Research Proposal of Job Satisfaction.Pdf

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					                  RESEARCH PROPOSAL


                             for the



                      Marianne Sorensen, PhD
                Tandem Social Research Consulting
      6303 – 109A Street, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, T6H 3C6
                     Telephone: (780) 430-1179
                         Fax: (780) 435-4956

                          June 29, 2005
                                      AASUA Work Load / Work Life Study Draft Proposal, April 22/05

                            Background and Introduction

A shift toward mass higher education has lead to new demands on universities around
the globe. In the 1990s, post-secondary institutions were further effected by chronic
under funding, an increased emphasis on accountability, and wide-spread
organizational restructuring and downsizing. More than a few studies have established
a relationship between these changes and increased workloads and stress levels
among academics around the world (e.g., Gillespie et al, 2001 in Australia; Jacobs and
Winslow, 2004 in the U.S.; Kinman, 1998 in the UK; Rosser, 2005 in the U.S.).

In addition to these broad transformations, the University of Alberta is experiencing
further change as it attempts to establish itself as a contender for one of Canada’s top-
ranked research institutions. Such a shift in emphasis sets up the parameters for
increased expectations and pressures for faculty to conduct research and to bring in
research dollars.

At the same time, recent retirement and recruitment initiatives at the university have
resulted in a shift in the profile of academic staff to a younger age demographic.
Hence, the university currently has a larger proportion of early-career academics than
has been the case previously. Though the pressures associated with working in a
university that is striving for recognition as a leading research institution would be
apparent for all staff, pressure may be more intense among those in the early stages of
establishing their careers. With the high expectations of early career staff to teach,
publish, and to secure external research dollars, the workloads of new staff in any
university are typically more intense. The combination of having a large proportion of
early-career staff and an increasing emphasis on research achievement overall,
therefore, may be resulting in unusually high workloads and stress levels among
academic staff at the University of Alberta. A more youthful age profile might also
mean that a significant portion of staff have young children and are consequently
more heavily burdened by competing work and family obligations (Duxbury, Higgins,
2001). This burden is likely to be disproportionately shouldered by female academics
(see, for example, Suitor, Mecom, and Feld, 2001).

On behalf of the AASUA, the Research and Scholarly Activities Committee recently
gathered anecdotal evidence from the faculty component of the association (see for a draft summary
of the findings from the committee). The preliminary evidence suggests that workloads
are increasing as a result of escalating pressures to conduct research and a
corresponding increase in research-related administrative functions (primarily externally
driven by tri-council requirements). Increased workloads are also purported to have
resulted from the placement of all administrative procedures online and the concurrent
expectation that academic staff perform these tasks that were once the domain of a
now downsized support staff. In short, many administrative / clerical functions have

                                       AASUA Work Load / Work Life Study Draft Proposal, April 22/05

been downloaded from support staff to academic staff, thereby adding to the non-
core responsibilities of faculty. Faculty have expressed frustration insofar as these tasks
contribute to an already heavy work load, but also because the nature of the tasks
themselves is believed to be unjustifiably complicated and accompanying training
support is limited. Faculty may also be experiencing stress simply because they are
required to perform an ever-increasing number of tasks that are outside the domain of
their core functions.

It is well documented in the work literature that stress can result from not having
adequate resources to properly complete tasks. The increased utilization of new
software and on-line programs required to complete both everyday tasks and those
associated with teaching and research have intensified the need for academic staff to
update computer equipment and software and to learn new computer processes.
Furthermore, increasing resources are needed to support a more rigorous research
agenda at the university, increased administrative /bureaucratic processes associated
with running a research project, the increased establishment of research chairs, and an
increase in procedures and rules pertaining to liability issues. Yet, there is concern at
the University of Alberta that escalated workloads and job-related pressures have not
been accompanied by a corresponding increase in supporting resources. Furthermore,
there is a sense that much-needed resources (human and otherwise) are unequally
available across academic units.

Some faculty have also expressed concern about their status and participation in
decision-making. For instance, the sentiment has been expressed that faculty time is
sometimes devalued, that decisions are being made without consultation or
forewarning, and that academic freedom and autonomy are increasingly being
encroached upon.

The combination of increasing workloads, inadequate supporting resources, and
concerns about faculty status is likely to lead to a more stressful and less productive
workplace. The well-documented physical and mental health-related problems that
can result from high levels of sustained stress are also implicated by these issues, not to
mention the possible detrimental effects on family and personal relationships, quality of
teaching, and recruitment and retention of staff.

