they can make the biggest difference, but UCL is a very diverse and autonomous university 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. SMT will also draw up a list of UCL-wide priorities and these will be monitored on the same timescale.

I will personally keep a strong overview to ensure that you ultimately feel that your efforts in responding to the survey were worthwhile and that our responses lead to real and tangible improvements.

Professor Michael Arthur UCL President & Provost