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Working environment

Dean: We need to work »seriously and with dedication« on the Natural History Museum working environment

Working environment — Exceptional action plan set in motion at the Natural History Museum of Denmark after toxic work environment stories

Revelations about a problematic work environment at the University of Copenhagen’s (UCPH) natural history unit, that include accusations against museum director Peter C. Kjærgaard, have now led to an exceptional action plan that is to run over the next two months.

This is according to the dean of the Faculty of Science Katrine Krogh Andersen.

The plan has been prepared after a meeting 1 March between the management at the museum unit, representatives from staff, and Katrine Krogh Andersen.

The University Post has invited both museum director Peter C. Kjærgaard and Katrine Krogh Andersen to comment on the next steps in the process. None of them wished to speak to the University Post. But the dean has comments on the matter in writing:

»There should be no doubt that I, as dean of the Faculty of Science, place great importance on the serious and dedicated work on the working environment at the museum. This under the auspices of management, staff collaboration committee, and the working environment committee. This work will continue until the problems are solved,« she writes.

READ ALSO: 26 employees: Toxic working environment at Natural History Museum

I am in constant dialogue with Peter C. Kjærgaard and expect that the action plan for the next two months which has just been presented at the museum, will be implemented, and will work as intended

Katrine Krogh Andersen, Dean, Faculty of Science

The plan lists a number of challenges, planned action initiatives, and names of the people who are responsible for the specific initiatives. The plan includes a statement that »all managers have the necessary management training to meet the needs of the organization,« and that there needs to be »100 per cent clarity over who has the mandate to do what, and can make decisions in accordance with the Natural History Museum of Denmark management structure.«

The action plan includes a series of dialogue meetings, which museum director Peter C. Kjærgaard will chair, that will address the fact that employees — especially in the exhibitions unit — say that managers do not listen to them. The museum director has also been assigned with ensuring that all employees have clear descriptions of their job functions in the future.

The museum director and the exhibitions director are also responsible for ensuring that employees of the exhibitions unit »get the necessary assistance to restore a good working environment.«

Several tasks in the action plan will, however, be carried out by the staff cooperation committee, the working environment committee, and various middle managers and local human resources representatives.

What about management?

The University Post has asked Katrine Krogh Andersen whether she still has confidence in Peter C. Kjærgaard as head of the natural history museum unit, and as the person who will be in charge of the change in well-being and working environment.

»I do not deal with or comment on personnel matters in the press. This also applies to Peter C. Kjærgaard,« she writes.

READ ALSO: Former postdoc: Museum director abused his power

The University Post asked what specific initiatives employees can expect to see from management.

»I am in constant dialogue with Peter C. Kjærgaard and I expect that the action plan for the next two months which has just been presented at the museum, will be implemented, and will work as intended. In mid-May, I will meet again with the museum’s management team and with staff representatives to collect the preliminary results, and to discuss what needs to be done further in terms of the working environment,« writes Katrine Krogh Andersen.

No-one wants to be interviewed

The University Post has contacted both a union representative and an HR employee at the natural history museum unit, and asked them if they would like to speak as representatives of the staff group. Neither of them have wished to comment.

We have also spoken to several current or former employees. They only want to speak about their experiences anonymously due to fears of reprisal.

At the end of February, one week before the Frihedsbrevet article was published, staff at the natural history museum unit received a news item on their internal intranet with the headline: ‘When you are contacted by the media’. It lists a number of tips on what to do if you as an employee are contacted by the press. This includes the statement that as an employee at the museum you are allowed to talk to a journalist. But that you are not obliged to do so.

The University Post has also seen examples of emails from managers to staff at the natural history museum unit, where it is described in more detail what you as an employee should consider if you are contacted by journalists.

Lack of confidence in, and from, management

The University Post has itself been given access to the workplace assessment from 2022, including a large number of detailed comments that several employees have added. About 30 employees have submitted detailed comments on the question ‘do you experience problems in the psychological work environment that are not covered by the questions in UCPH’s workplace assessment.’

Incompetent decisions by daily management – no staff influence

Comment on workplace assessment 2022


»The museum has become a workplace that is managed top-down. What I would like to see is that management trusts that employees are qualified for their work and that they can make decisions themselves without having to go up through multiple management layers before any decision is made,« says one employee. Another staff member wrote:

»Too many small things have to go past the director or management team. I call on the director and management to stop micromanaging, get a better grip on the overall guidelines and tasks, and give employees the space to do what they are best at.«

A third employee writes: »Incompetent decisions by daily management – no staff influence,« while a fourth employee writes that »we need more trust-based management.«

The 2022 workplace assessment also shows that 42 per cent of employees ‘completely disagree’ or ‘disagree’ with the statement ‘I rarely experience stress that makes me uncomfortable’. 30 per cent of employees respond ‘completely disagree’ or ‘disagree’ to the statement ‘the managers I have on a daily basis, take responsibility for my unit’s well-being’.

Based on this more detailed insight from the workplace assessment, we asked Katrine Krogh Andersen how they could have ignored it.

»The management at the natural history museum unit has not ignored a workplace assessment. An action plan was subsequently made and implemented,« she writes, referring to the action plan that was made on the basis of the 2022 workplace assessment. It is on the intranet (needs log-in).