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Tag Archives: HR
News reaches subtext that, in an email to line managers on Wednesday 25 March, the Vice-Chancellor has announced a complete freeze on all external recruitment at Lancaster. Where an offer has already been made, this will be honoured, but all other appointments and vacancies are to be frozen.
The VC informs managers that ‘we are having to review our short to medium position regarding staff recruitment and all other costs in light of the significantly altered financial and operating position. You will be aware that we communicated last week a deferral of the most significant capital projects; i.e. the next phase of the LUMS development, the refurbishment of the east estate, and the construction of the new Engineering building. Other changes to the capital programme will follow.’ As a result, ‘all external recruitment (including through ERS) with immediate effect is being placed on hold until further notice.’
The existing vacancy control process for Professional Services staff will now apply to all roles, including ERS (the University’s in-house employment agency that lets them hire people on zero hours contracts while pretending not to have any staff on zero hours contracts) positions and proposed extensions to fixed term contracts. The process will assess whether vacancies are ‘strategically critical roles’ where the freeze should not apply.
There is some reassurance: ‘we need to ensure we are, where possible, providing job security to our existing staff and mitigating the cessation of fixed term contracts. This will require us to think differently and creatively as we redeploy staff and share our resources.’ Furthermore, ‘we will automatically place all fixed term contracts due to come to a natural end on the redeployment register.’
Fixed term staff awaiting transfer to indefinite status, as promised by the University’s new policy, are likely to be disappointed: ‘we are mindful that work is due to start in respect of the new Fixed Term Contracts Policy and this work will continue as best it can do in light of COVID-19 context. However, managers should still keep fixed term contracts under review as normal.’
This announcement will hardly have come as a surprise to anyone – after all, how many overseas students do you think we’re realistically likely to recruit for the coming year? Your subtext drones wonder how equipped the university would be, or more likely would not be, to weather a significant one-year drop in student numbers without redundancies.
We should perhaps be grateful we are not at the University of Sussex, which reportedly announced on Wednesday 25 March that all temporary contracts should be ‘terminated where possible’:
As subtext goes to press, 44 vacancies are still being advertised at: https://hr-jobs.lancs.ac.uk/
As the most recent Head of Department of the late School of Independent Studies, I am assuming I can consider inviting myself to authorise my own access to the University’s IT and email?
Reading the letters in subtext 192, I was struck by a sense of deja vu. Continuing members continuing to be insulted by the management on the strange basis that providing them with such things as an email address is costly to the university. I wrote before, a long time ago, pointing out that no real calculation of costs of providing IT and library access to continuing members had been made.
It is not legitimate to calculate that cost by dividing the entire cost of these services by the total number of users, to get a prime cost per head, and then to multiply that by the number of continuing members. Prime cost per head and marginal cost are not the same thing. Provision of services to continuing members only costs anything if it means extra staff have to be hired, extra servers bought or leased, more books purchased, et cetera. Until marginal cost has been correctly calculated, there is no case for alienating this group of former colleagues. If the real marginal cost has been calculated, then I think we ought to be told what that is and how it was arrived at, in order to be able to make a judgement about management’s stance, right or wrong, on this question.
Dr Richard Austen-Baker
Senior Lecturer in Law
Lancaster University Law School
My attention was drawn by a recent news story on the University Portal page, ‘Fixed-term contracts and casual working policy: update’.
One line particularly jumped out at me, which I’m sure colleagues in the Linguistics Department could devote entire research articles to: Paul Boustead, Director of Human Resources & Organisational Development said, ‘Our aim is to continue the effective partnership exhibited throughout the construction of this policy whilst we further mature the roll out plan.’
On the basis of this alone, I think Director Boustead deserves a promotion, as this is a truly visionary refashioning of the English language and sure to become a classic case study on postgraduate Management Discourse modules across the country. Meanwhile, as I celebrate a decade of casual contracts at Lancaster University, I will continue in the hope of rolled out plans being effectively exhibited before I mature any further.
[Truly in keeping with our Quaker value of Simplicity – ed.]
In response to the letter from the frustrated Dr Noel Cass, I think we need to address some of the confusion over the new indefinite contracts. Indefinite contracts can now be given to those whose work is externally funded with a finite end as is the case with many research projects, as Noel points out. The word indefinite suggests that the contract will provide security when the funding runs out, but this is not the case. At the end point of the project, the position for the staff member on the indefinite contract is exactly as it would have been on a fixed term contract, redeployment list access/redundancy. In these circumstances indefinite is not indefinite.
As much as I was disappointed by this situation, a friend did point out that the other benefits of having an indefinite contract are important too. It sometimes makes a difference when applying for mortgages, if your contract is indefinite, and there might be a positive impact with some maternity/paternity/adoption leave scenarios. Sadly, fixed term funding can delay people buying houses and starting a family, due to the financial uncertainty.
Casual readers may be forgiven for thinking that subtext’s drones are embittered cynics whose philosophy can be summed up as ‘D Floor bad, HR enablers of bad’. In an effort to challenge this notion, here’s a vote of thanks for the new ‘Fixed-term Contracts and Casual Working Policy and Procedure’, drafted by a working group involving the campus unions and approved by the Joint Negotiating and Consultative Committee (JNCC) on 4 November 2019. It isn’t easy to find online, and hasn’t yet been put on HR’s page of policies and procedures, but can be accessed on the intranet here:
The Director of HR comments that the new policy ‘underlines our commitment to making sure staff feel secure and supported at this university.’ It’s been lauded in the House of Commons by Cat Smith MP, who invited the Minister of State for Universities and Science to ‘join me in welcoming the changes at Lancaster University’ (Commons Hansard, 20 January 2020). In short:
1) Fixed-term contracts will only be used in these circumstances: cover for temporary staff absence; cover for one-off peaks in demand; recognised and time-limited training programmes; and if a staff member requests it (the latter includes situations where an external funder stipulates that their funding is conditional on the position being fixed-term).
2) ‘All staff currently employed on fixed-term contracts will be automatically moved onto indefinite contracts,’ unless their role falls into one of these four cases.
3) Casual (in other words hourly-paid) contracts will only be used in these circumstances: very short term roles up to 12 weeks in duration; and ad hoc roles with no regular pattern of work and no obligation between the parties to offer or accept work (i.e. zero-hour contracts).
The unions offered particular praise to HR Service Delivery Manager Matt Ireland for overseeing the drafting and approval process. All in all, a good news story…
…except that doubts are now setting in amongst union activists regarding HR’s commitment to implementing it. Mr Ireland has now left Lancaster to work for an NHS Trust in East Lancashire.
Let’s look at the current list of vacancies. Among them is an advert for a Business Analyst in Admissions and Outreach (ref N2348), who ‘will focus on the implementation of a new postgraduate admissions system.’ This is ‘a fixed term role, initially until 31st October 2020.’ There’s also a role as Business Relationship Officer for the Lancashire Cyber Foundry (ref N2347), part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund, which seeks to develop ‘a unique business support programme for small to medium enterprise businesses across a range of industrial sectors.’ This is ‘a fixed term post until 30 September 2022’ – note that, according to the new policy, ‘time-limited funding, in itself, will not be justification to place an individual on a fixed-term contract.’ Maybe you’d like to be a Disability Advisor (ref N2338), leading on ‘support for disabled students on the new Frontline postgraduate Social Work programme.’ This is ‘a two year fixed term appointment.’
Have recruiting managers just not got the memo, or has the memo not been sent in the first place?
What about those currently on fixed-term contracts – can they expect to receive letters confirming their indefinite status any day now? It seems unlikely: HR’s page on ‘ending fixed-term contracts’ has not been updated since March 2019 and still claims that, ‘if you wish to extend a fixed-term contract, you need to submit a Manager Request using Core MyHR. Alternatively, a request to Transfer to Indefinite Contract can be made. If managers are awaiting authorisation so that further employment can be offered it is strongly advised that a case for redundancy is made in parallel as a precautionary measure. Any such proposal can be withdrawn once authorisation has been received.’
It may, then, be some time before Lancaster is, to quote the policy, ‘using indefinite contractual arrangements wherever possible and reducing the use of fixed-term and casual arrangements.’ But the policy is there – subtext would be interested to hear any evidence of it actually being used.
By its rapid growth, by the transformation of its activities and by the churn of its staff, there is a tendency for HR to forget (and so to ignore) the rules of the game, with the result that they seem to reset the rules as and when needed.
Let’s try a thought experiment: the report of a grievance investigation is passed to a grievance appeal panel. With a three-person panel, impartial appraisal is likely. Yet, the company retains its trump card. Reports to HR are ‘private and confidential’, meaning that the complainant is prohibited from making the panel’s recommendations public. An act of censorship?
Change is also noteworthy in respect of the annual PDR whose parameters have undergone many changes. Five or so years ago, the advice to PDR trainee reviewers was (i) to work with no more than eight individuals and (ii) that the purpose of a PDR is not to facilitate the task of managing a department. How times change.
As ‘line manager’ (rather than a ‘first among equals’), it is implicit that the head of an academic department may apply such pressure upon their charges that (in the imagination of HR) it is now a ‘rare occasion where a reviewer and reviewee do not agree’. There is no basis to support the idea that disagreement is ‘rare’, as the current PDR format is spanking brand new. Within the current configuration of the PDR, HR advises that ‘if issues cannot be resolved by your Head, you should refer the matter to your Dean, Faculty Manager or Divisional Director (as appropriate).’
Well-motivated independent ‘disagreements’ from colleagues with careers to build invite danger; and the pressure to comply with company lines is further heightened by the recent justification from HR of the use of outside consultants to resolve any PDR disagreements. Where trust and confidence are vital elements of collegial relations, the decision to appoint an outside consultancy on that ‘rare occasion where a reviewer and reviewee do not agree’ is indeed extraordinary.
Language is indeed alive. Once familiar in their use but now largely devoid of meaning are ‘collegiality’, ‘primus inter pares’, ‘scholarship’ and ‘patet omnibus veritas’.
Contributed by Gerry Steele.
What is happening to our senior leadership? The last issue of LUText advertised for a new Dean of FHM, meaning that the incumbent is stepping down after less than four years in the post, not least in the midst of the development of the Health Innovation Campus, the biggest expansion of health and medicine since the formation of the Faculty.
The current Dean of FASS has been seconded to a leadership role at UA92, and now subtext hears that another Faculty Dean may be off to pastures new after less than three years in post. Maybe the leadership training the University has invested in lately will allow some of these posts to be filled by internal appointments. After all, it is a tad embarrassing that our big shot star prize external appointments aren’t sticking around nearly long enough to make an ‘impact’.
subtext has heard rumours suggesting that another highly senior member of the University is soon to leave. We are certain to produce a professional obituary if the rumour is confirmed to be true. Since we can’t confirm anything for now, let’s just say that having left their mark on campus, things are looking upp for this person.
Within a matter of weeks, HR has lost both of its Assistant Directors. Just in time, oddly, for a major restructure of HR which has seen the consolidation of those posts into a single Deputy Directorship of HR. Last month, Assistant Director (Operations) Sonya Clarkson left to head up a HR department at a different university. A few weeks later, Assistant Director (Strategy) Tracy Walters also left.
The advertisement for the new post of Deputy Director of Human Resources referred to Sonya Clarkson’s departure – ‘As a result of the successful promotion of the current Assistant Director of Human Resources (Operations) to a Human Resources Director role within the higher education sector, the vacancy of Deputy Director of Human Resources has emerged.’
Hang on a minute. The language in the advertisement implies that the post is a slight repackaging of the Assistant Directorship – why else would it be suggested that the departing Assistant Director would have walked into the new role if she had decided to stick around? HR appears to be implying something less than complimentary about its other Assistant Director of HR, Tracy Walters, who is not mentioned at all in the ad. Readers may wonder whether Ms. Walters was offered a lesser role within the new structure, but declined, opting instead to move on from Lancaster entirely.
With leadership such a hot topic in the context of UA92, one wonders about the progress of the new line management structure for academics, based on ‘group leads’ (sic) acting as line managers for members of their research groups. This policy was spearheaded in FST and, regardless of questions about the wisdom of a one-size-fits-all plan for organising research groupings as diverse as Particle Physics and Social Processes (Psychology), it involved an exciting series of away days, networking masterclasses and the like, with external tutors leading the expected range of fatuous activities. So popular were the word showers, etc. with the ‘leads’ themselves that the Dean of FST was forced to insist, in a terse mass email, that they made every effort to attend the ‘Leadership Development Program’. This was backed up with a not-so-subtle attempt to intimidate by insisting that apologies (including reasons for non-attendance) be directed to him in person.
As the muted rows about the new processes for appointing heads of academic departments rumble on, it is worth reflecting on just how fundamental those changes are. The traditional Lancaster approach was, broadly, to allow departments to devise their own procedures, with the expectation that at some point all senior members should take their turn at the helm. The new process, which follows on from last year’s HoD Review, introduces two new features: that the HoD should ‘normally’ be a professor (if necessary, an external one), and that final approval of the candidate is to be made, not by the department or the faculty, but by a central appointments panel chaired by the VC.
While Lancaster is second to none when it comes to the quality of its professoriate, it does not follow that exemplary scholarship brings with it the skills and understanding required to run an academic department. (Why, we know of some professors… but that’s another story). There is also an equalities issue to consider. Currently, there are 295 professors in the university, of whom 69 (23%+) are women. However, the academic workforce is 36% female, so there is more chance that a professor will be a male. It follows that if the opportunity to head a department is restricted to an unrepresentative professoriate, there is indirect discrimination against women academics.
The situation becomes more worrying when one considers the composition of the HoD Appointments Panel. In a recent case, the panel included the Chief Administrative Officer and the HR Director. They were not there ‘in attendance’, but as fully-participating panel members. This is unprecedented. Never in the past have senior administrative officers had a direct say in academic appointments. There is the argument that a departmental headship is a management post, not an academic one. If that is the case, then there should not be a requirement that the holder be a professor, an academic title. The role of the HR Director in the process is particularly problematic. HR has the responsibility for monitoring and reporting on compliance with the University’s diversity and equality policy. If a complaint of discrimination should arise, who could be confident of the impartiality of an HR investigation if the boss was directly involved in making the decision? Finally, there appear to be no arrangements for oversight, as there are with other appointing bodies. Is the VC to report to himself?