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The Vrije Universiteit Brussel will provide better counselling for its professors, launch competence management, establish a mail policy and examine work-life balance. All of this should improve the professors’ work even more. This is one of rector Caroline Pauwels’ most important goals: transform VUB to the leading point of reference for work and study. “The VUB should be a warm community of which people can be proud”, says Caroline Pauwels.
Human resources policy will be strengthened as a result of scientific research into professors’ workload. To accomplish this, a competence development policy will be implemented. This should aid in evaluating which skills they already possess and which they can improve or acquire to grow in their academic career. Generic job and competence descriptions for the four academic functions were used as a base.
Pilot project with good results
One faculty has already successfully implemented a pilot project. Young professors can have conversations about their work, ambitions and expectations with more experienced colleagues. This way, their individual goals and the university’s expectations can be established clearly as well as adjusted to match each other, whilst still taking autonomy into account. All faculties will have to aid these processes concerning their professors in the future. To achieve this, the exact function of this more experienced colleague is being identified and the way to implement this in each faculty is being examined.
Professors and kids
To reduce workload for its professors, the VUB is also preparing proposals and initiatives to further improve work-life balance. Especially staff with young children sometimes seem to have difficulty combining these two. They also have the most chance of working late in the evening or even at night.
Mail is an effective way of communicating, but it can be time-consuming and distracting. For this reason the VUB will develop guidelines for sensible use of mail communication.
During the course of this year the VUB will commence its next General Strategic Plan. One of four priorities is the university’s transformation into a “warm” community, which will contribute to the sustainable employability of employees. That is why strategic projects and initiatives will also be tested for their impact on workload, autonomy and working environment for professors.
An employee satisfaction survey has been scheduled for 2018, to evaluate the effects of all the measures taken, and to check what else the university can do accomplish its “warm community” ideal.
Research into professor workload
The measures are a result of research into the workload of professors. The research was conducted by sociology research group TOR and was led by professor Ignace Glorieux. The conclusions from this research were used as a base for this approach. First all, the research showed that the autonomy professors have, makes the time pressure easier to handle. Professors usually work somewhere around 55 hours a week. The researchers also tried to create more clarity regarding the different roles a professor takes on: researcher, teacher and community service provider. In addition, some professors even take on one or more management functions. By improving working environment and team spirit, by clarifying expectations and by improving leadership, the university plans to reduce role ambiguity. Job satisfaction was also influenced negatively by conflicts between work and life, research showed. Women seem to want to quit their careers more easily because of this. Of course the VUB wants to prevent this, to see more women becoming and staying on as professors.
Rector Caroline Pauwels:
“We are striving for a better balance between result-oriented and people-oriented working methods. Output should not be the only criterion. That is why we are pursuing a scientifically based and people-oriented staff policy for our professors. To acquire this we must conduct research into working environment and job satisfaction. The measures that were implemented as a result of the research aim to increase our professors’ well-being.