The workload and stress of teaching academics increased during the coronavirus period

– Experiences of working during the exceptional time quite positive

Through a survey carried out in May, the Finnish Union of University Researchers and Teachers (FUURT) surveyed its members’ experiences of the impact of the exceptional situation on work this spring. The results show that, for the most part, the work of academics seemed to have gone well, or, as one respondent said “surprisingly OK”. There were some issues, for example, in terms of mixing work and leisure and finding peace to work.

The average rating for the progress of one’s own work was 3.6 (on a scale of 1–5). The employer was assessed to have been doing mostly well in the exceptional situation, and occupational well-being was found to have remained relatively unchanged.

The transition of higher education institutions to remote work is evident. Almost all respondents have worked from home full time or part time. The preparedness for remote work was perceived as good and, for the majority, their work equipment was already in order.

For the most, the workload had remained the same or increased. It should be noted, however, that the workload of up to 54% of academics working in teaching-oriented positions has increased. The rapid transition to distance education and the special arrangements for entrance examinations have put a significant strain on teaching staff.

“Remote work and the sudden digital leap were handled extremely well in higher education institutions. We have been flexible, we have renewed, published and taught, and we have done our best to ensure that the exceptional situation causes as little trouble for students as possible. At the same time, however, the workload has increased and it has not been easy to cope,” says Maija S. Peltola, the President of the union.

Mixing work and leisure causes stress

The main challenges of working from home for academics were poor work ergonomics, mixing work and leisure time, and the lack of peace to work. In particular, respondents with children were burdened with reduced peace in which to work as childcare and support for distance learning for school children disturbed their concentration.

“Traditionally, it has been difficult for academics to distinguish between work and leisure. If the exceptional situation continues, we should pay serious attention to improving this issue,” Peltola emphasises.

The responses showed that the work community and encounters at the workplace are important to academics in general. The lack of or reduction in social contacts affected the meaningfulness of work and possibly hampered creative development of ideas with colleagues.

Based on open responses, many academics are willing to continue in a situation where there is a balanced opportunity to work from home and work at the workplace.

The survey was conducted during 4–10 May 2020 in Finnish and English, and 1,323 people from all 15 member associations responded. The majority of respondents, 71%, work at the universities. The majority of respondents, 56%, work in research-oriented positions, 17% in teaching-oriented positions, 9% in the field of informatics, 8% in other expert positions and 6% in administrative tasks. 10% are grant-funded workers and 5% unemployed.

The proportion of respondents in English was about 15.6%, which also corresponds to the number of international members of the union. Their responses did not differ greatly from those who responded in Finnish, although both the progress of their own work and the employer’s actions received a lower result among international respondents.

The survey was conducted by Webropol.