Notwithstanding the merits of the above anecdotal evidence-based discussion, much
about the current working climate at the University of Alberta is not known. First, further
investigation is clearly warranted to determine the precise nature and scope of these
quality of work life issues. Second, though many of the issues are known to apply to
sessional staff as well (albeit to varying degrees), since the anecdotal evidence is
primarily derived from the views of a relatively small number of faculty, we have little
understanding of their applicability to other faculty and to other AASUA members
(FSOs, APOs, librarians and sessionals). The extent to which the issues are prevalent

                                         AASUA Work Load / Work Life Study Draft Proposal, April 22/05

across units of the university is also unknown. Other than the concerns discussed here,
there may be additional important issues that emerge from further investigation. Lastly,
though the focus of this discussion has been on identifying problems relating to the
quality of work life of academic staff, the development of possible solutions (both
structural and individual) to the issues is an equally important goal.

Clearly, a well-structured investigation of the workloads, stress levels, and general
working climate of AASUA staff is warranted. The methodology of the proposed
research is outlined below.

                               Proposed Research Methods

The research project will be subjected to ethics approval from the University of Alberta.
The proposed research is divided into five major stages with each consecutive stage
designed to inform the directions and content of subsequent stages. Stage I involves
the collection of background information by compiling existing demographic data and
work-related information pertaining to the research, teaching, and administrative
activities of staff. Stage I also entails a brief review of the quality of work life literature
and of existing work life studies in post-secondary settings. Stage II is a preliminary data
collection step in which information from AASUA members will be gathered through a
combination of structured interviews and focus group meetings. This stage will allow us
to determine work climate, workload, and work-related stress issues across units,
occupations, and career stages as well glean a deeper understanding of the issues
under investigation. The results of these qualitative research methods will also help to
inform the content of the third stage, which is a web survey of AASUA members. In
Stage IV, focus group sessions will be conducted to elicit the participation of AASUA
members in developing solutions to issues that are identified in Stages I, II, and III. A final
report (Stage V) will be prepared and will include a set of recommendations that can
be used by the association and the university to address quality of work life issues that
emerge from the study.

Stage I: Compilation of Existing Background Information (Summer, 2005)

A. Location, Extraction and Compilation of Existing Data

   1.       Locate, extract, and compile demographic information on AASUA
            members. Ideally, this would include an over-time component (e.g.,
            current compared to 5 and 10 years ago) and would include:

        •   Type of Staff (faculty: assistant, associate, full professors (?); APOs (375); FSOs
            (20);, librarians (62); sessionals (916), and perhaps, trust academic staff (450)

                                       AASUA Work Load / Work Life Study Draft Proposal, April 22/05

        •   Faculty/department
        •   Gender
        •   Age (D.O.B.)
        •   Years of employment at U of A and/or number of years in current occupation
        •   Work status (permanent vs temporary or contract; full- or part-time)
        •   Salary increments

   2. Locate, extract, and compile the following information on the major
      functions of staff:

   •    Research activity: For the past 5 to 10 years, total number of research dollars per
        year (as a general indicator that university is increasingly a research-intensive
        institution), and a review of changes in tri-council requirements
   •    Teaching activity: Yearly data on teaching loads (e.g., student/staff ratios,
        course/staff ratios) and, if possible, graduate student/staff rations and new
        course development
   •    Administrative Activity: Review of major changes in processes (electronic and
        otherwise) that affect faculty functions (e.g., what new computer systems have
        been introduced?), and any other information that might bear on service roles
        (e.g., committee work).

   3. Other relevant information:

   •    Over-time losses in support staff
   •    Over-time use of Employee and Family Assistance Program (out-sourced to
        Wilson Banwell)
   •    Over-time sick/stress leave rates
   •    Over-time disability claims
   •    Over-time use of drug-plan dollars in general and of anti-depressant drugs

B. Literature Reviews

   1.       Brief review of academic literature on quality of work:
            • Relationship between increasing workloads and stress
            • Other sources of work-related stress (e.g., the role of supporting resources
                in conducting work)
            • Effects of technological change on workloads/skill requirements

   2.       Scan and review of research models and findings of similar studies
            conducted on work climate issues of academic staff in other post-secondary

                                      AASUA Work Load / Work Life Study Draft Proposal, April 22/05

Stage II: Preliminary Information Collection from AASUA Members (Summer/Fall,

To most efficiently and effectively gather preliminary information from staff on their
perceptions of the quality of work life in general and of workloads/stress levels
specifically, we propose a combination two qualitative methodological formats; in
depth interviews and focus group sessions. In both instances, participants will be
selected on the basis of their representation in the five major occupational groups,
faculty, career tenure (e.g., new career, mid-career, and senior career) and gender.
Interviews and focus group sessions will be taped (with consent), transcribed, and
summarized and coded for themes. Thematic content will be compared across
occupations, units, and career stages to determine differences/similarities of
experiences and attitudes.

