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MAASTRICHT. No text messages and e-mails in the evenings and at the weekend. To lower work pressure Maastricht University (UM) wants to create more restful and recovery moments. It is also considering a shorter academic year and fewer exams.
At the end of last year, the university closed on 21 December instead of on the 25th. Four extra days off to give employees “extra rest and recovery time”, stated the communication e-mail from the Executive Board at the time. In practice, it turned out that employees were paying for this out of their own pockets, because they had to use up their own holidays. Still, these free days shared by everyone “went down well”, said interim HRM director Nieke Guillory during the latest meeting of the University Council’s operations committee.
The Executive Board therefore suggested that a working group look into whether more of this kind of “rest and recovery moments” can be built into the academic year. “Fixed holidays are difficult in a diverse organisation like the UM,” said Guillory, chairperson of the working group. But there are other options. For example, “structural agreements about e-mail and text messaging behaviour” in the evenings and at the weekend. Or about preparatory work. That should be carried out during the working week instead of the weekend.
This is a task for management, says the working group. They should create an atmosphere in which answering messages in one’s spare time, let alone working, is not desirable in their teams. Managers could also reduce work pressure by looking more closely at the assignments they give their team. Are all the ideas and requests that come in really necessary?
The working group advises the Executive Board to take another look at the academic year. Could an extra week without lessons possibly be planned in-between periods one and two? Can the number of exams be reduced? Such measures would also reduce work pressure. Also, what about a shorter academic year, as is the case in neighbouring countries?
Raymond Luja, professor of Comparative Tax Law and University Council member on behalf of the academic staff, feels that the text messaging and e-mail agreement is worth trying. He thinks that a shorter year is also a good idea. “But the whole education system needs to be looked at. For example, a Law study in Germany lasts five years, here it is four. The content should then fit into four years.”