Academic Job Workloads

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Workloads and their calculation are a controversial topic amongst academics. Each department uses a slightly different method for ensuring that its members of staff have parity and that they are all doing roughly the same amount of work. Here are some issues around workloading to be aware of when entering the academic workplace.

What is workload calculating and how is it done?

Each job within a department is allocated a set number of hours. Everything from being head of department down to leading one single seminar is given a number. Jobs are then divided up among colleagues based on their areas of interest. The workload of each staff member is calculated to ensure that no one falls a long way above or below the average.

New members of staff will be given a lighter load for the first few years and similar allocations may be made for staff returning from a period of sick leave or maternity leave. As well as classroom time, a numerical allocation is usually made for research too, thus rewarding the members of staff who are engaged in research (usually by publishing a certain number of items per year, or by submitting funding bids to external awarders, or being part of the REF submission).

The idea behind this is to ensure that no one is allowed to over- or under-work compared to their colleagues. This process ought to be transparent so that each staff member can see the others’ workloads.

Part time and temporary staff:

Colleagues in these categories are particularly vulnerable because sometimes departments employ part time staff but then try to give them a full time workload. Hourly paid contract staff often have heavy workloads with a far greater number of hours teaching per week than their permanent colleagues. However as they are paid by the hour, many temporary staff choose to do this for financial reasons and they are rarely given any administrative responsibility so do not have to bear that burden.

Things to watch out for:

While this system is designed to create a fair working environment, it can lead to problems. Do not allow rivalries between staff members to ruin a workplace atmosphere. If you have any concerns, make sure that you know who your line manager is and approach them to discuss the matter confidentially.

You may have been assigned a job which you believe is not given enough weight in the workload allocation scheme, for example, a job where procedures have changed significantly and so the amount of time it takes has increased a great deal. Any requests for adjustments to the method of calculating workloads should be addressed to your head of department initially, but he or she will probably have to take the request to the Dean of Faculty as decisions are often taken at faculty level to ensure parity not only within a department but between departments.

Increasingly departments (especially in the Humanities) are being asked to tighten their belts and so they have less money to spend on staff. This means that staff workloads are increasing. Of course a fixed amount of work has to be done every year in relation to teaching students and ensuring university administration is completed, but there are also policy decisions from university management that have to be implemented, meaning that staff must take on more work. So, it is important for colleagues to protect themselves from being treated unfairly, but it is also important to ensure that, in the light of increasing overall responsibilities, they are bearing an equal burden with their colleagues. This is a balancing act that is challenging for all academic staff.

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