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University of Copenhagen
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Working environment

Administration reform: How will it affect the workplace?

Administration reform — We asked organizational psychologist Malene Friis Andersen what the major changes at the University of Copenhagen mean in terms of employee well-being.

The University of Copenhagen (UCPH) is currently facing massive and comprehensive changes to its administration.

The UCPH Board is about to approve the final reform proposal, which has been in preparation as a draft since autumn 2023, after a long process of preparation.

After the reform proposal has been passed, there will be a long period before administrative staff are informed about whether they have made the cut in terms of keeping their jobs in the future UCPH. From the end of June until the first week of October, employees can apply for voluntary redundancy. Then, in the week starting 4 November, the large-scale cuts will take place.

A large part of the university’s administrative staff are already in the midst of what feels like a huge change.

The University Post spoke to organizational psychologist Malene Friis Andersen about what it is like for an employee to be swept up into big structural changes. And what you can do yourself to improve your situation.

More pressure on those who are left behind

Major changes at a workplace can have negative consequences for employees’ mental health, according to Malene Friis Andersen. She stresses that she is not speaking about the specific UCPH situation.

»Organizational changes are a big thing. They increase the risk of sick leave, loss of productivity, and stress among employees,« she says and adds:

Questions arise like: Is it fair that it was my colleague who was fired instead of me?

Malene Friis Andersen, organisational psychologist

»Some staff find the changes too demanding, and will resign along the way. This increases the workload for those who stay, because [managers, ed.] don’t necessarily adjust tasks properly to take this into account,« she says. She emphasizes that it is important that you as an employee make sure that you talk to your colleagues during the process.

»You should discuss your thoughts with your colleagues before, during, and after the change. You should ask, for example: How do you feel about the changes? What concerns you the most? And is there something there that can provide new opportunities for you,« she says and continues:

»This can be done in many ways. Maybe you should set aside one hour every Thursday with your colleagues just so that you can let off steam and say ‘this is bullshit’. This can also be done more informally at the coffee machine.«

Is it fair?

For the employees that don’t resign, there will be many concerns with the changes: The most important one: Will I be fired? And then: Will I still have colleagues that I like? Or: Will I be happy with my new tasks?

»If a change has meant layoffs, it is extremely important that you pay attention to the employees who remained. You can’t just assume that they are happy and relieved that they have not been fired,« says Malene Friis Andersen.

According to the organizational psychologist, research indicates that employees have a series of emotional reactions when they remain in a organisation after a round of layoffs.

»Questions arise like: Is it fair that it was my colleague that was fired and not me? Or: Have I said, or done, anything that led to my colleague being fired,« she says.

Forced to skimp on tasks

One thing is the emotions that arise during, and after, a change process. Another is how the tasks are subsequently distributed.

We tend to believe that every problem in a organization can be solved through changes

Malene Friis Andersen, organizational psychologist

»You often see that the tasks have just not been sufficiently reduced. So staff are either forced to skimp on them – that is staff doing the same things worse. Or they have tasks suddenly ‘falling between two stools’,« says Malene Friis Andersen, with no-one ending up with responsibility for them.

It is a managers’ task to not only ensure that the necessary work tasks are delivered, but also, at the same time, to work on restoring the trust and sense of security in the workplace. This trust and security will have almost inevitably been damaged after a comprehensive change process.

»When I teach change processes, I often say: The good change starts before the change itself. A strong working community with a high degree of trust will get through a big change better,« says Malene Friis Andersen.

Excessive zeal for change

It came as no surprise to the psychologist that the University of Copenhagen decided to implement a comprehensive reform of the administration. Neither does it come as a surprise to her that the reform came on top of a series of politically-mandated reforms, including the master’s degree reform and the reform of the Danish SU study grants.

A Eurofound (2017) study shows that Denmark is the country that is most hungry for change in Europe, according to Malene Friis Andersen. Denmark scores twice as high as the European average in terms of employees’ experience of organizational change.

»There are no clear answers as to why this is so. But the trend in Denmark is that we rarely go through one change before the next one is already on the way,« she says.

Sometimes, when implementing a change, you end up with more problems than solutions

Malene Friis Andersen, organizational psychologist

And research shows that Danes need to be a little more cautious about their zeal for change, says Malene Friis Andersen.

»We tend to believe that every problem in a organization can be solved through changes. But we know from research that changes have a number of negative consequences. So you need to change carefully, and only when necessary,« she says.

The fact that the University of Copenhagen has to deal with at least three major change processes over the coming years (administration reform, master’s reform and SU reform), and at the same time, is a good example of this trend, says the organisational psychologist.

»I usually compare changes to a medical drug. When you want to make an organizational change, you need to be just as cautious as when buying medicine. A leaflet should be included with detailed descriptions of implementation and possible side effects,« she says and adds:

»But this is rarely the case. Most organisations tend to plan and execute on the fly. And then you just have to say: I am glad I am not a part of it. Sometimes, when implementing a change, you end up with more problems than solutions,« the psychologist laughs, and adds.

»But then you can always just implement yet another change.«