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Colleague health and wellbeing survey

Dear Colleagues,

Many thanks for your kind feedback after my last staff message and talk. It is clear that many colleagues continue to struggle with aspects of work and life right now so it is important that we make time to connect and support one another however we can. It is also evident from my meetings with staff that there is a great willingness and commitment to work together to shape the future of this great university.

This week we should know more about the Government Covid-19 roadmap to help us plan our education and research activities for the rest of the academic year. We have been planning for different scenarios and we will provide details on our approach as quickly as we can and be ready to adapt once again in this ongoing global pandemic. I said in my last staff message though that the impact from the pandemic will last long beyond the vaccination roll out and as a University we need to put in place the right structures and support for the short, medium and long term.

The wellbeing of our community is an area of particular focus and concern for me. There is no doubt that the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have affected everyone and we know that mental health issues have increased across society. We also know from our own recent surveys and feedback from staff and students that the past 12 months have taken a heavy toll. We now have the results of the ‘Colleague Health and Wellbeing Survey 2020’ undertaken in December, and the responses will provide a good basis for the actions we need to take to support our community. Thank you to all the 2,513 colleagues who took part in the survey.

I want to reflect on just a few areas and actions but also commit to work with you on the solutions. We must be honest that there are no quick fixes, although I am positive that as we come through the worst of the pandemic some of the pressures will hopefully ease. There is no doubt that dealing with Covid-19 has led to increased workload, uncertainty, anxiety, social disconnection and negatively affected our work/life balance. It would be wrong to dismiss the survey as only Covid-19 related though and we should not miss the opportunity to address core underlying issues of workload, resources, ways of working, leadership and how we innovate and support change.

Survey results

There are some positive messages in the survey of supportive conversations with colleagues, informal peer support networks as well as knowledge and access of our wellbeing services. However, 66% of colleagues said they were working over their contracted hours, only 36% said they have enough resources to complete their work effectively, around 42% said they did not agree that the level of current stress was acceptable and around 30% of colleagues reported poor mental health.  These are all things that I am taking very seriously and we must work together to find ways to try and fix the underlying issues for the longer term, while agreeing short term support mechanisms to help with the coming weeks and months.

Throughout the published report we have sought to provide context and make links to evidence-based frameworks and best practice including the HSE Management Standards, 2020 Mind Report and the Stevenson Farmer Thriving at Work Report. So, for example, the Mind report shows that nationally 35% of those in employment describe their mental health as poor or very poor. I found it valuable to see where we are as an organisation while not losing sight of the specific issues within the university. We will also need to be targeted in our actions because evidently experiences and needs vary across the organisation and one solution does not necessarily work for all.

Next steps

In terms of next steps, the survey results have been shared with our leadership teams as we know that we will need both local and organisation-wide actions. The new University Wellbeing and Mental Health Board will meet today and discuss the results and recommendations. At my all staff talk tomorrow (Tuesday 23rd February) I am happy to answer questions or receive ideas about how we progress our next steps. I encourage all colleagues to take time to discuss mental health and wellbeing within your own areas and put forward recommendations for the changes you want to see: staffwellbeing@exeter.ac.uk.

To date, we have been trying to improve our policies on academic workload and support, we have developed bespoke training on mental health, developed our online resources and information and invested in additional support services. I have also been impressed by how you have all developed your own good practice and ways of connecting and helping with the demands we face. At the recent senior leadership forum, examples of good practice were reported including shortening meetings to give people more breaks in the day and between calls, support for flexible working and more pragmatism on paperwork and deadlines. From the small to the big actions, we need to put staff and student wellbeing at the heart of all we do.

Supporting the needs of everyone within a large and complex organisation is not easy. Last week we also received the latest student pulse survey results. There is excellent feedback and recognition for academic and teaching support and overall for the quality of teaching. Thank you again to everyone who has worked so hard to deliver high quality education and support this year.  However, as might be expected, their sense of belonging to the university, engagement and connectedness is low and many are struggling with the study/life balance. Our students are also reporting poor mental health. The detailed results will be provided through education leadership teams and I am also writing to students today.

In order to support everyone in our community we are going to need an understanding, compassionate and well thought out approach. In a time when so much has kept us apart and made it more difficult for us to share different perspectives and needs, I want us to use this time to work together on how we create the university we all want for the future, coming together as one team – students, staff, alumni and our community partners to build our common values and aspirations.

I realise that many will be impatient for progress and action on these issues, me included, but I want to make sure that any changes we make are collaborative, effective, sustained and experienced across the whole community. Today, we should know more about the government’s roadmap out of the Covid-19 pandemic and it is also an opportunity for us to look ahead and, step by step, focus on the kind of university and community we want beyond Covid-19. The innovation, commitment and team spirit I have witnessed in my short time here give me every confidence that we have a very bright future ahead.

Take care,

Lisa

Professor Lisa Roberts
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive