Pete Quinn, independent consultant (helping with equality, diversity and inclusion projects in the HE Sector) is looking at Blackbullion’s latest Funding Tool and how introducing new software solutions can improve workflow, reduce stress, bring transparency, and improve overall well-being in the organisation.

Taking a ‘whole university approach’ in recent well-being projects reminded me that factors leading to poor mental health and stress are similar for both students and staff. The most frequently identified factors are:

  •     mental health difficulties
  •     insufficient sleep
  •     financial concerns

‘Financial concerns’ for students include ‘having enough money to get by’[1] whilst the impact of ‘financial concerns’ on employee productivity can result in 8 days of lost productivity per person per year. Albeit, on a more positive note, 6 days can be recouped if these are addressed[2].

Other common issues for universities include being given ‘too much work’. For students this may mean ‘over assessment’ in terms of time limited examinations or being given multiple overlapping deadlines. For employee’s, poor life-work balance can be further complicated by work that fails to provide meaning and purpose.

The Health & Safety Executive’s, ‘Stress, Anxiety and Depression’ report for 2019[3] showed the biggest cause of employee stress was ‘workload’ with issues including completing ‘meaningless tasks’ or being asked to, ‘complete work in too short a time frame’ prominent.

The Funding Tool can enable stress reduction in the critical area of student financial support. It can reduce student stress and frustration around information and access to funding, whilst empowering staff by reducing repetitive time-consuming bureaucratic tasks and enabling them to use their skills and talents to inform and empower students.

 

By automating the funding application process, students (who often don’t have time to read densely worded content) can submit a complete application. This removes the need for skilled staff to be chasing students for incomplete information enabling them to engage with and help overcome financial related frustrations by providing a solution, not more problems.

Universities wanting to show commitment, rather than just compliance, should focus on reducing the stress and well-being impact of poorly defined jobs that don’t enable employees to use their skills and talents. The catalyst for doing this may be to avoid prosecution from the HSE, who have are intent on prosecuting organisations who are not managing work related stress[4] (compliance). Alternatively, committed organisations are aiming to be academic communities focussing on evidence-based practice in workplace well-being and proactively working to reduce stress as an organisational imperative. 

Engaging with the University Mental Health Charter[5] will be a catalyst for Universities to look at roles people are working in and ensuring they meet the criteria for ‘Good Work’. 

Will this start a well-being revolution? Maybe not, but by identifying the stress inducing challenges in periods of Transition and Progression, including financial challenges, creates opportunities for progress rather than problems. Students can be ‘Shown the money’, feel more in control and spend it on living and learning well. What more meaning and purpose do you need?  

Pete Quinn

Independent Consultant

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[1]  45.3% of respondents to Wonkhe / TrendanceUK January 2019 survey https://wonkhe.com/wp-content/wonkhe-uploads/2019/03/Only-the-lonely-8-Page_v2-003.pdf
[2] Britain’s Healthiest Workplace Survey (University of Cambridge / Rand Europe) (2018)
[3] https://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/causdis/stress.pdf
[4] See  https://www.britsafe.org/publications/safety-management-magazine/safety-management-magazine/2019/prosecution-for-work-related-stress-just-matter-of-time-law-event-hears/
[5] See also the Okanagan Charter for Health Promoting Universities and Colleges (2015) and UUK Step Change Framework (2019)