Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Playing the Performance Management Game? Perceptions of Australian Older Academics

Academic journal article Irish Journal of Management

Playing the Performance Management Game? Perceptions of Australian Older Academics

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper explores the perceptions of Australian older academics on performance management. Drawing on documentary data from 21 universities and interview data from 52 academics, the findings revealed predominantly negative perceptions about the purpose, process and development support of performance management. Underpinning this were criticisms of a simplistic organisational orientation and a compliance tool susceptible to manipulation and misuse. This contributes to a deteriorating working environment, contrary to what is expected for highly educated professionals and advanced educational institutions. Utilising the psychological contract as an interpretative framework to understand the employment relationship, it is argued the overwhelming feelings of dissatisfaction and cynicism among older academics towards the futile use of performance management are clear signs of relational contract violation, thus eroding trust and loyalty. These findings provide university management with an insight into how older academics perceive performance management and how this in turn impacts job satisfaction and motivation.

Key Words: Human resource management; older academics; performance management; psychological contract; university management

INTRODUCTION

The psychological contract is a concept that can provide an insight into the employment relationship and the likely factors that contribute to employee motivation, job satisfaction and performance. Human resource management (HRM) policies and practices, such as performance appraisal and compensation, can play an important role in shaping the framework of the psychological contract (Rousseau and Greller, 1994). Given that there is long-standing discontent amongst academics about university leadership and the academic work environment (Altbach, 1996; Anderson et al., 2002), it is a vital signal for universities to better understand the employment relationship. Hence, the psychological contract can assist in the interpretation of understanding why academics' dissatisfaction with university leadership remains to be the case.

Universities are constantly striving to advance their reputation in excellence in a dynamic environment that has become increasingly competitive for research funding, highperforming academic staff, high-quality students and resources (Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, 2010; Hugo, 2005, 2008; Willekens, 2008). This growing complexity in the globalised landscape in which universities operate is impacting on and changing the expectations of its academic workforce. The added challenge for universities is the unprecedented human resource (HR) situation of an ageing academic workforce. Universities in Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD) countries are on the cusp of a HR crisis with 40-60 per cent of academics older than 55 years of age (Enders and Musselin, 2008). This comes at a time when student numbers and ongoing demand for higher education are high but competitive funding from national governments coupled with managerialist and corporatist governance have kept the academic workforce lean. An ageing academic workforce is a new phenomenon and there are human capital, labour market and social welfare implications for governments.

In the Australian context, 40 per cent of academics are aged 50 and over (Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2011). As universities contribute significantly to Australia's economic growth, with education ranking as Australia's third largest export industry, directly behind coal and iron ore (Universities of Australia, 2009), the next decade presents a time of critical vulnerability as universities are likely to experience a substantial loss of academics through retirement over the next decade, depleting the universities' skill and experience levels. This raises crucial sustainability issues for universities in relation to HRM and knowledge management. …

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