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Analysis of Sussex staff pulse survey

Updated: Apr 20, 2022


The third pulse survey is planned for April. It will be a bit different than the first two. There is a smaller set of core questions that will be asked every six months and a number of questions that allow for a closer look at a particular topic. The University will try to sell this as a “deep dive” but it is rather shallow.


We previously wrote about the first pulse survey. Let us have a look at the second pulse survey from October 2021. (You’ll need a Sussex login to see this site.) There are many snapshots of the data, but the “Combined Equalities Comparison Report” has all results plus simple cross-tabulations.


There are some truly astounding results. One in four respondents thinks that the University Executive Group (UEG) provides effective leadership. Two in five say it is safe to speak up. (Recall that we are supposed to teach critical thinking.) Half would recommend working at Sussex. A quarter felt bullied or harassed, a third witnessed bullying or harassment.


The questionnaire asked who the bully was. This data is unfortunately not reported. The survey is not anonymous. We cannot fill out the questions twice because we each have a unique identifier that links to our personnel number. If I report that I was bullied by my manager, the University, therefore, knows the identity of my bully. As far as we can tell, there is no follow-up on this data.


The cross-tabulations are sobering too. See the figure below. There are five questions about inclusion. Those who identify as ‘male’ or ‘female’ answer roughly the same and the responses for these categories are neutral to positive for the most part. Not so for those who identify differently. A similar pattern is seen for many other questions. Straight colleagues feel more at home at the University than people with other sexual orientations. White British staff are happier, for instance, than those belonging to the ‘Other White Background’ category, reflecting the reality that xenophobia is experienced by staff at Sussex (although we have heard senior University officials deny its existence). Across all equalities categories (race and ethnicity, gender, disability, and sexual orientation) we continue to see consistently negative responses from groups who prefer to self-describe their identity or not to disclose their identity at all. This underlines the question of who feels able to speak up at our University.


One-third think that action will be taken in response to the survey. The other two-thirds may have a point. There is a university-wide action plan in response to the survey. It has two actions. The first is the communication of decisions. The survey shows that the majority of the people at the University have no problem with this. The majority thinks the leadership is ineffective, but they know what they do.


The second action point is about racism, and is the only action point dealing with inequalities directly. This action point focuses almost exclusively on training for senior managers, when the Antiracist Sussex pledge (November 2021) stresses a much broader range of commitments as were demanded in the Open Letter on Racial Justice at Sussex (June 2021), and about which we report here.


Bullying and harassment were in the previous action plan, but UEG must think those problems are now solved. Every School and Division has its own action plan. Let’s look at two. The Business School lists four actions that seem sensible but are unrelated to the pulse survey. IT Services has ten actions. The first one is about bullying, which directly affects three-quarters of IT staff. The “action” is to follow UEG, which has de-prioritized this. The other nine actions are in the mold of considering coming up with a plan to solve the problems identified.


In sum, it is good to collect data on how people experience work at the University of Sussex. As we all know, parts of that experience are far from happy. Unfortunately, the leadership of the University has a long way to go in addressing the problems so many of its staff face. To learn more about the ways in which UCU can help our members tackle inequality in the workplace and the sector more broadly, register for the Equality Research Conference Tuesday 17 - Thursday 19 May 2022. Registration deadline is Tuesday 10th May.


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