Skip to website navigation Skip to article navigation Skip to content

1. Developments in Staff Policy

HR Policy in an Extraordinary Year

In March, our HR policy received a very positive appraisal from an external evaluation committee as part of the European initiative Human Resources Strategy for Researchers. As a result, we may continue to use the quality logo for the next six years (with an interim evaluation after three years) and we can use it in grant applications. The report praised the “very high standard of HR policy and instruments”, “the many examples of best practices” and the “integrated plans for social safety, inclusiveness and reduction of workload, and integrated PhD candidate policy”. There was also appreciation for the fact that the policy was not created top-down, but “in cooperation with (HR from) the entire university and the units within it, taking into account the differences between the academic fields and the target groups”. Because there is always room for improvement, the university is taking new steps with an HR agenda for 2020–2025.

From the first wave of the coronavirus, the HR division assisted staff members with regular updates and information about working conditions related to COVID-19. The appeal to work from home was accompanied by a €250 reimbursement for the purchase of equipment. A web page was set up for occupational health and safety support, which includes tips for healthy and sustainable work from home.

The HR information also covered aspects such as illness and recovery, continued payment of wages (including in the event of quarantine and absence from work) and temporary contracts (financial flexibility for necessary extensions). The university encouraged staff to take holiday hours to achieve a good work-life balance. In addition, the annual appraisal procedure was simplified as an incentive to keep doing them, especially when working remotely. The new (statutory) regulations in 2020 included taking additional birth leave – up to five times the weekly working hours – in the first six months after a birth.

The interfaculty Radboud WORK-LIFE consortium, supported by the Executive Board, will conduct research to gain insight into work-life balance. It will address separation between work and private life, the combination of work and possible care tasks, workload, support by colleagues and supervisors, and opportunities for self-development. For academic staff, there is also a focus on research and teaching during the pandemic.

‘There will be new research to gain insight into work-life balance’

Attention for Staff Members with Temporary Appointments

A collective bargaining agreement was concluded this year with Executive Board member Wilma de Koning acting as chief negotiator on behalf of VSNU. It includes new agreements that better safeguard the position of staff members with temporary appointments. According to VSNU, this staff category is unavoidable in organisations where employees are appointed based on temporary funding. At Radboud University, temporary appointments are in line with the average: 16% of support staff and almost a quarter of university lecturers are on temporary contracts, about the same as five years ago.

Because of COVID-19, the university made use of a collective bargaining agreement not to terminate anyone’s contract for purely financial reasons in the event of a delay in work. Staff members with a temporary contract who are not legally eligible for a further extension were given a fixed-term contract on condition that it can be terminated at the end of the research project. The lenience for pandemic-related delays also applies to employees who have difficulty working from home and are delayed due to care responsibilities, especially for children who could not attend daycare or school.

Attention was drawn to temporary appointments around the opening of the academic year, with actions by the AOb and FNV labour unions and the group WO in Actie. Marijtje Jongsma, associate professor at the Behavioural Science Institute and national board member of AOb: “There must be more career opportunities for young researchers. It does not help the quality of education and research if you regard people as disposable scientists. That is why we need more permanent appointments.”

Measures to Reduce Workload

For some time now, the university has been paying attention to the perceptions of increased workload, as reported in the 2018 staff survey, among other things. The workload is increasing, particularly among support staff; for academic staff, the combination of teaching and research remains a bottleneck.

Anneriek de Heer, HR division director, speaks of a “tough problem for which there is no instant solution”. Measures had been taken, such as a growing emphasis on vitality programmes, “but coronavirus has thrown a spanner in the works”. Meanwhile, the ‘Werkdruk in de wetenschap koerskaart’ (Workload in academics course map) platform, a useful tool for team deliberations about workload, has been developed with help from several universities. In an October 2020 letter to the Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment, Radboud University highlighted workload as a critical issue. The letter also contained a lengthy list of measures taken since 2018.

Several measures from 2020 may have a positive effect on workload, such as the new digital testing facility (which reduces correction work) and the policy of no longer judging research solely on output. The latter was cited as one driver of the workload that would not contribute to the “talents and motivation of scientists”. Anneriek de Heer speaks of a vicious circle that prevents employees from taking advantage of university policies. “You have to have the time to work with it, and those people are too busy for that.”

‘Workload is a tough problem for which there is no instant solution’

- Anneriek de Heer

In her 2021 New Year’s speech, Wilma de Koning, Vice President of the Executive Board, said: “How hard we have worked over the past year, and the workload was already so unbelievably heavy. We wanted to do something about that in 2020, but we did not manage to.” Meanwhile, a committee has been set up to look for ways to take the pressure off in times of distance learning. Moreover, all faculties have taken workload reduction measures due to COVID-19. The Faculty of Arts, for example, has freed up extra capacity to give people with heavy teaching loads a break.

Continuous Development through gROW

The Expert Centre Development in the HR division has brought together all relevant training information in the revamped web environment gROW. This online learning environment offers access to articles, e-learning opportunities, an overview of events and a selection of videos. The number of users has tripled: from 1,500 in 2019 to 4,500 in 2020.

To encourage participation in the ‘Personal Leadership’ course, it was free for the first two groups. The training helps staff members get a better grip on their careers. A renewed offer emphasised the need to refresh from time to time, such as with workshops just after the summer holidays that tie in with research by the Arbo Unie, for example. Results indicate that the period after the summer holidays is often not experienced as a fresh start, due to less commitment and greater career dissatisfaction.

The university has continuously focused on updating general professional skills, such as presenting, writing more effectively, communicating better and organising your work better. Since 2020, supervisors have had insight into the training progress of their staff through gROW. This offers a foundation for discussions about development and sustainable employability. The offerings for PhD candidates – more than 20 courses – are also included in gROW.

For supervisors, gROW includes a new offering of (online) sparring sessions in which scientific and non-scientific supervisors exchanged experiences for the first time. The sessions are intended to offer inspiration, share experiences and provide practical guidance. They were attended by 200 people in 2020.