Chief Shop Stewards’ Report on the Impacts of Co-Operation Negotiations: Increase in workload and ethical stress, weakened services

Tatte deeply appreciates the work of the chief shop stewards in conducting this survey and preparing the report:

“The report by chief shop stewards at Tampere University indicated that, as a result of co-operation negotiations in autumn 2021 that led to redundancies and organisational reforms, the number of work tasks has increased for a significant majority of both administration and support service staff and teaching and research staff. The work of discharged employees did not disappear: these tasks were transferred to either the remaining administration and support services staff or to teachers and researchers. The increased workload has weakened university’s services. Furthermore, the university employer presented an objective at the co-operation negotiations about strengthening the core operations does not appear to have been actualised: on the contrary, instead of strengthening, the operative prerequisites for research, teaching, and societal interaction have weakened.  

In June, the chief shop stewards conducted a survey to clarify how redundancies and reorganisation of work have impacted the working conditions of the university, the administration and support services staff, and teaching and research staff, together with work itself and the functionality of administration and support services. In addition, the impact of the co-operation negotiations on the staff’s perception on Tampere University as an employer was established.

The results of the survey have been published in the report, titled ‘More tasks, adjustments, and messes: the impact of redundancies at administration and support services and rearrangement of tasks on Tampere University’ by Sinikka Torkkola, Matti Aarnio, Mari Hatavara, Arja Liikanen, Ari Moskari, Jarkko Valjakka, and Jorma Viikki.

During co-operation negotiations, the university employer justified the redundancies through the reduction in work tasks. However, based on the survey responses, the number work tasks did not reduce; in fact, the number increased. 69 percent of respondents from administration and support services estimate that the number of their work tasks has increased, while 62 percent of teachers and researchers report a similar increase. Furthermore, 81 percent of the entire staff stated that their work tasks have not decreased, while new work tasks had been transferred to 30 percent of respondents.

The increase in workload is also portrayed in the estimates of working conditions. In addition to the increased amount of work, the unclear contents of work tasks have degraded the prerequisites of working. Less than a third of the entire staff perceives that they have enough time and sufficient support for their work. Furthermore, only every fifth staff member perceives that work has been organised in a consistent and professional way.

According to the responses, the organisational reform presented as the objective of co-operation negotiations has not progressed. The respondents paint a uniform picture on the administration and support services at the university: only two out of 386 open-ended answers describing the changes in work tasks reported that services function well.

Core operations did not strengthen

Responses by teachers and researchers on the increase of tasks portray that the employer’s objective to strengthen the core operations of the university, that is, teaching, research, and societal interaction, has not been materialised. On the contrary, the core operations of the university appear to have weakened, and, in some sectors, even become endangered, as administration and support services are unable to answer the needs of teachers and researchers with the same effort as before. Survey included open-ended answers describing how teachers and researchers are assuming more responsibilities over support service tasks, so that research and teaching tasks would be possible now and in the future. An increasing amount of time reserved for teaching and research is spent on tasks previously managed by support service employees. In addition, due to the organisational reform and uncertainties in division of labour, more time is spent on clarifying processes: who is in charge of what, and where can I find support for my issues?

The weak employer image persists

Tampere University’s employer image has traditionally been weaker than that of other Finnish universities. In the annual wellbeing at work survey, Tampere University received below average results in all questions measuring strategic leadership. The results of current survey are very parallel with both wellbeing at work survey and the assessment of university’s management system.

The survey responses paint a harsh picture on Tampere Universities. Majority of respondents would not recommend Tampere University as an employer. In addition, the majority perceived that Tampere University does not treat all employees equally. Furthermore, more than half of respondents would change workplaces, if given the opportunity.

Open-ended answers portray reasons for weak employer image: these answers tell the story of culture of silencing, lowered work motivation, and the will to change workplaces. However, this weak employer image cannot be explained with resistance towards the unification of Tampere University, as the majority of those who started their careers at the university during the time of Tampere Universities share the negative impression of the university as an employer. Less than fourth of these employees would recommend Tampere University as a workplace.

Employees adapt for the sake of university

The survey responses depict the dedication respondents have for their work. After the completion of redundancies, this commitment materialises in, for example, completing tasks despite having no time for them at all. Work just must be dealt with; it is as simple as that. In addition, commitment signifies the will to work to the best of employees’ abilities. As per employees’ experiences, redundancies and reorganisation of work caused by co-operation negotiations diminished the opportunities of working at the same level as before. This, in turn, has caused ethical stress for employees.

It appears that many functional structures of university remain standing due to adapting and flexible employees. However, employees cannot keep on adapting for a long time without any consequences for work quality and wellbeing at work. Basic functions built on individuals assuming responsibilities and adaptation have an unstable base. The imbalance between the amount of work tasks and human resources creates a significant risk for the university’s core functions. In addition, these few resources are wasted, when work is badly organised and reasonable distribution of work based on competences and job descriptions are nowhere to be seen.

The chief shop stewards who authored the report present a question: what would happen to the university functions if the employees cannot adapt anymore? Is it possible to build the necessity teaching and research infrastructure for a university aiming for top results on the adaptability of employees?

The report ‘More tasks, adjustments, and messes: the impact of redundancies at administration and support services and rearrangement of tasks on Tampere University’ in PDF. (In Finnish)  “