A. In depth interviews with individuals who are in key positions that allow them to
   gauge the work situations of a large number of staff and who have been at the
   university for at least 10 years (e.g., supervisors, management, chairs, deans, AASUA
   staff themselves). Having an expansive and experienced perspective, these
   individuals will provide a broad over-view of work-related issues. Selection of
   interviewees will be done in consultation with AASUA and perhaps also with

B. Eight small (6 individuals) focus group discussions with AASUA members.
   Knowledgeable informants will be selected from the AASUA staff membership in
   consultation with AASUA. Keeping in mind considerations of cost and time, every
   attempt will be made to have representation from occupational types, careers
   stages, and genders in each of the following 5 faculty groups and 3 occupational
   1. Arts/Education/Physical Education
   2. Business/Law
   3. Science/Agriculture, Forestry & Home Economics/Engineering
   4. Medicine & Dentistry/Rehabilitation Medicines/Nursing/Pharmacy &
       Pharmaceutical Sciences
   5. Faculte Saint-Jean/Augustana/St. Joseph's College (?)
   6. FSOs/APOs
   7. Librarians
   8. Sessionals

The major topics in both approaches will include such lines of questioning as:


                                      AASUA Work Load / Work Life Study Draft Proposal, April 22/05

1. Perceptions about workloads (are they increasing, and if so, by how much? how
   many hours are spent conducting research, teaching, engaging in community work,
   and performing administrative functions?)
2. Perceptions about the underlying source of increasing workloads with respect to
   each of the core functions
3. Examples of administrative functions that were once done by support staff, but are
   now required to be completed by academic staff. Probes for underlying causes of
   downloading (e.g., is it driven by technology, efficiency, loss of support staff)
4. Examples of situations that have been successfully solved and solicitation of possible
   strategies to reduce workloads.
5. Perceptions about overall job satisfaction.

Supporting Resources:
1. Perceptions about what types of supporting resources are increasingly needed the
   most and the extent to which they are readily available
2. Specific examples of situations in which needed resources were not available

Quality of Work and Workplace Relationships:
1. Perceptions about current versus prior predominant management style (e.g.,
   collaborative, participatory, respectful, etc.)
2. Perceptions about levels of responsibility versus levels of authority: Has there been
   an escalation in responsibility levels without the authority to make decisions, change
   processes, wield resources?
3. Perceptions about underlying causes of issues (e.g., is it primarily a function of
   intensified emphasis on research, changes in management style, shift in how staff
   are valued by administration?)
4. Perceptions about adequacy of management-to-staff communication avenues
5. Evaluations of family-friendly policies and practices such as maternity/paternity
   leaves, elder care leaves, daycare provisions/accessibility, scheduling flexibility
6. Perceptions about current job security (especially among sessionals and perhaps
   also research staff)

Effects of Changes on Staff and University:
1. Stress levels and other psychological/physiological outcomes
2. Family and personal relationships/life
3. Quality of teaching
4. Quality of research
5. Overall effects on university and implications for recruitment and retention of staff.

Stage III: Web Survey of AASUA Members (November, 2005)

                                       AASUA Work Load / Work Life Study Draft Proposal, April 22/05

The third stage of the proposed research is the most comprehensive and therefore the
most crucial to our goal of expanding our understanding of the prevailing work load /
work life issues at the university. Since there are very small incremental costs associated
with surveying the entire population in a web survey (as opposed to a random sample),
all AASUA members (approximately 3,000) will be invited to participate.

A similar line of questioning that is employed in Stage II will be followed, however,
questions will be more structured and additional topics will be included that arise from
the interviews and focus group sessions. To increase participation rates, introductory
and follow up e-mail correspondence (e.g. reminder letters) will be distributed to
potential respondents. To ensure sufficient sub-sample sizes and representation across
occupations, academic units, careers stages, and gender, the intensity of follow up
correspondence may vary across these sub-groups.

Stage IV: Solution Development (January, 2006)

As a final stage of information gathering, it is proposed that 6 post-survey, focus-group
sessions be conducted to generate solutions to the issues identified in the prior stages of
the research. While solutions will be sought out in prior stages, the aim of Stage IV focus
group sessions will be to hone in on solutions to key issues that are found to occur the
most consistently across units of the university. These sessions may also be a good
opportunity to employ a more collaborative approach with the joint participation of
AASUA members and administration. There may also be results from earlier stages that
warrant further clarification which could also be done at this time.

Stage V: Final Report (March, 2006)

A final report will be prepared that summarizes the findings from all stages of the
proposed research. The report will also include a set of recommendations that can be
used by the association and the university to address quality of work life issues that
emerge from the study.


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