Change creating chasm between staff, says study

26th February 2010 at 00:00
Research reveals that the extent of disagreement between managers and lecturers over consultation levels is a `major concern' for colleges

A gulf exists between the extent to which managers say they consult staff and the degree to which those employees feel consulted, new research shows.

While 28 per cent of managers agreed or strongly agreed that staff are always consulted about changes at work, just 12 per cent of the staff they manage saw it this way, according to a survey by the education research and consultancy company RCU.

A third of managers said they were clear about how change would work in practice compared with 15 per cent of teaching staff. Sixty-three per cent of staff felt unclear about how change would work compared with 37 per cent of managers.

The findings will be of particular concern to colleges facing rapid and radical change, including restructuring and redundancies as a result of budget cuts, claims the RCU.

One of the report's authors, Philip Lucas, said: "Of course, there is always a tendency for management to see its own role in a rather more favourable light, while the staff default setting may be to view all change as negative.

"But the perceptions revealed in the survey are sufficiently far apart that both managers and staff need to be looking at what's going on. Change is happening on a daily basis in the sector and these findings should be of major concern."

The report, Stress in the Post-16 Sector, suggests that one of the reasons staff may feel there is a lack of consultation is because managers often overlook the depth of commitment staff feel towards their students.

"What strikes me time and again is the level of commitment that all staff, not just teaching, have towards learners," Mr Lucas said.

"For management, this can be a bit of a problem as so many people want to have their say when it comes to change that may impact on learners."

The survey also reveals that older and more experienced staff are more likely to feel under greater pressure at work and less supported by their managers.

While two-fifths of staff aged 30 or under said they were given supportive feedback on their work, this dropped to 31 per cent of 41- to 50-year-olds and 20 per cent of over 50s.

The report says: "Any managers reading this may care to reflect on whether they are `favouring' their younger staff and showing less and less interest in their other staff as these get older."

Mr Lucas said: "There is a tailing off of morale with increasing length of service. This is a waste when these people have both the experience and knowledge to help management deliver change."

Barry Lovejoy, head of further education for the University and College Union (UCU), said: "The amount and pace of change in further education means there is almost a culture of change embedded in colleges. This can leave staff feeling a lot of it is change for change's sake.

"However, managers, particularly middle managers, are also under tremendous pressure and perhaps this means consultations tend to be rather formulaic."

Peter Pendle, general secretary of the Association for College Management, said: "What we find is that there are some colleges that are particularly bad at communicating with staff. But I do think there is added pressure on managers at a time of funding cuts."

- www.rcu.co.ukdownloads.php.

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