Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

In Praise of Appraisals

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

In Praise of Appraisals

Article excerpt

Having your say on employee review sites has the potential to transform workplace cultures, says Alexandra Blakemore

The National Student Survey is widely credited with driving a step change in universities' responsiveness to student concerns. However, recent articles in Times Higher Education have highlighted the pressures that can be brought to bear on whistleblowers and the use of gagging clauses to hush up problems ("Attempts to 'gag and silence' are commonplace", 11 September). They suggest that universities still have a long way to go in improving their responsiveness to the concerns of their staff.

The picture painted is that many university managers would rather hush up problems than confront them, and many academics are rightly frustrated about that approach. But tools are already available that, by publicly rewarding positive workplace cultures, could potentially have just as transformative an effect on management priorities as the NSS has had.

Employee review websites such as Glassdoor, Indeed and TheJobCrowd have been around for a few years. In the US, Glassdoor - the market leader - is reportedly used by 48 per cent of job applicants to find out more about potential employers, including typical salaries.

UK universities are working towards improved workplace cultures, including a fairer deal for women and minority groups. In particular, a good deal of effort has been directed towards achieving external recognition of good practice through charter marks - most notably, through the Athena SWAN awards.

Elsewhere, however, any improvements may be superficial and cosmetic. A significant gulf between the external message and the internal realities quickly engenders frustration, cynicism and disillusion among staff.

Most institutions conduct staff surveys but staff are often wary of claims about their anonymity, while early career researchers tend not to engage and the input of former staff members is not sought. So it is difficult to use staff surveys to gain a rounded picture.

THE has begun an attempt to gain a more representative picture through its Best University Workplace Survey. But employee review sites also offer a new way to capture information on staff members' experiences. Because they are both anonymous and open to outside view, problems cannot be swept under the carpet. …

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