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Wall of forms — You used to be able to give your receipts to someone who you could smile to and say thank you to. Now you have to painstakingly learn a path through RejsUd – only to forget it again before the next time round. According to the authors of this comment, centralisation is now so alienating it is causing stress, and is negatively impacting job satisfaction. All the signatories can be seen underneath the article.
The work on the University of Copenhagen’s (UCPH) administrative reform, announced back in the autumn, is now being rolled out. The purpose is to save approximately DKK 300 million a year in administration.
There are, certainly, administrative work processes that can be simplified. But there are many of us who fear that the reform will only push more administrative tasks onto non-administrative staff.
This will lead to yet more alienation, and yet more administrative distancing – and this will harm the working environment in all staff groups. We fear that this trend of centralizing administrative service functions will be intensified, while everyone at the same time is calling for closeness.
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Many people have probably asked themselves why everyone should learn to use the expense system RejsUd – only to have forgotten how it worked the next time they will be using it three months later.
Or why they need to trawl through KUnet to find the right place to order a new light bulb for the corridor. And then subsequently have a mailbox packed with information about what the status is of your ‘ticket’. And, after the work has been done, hopefully one week later to get emails asking for an evaluation of the task … I mean? It was just a light bulb.
Many employees have probably had an IT-related problem that led to this kind of email storm. And which independently of the outcome resulted in a ‘closing of the ticket’ even though the matter had not been resolved.
These are all examples of alienating work processes that have been introduced in recent years in the name of centralisation. The logic seems to be that if you use self-service to smear out the tasks sufficiently thinly, it is effective.
We feel however that the tasks, on the contrary, are carried out worse and with a greater time consumption. And this is all taken from our most important work: research and teaching.
You used to collect your receipts after a trip and give them to your local accounting staffer. A person with a face, who might also have been the same person who helped book the trip – yes!
They could immediately say whether the required information was there, and then you would not hear more from them before a signature was required. The people behind this function were well-liked and part of the local working community at the department.
We also had an employee in-house who saw to it that the technology worked, and who had a store of lightbulbs and other spare parts. The employee had no ‘service level agreement’ specifying his tasks, but we had confidence in them taking on responsibility for the tasks without paperwork.
Now, you prefer to leave the running toilet cistern, because you can’t find, fill in, and follow-on, for the form required to get it repaired.
In our haste to rationalise everything, we have sacrificed a lot of the job satisfaction and the personal relationships with the administration. Ironically, the actual rationalization gain has probably been lost.
Remote supervision and alienation have reached a level now where no-one is ever visibly thanked for anything, or smiles
The employee who is reading inputs from a web form has no personal relation to the person sitting on the other side of the virtual IT form wall. The closest they ever get is perhaps an angry email from the ‘customer’ that the task has not actually been resolved. In many cases because there was never a personal clarification of what the task actually was, or any local experience to draw on.
And because management is unfortunately not in touch with employees’ needs, long questionnaires are also a part of the process for the administrative reform design. In this case, dedicated employees can experience irrelevant questions, and that the size of the task forces them to prioritise more meaningful work instead. This risks leading to a bias in the response group with misleading results.
It is important to point out that this is no criticism of IT, accounting, or buildings operations sections. The staff on the ‘floor’ do their best under the given circumstances and structures.
Stress has a ‘red’ score in many places in the university’s workplace assessment. We want to point to how stress and loss of job satisfaction are implied in these structures – on both sides of the form wall.
Remote supervision and alienation has now reached a level where no-one is ever visibly thanked for anything, or smiles. We fear that in many places this will also have consequences for retaining skills.
The Board has stated that the savings to the UCPH administration will be moved to its core activities. But the best saving is to have as many employees as possible doing what they are trained and hired to do.
We don’t, generally, need a small administration. This means that we just have to spend time doing it ourselves. We need a face, mutual satisfaction, and more joy of work. Then we will go the extra mile.
Amal Al-Chaer, laboratory technician, Department of Biology
Anders Priemé, professor, Department of Biology,
Ayoe Lüchau, laboratory coordinator, Department of Biology
Dean Jacobsen, associate professor, Department of Biology
Finn Fernando Jørgensen, craftsman – FU, Department of Biology
Helle Bek Mikaelsen, finance officer, Department of Biology
Jakob R. Winther, Professor, Department of Biology
Lone Winge, administrative manager, Department of Biology
Niels Kroer, head of the Department of Biology
Nynne Christensen, senior consultant, Department of Biology
Tine Simonsen, laboratory coordinator, Department of Biology