The 2018 staff survey is now live. This has been covered by subtext already (see subtext 178 for example) but the real excitement for us this month is whether UCU’s call for a boycott will gain any traction. After all, our staff traditionally take the path of least resistance with the biennial survey and ‘just do it’. It can’t hurt, can it? Presumably the university takes our comments on board.

A look at the current staff survey results page at:


is not very encouraging, opening as it does with ‘the results are in for the Lancaster University Staff Survey 2014,’ and linking to Capita’s report from January 2015. Turnout – 63%. Hm, can we find any record of the 2016 exercise anywhere? After a bit of work, we found it on Box. Turnout – 73%.

Rather like the National Student Survey, staff surveys consist of statements to which we can ‘agree’, ‘tend to agree’, ‘tend to disagree’ or ‘disagree’. Responses in 2016 were generally ‘positive’, although subtext wonders whether it is really so positive that 26% agreed with ‘relationships at work are strained’, while 36% disagreed with ‘I feel fairly rewarded for the work I do.’

Whatever their misgivings, UCU has actively participated – as HR is keen to remind people – in the Staff Survey Planning Group all year, so why the boycott now? According to the email sent to Lancaster UCU members by the branch Vice-Chair, UCU ‘sought to engage with the management response to the last survey, but this was not made possible for us to do in a meaningful way. […] A questionnaire-based staff survey could conceivably be used to support collegiate workplace improvement, but the current approach does not lend itself to doing this.’

Specifically, UCU feels, benchmarking our results against other institutions is flawed, because management will think, ‘if we do not get worse result than the rest of the sector, then all is fine,’ and benchmarking requires standardised questions which ‘severely limits what we can say freely due to the lack of open-ended questions and what we can learn about local conditions.’ Benchmarking also relies on using Capita, and LUCU ‘has ongoing concerns about relying on Capita, given their track record.’

Improvements to the staff experience due to the 2016 survey do seem to be rather limited. On the 2018 staff survey site, examples given are a revamp of the Employee Assistance Programme, more flexible benefits, a ‘clearer PDR process’ (ahem! – see subtext 153) and, thanks to the faculty professional services project, creating ‘a more positive environment for thinking and talking about change which, in turn, has created a more positive platform for change.’ Feedback from those for whom ‘change’ meant ‘P45’ does not seem to have been highlighted.

Will the UCU boycott have an effect? If it reduces the turnout compared with 2016 then, just maybe, the university might consider something different for 2020. Or maybe not.

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