GUCU Pilot Study on Workload and Stress

GUCU has just completed a survey amongst its members about working conditions at home during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Over 300 members completed the survey and we have provided here some of the main findings. The full analysis of the survey is here.

Demands on you
  • By working from home, you are opening your living spaces to enable Goldsmiths business to continue to function. Only 28.4% of you describe your physical work environment as “completely fit for purpose”. This leaves just under three-quarters working in conditions that are anything from sub-par to hazardous or lacking in equipment.
  • 42.9% of you are caring for dependents while carrying on with your work. Some of you report feeling too afraid to mention difficulties about this to Line Management or HR, in case your hours are cut or a contract terminated.
  • 72.8% of you reported compassionate responsibilities, such as as looking out for a vulnerable family member, neighbour or friend.
  • 1 in 3 of you spend part of your working day troubleshooting access to basic necessities like food and medicine, for yourself or others.
  • Extra hours. A staggering 74% of you indicated that you were working hours in excess of your extant contract. This excess ranged from 10-50hrs per week. The largest proportion, almost two-thirds of you are either contributing 10 or 20 extra hours per week.
  • More than half of you have found your workload less manageable than before and nearly a quarter find your workload “very unmanageable”.

Your sense of control

  • Just over three-quarters of you do not feel that your job is safe. The psychological impact of any threatened redundancy necessitates a duty of care from an employer.
  • As respondents you were evenly split in negative answers on how the new work circumstances left you feeling: with little or no control or only a moderate amount of control. Concerningly, only 5.6% of you suggested that you felt the same amount of control in current work-life arrangements as you did previous to the pandemic.
  • In terms of the IT equipment available, only 11.7% of you thought that your current set-up was “very effective”. The largest response was 33% with “somewhat effective”. 

Support for you

It is well and good to have website links with supportive statements, but allowing you to feel supported usually demands material actions from those in power to change your circumstances to the positive.

  • Close to 1 in 3 of you reported that you had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. This is concerning, given that the official (tested) national infection rate is less than 2% of the UK population.
  • Strike pay deductions. 61.1% of you indicated either “moderate or significant stress” in relation to imminent strike pay deductions. An additional 21% indicated “significant distress”.
  • Stress, anxiety and mental health impact. Over 90% of you indicated a rise in stress and anxiety, and for those with any formal diagnosis, a worsening in mental health conditions, as a result of working through the pandemic under current conditions.
  • You identified your primary sources of support in the work situation (in descending order) as: people in your personal life, then colleagues (both these categories, over 75%), line manager, then union (both these categories over 45%). After this, the statistics drop to 15% for those who saw their students as sources of support. Any other sources of professional support that you chose in this question tallied to no more than 0.3% for each selection.


With the merging of home life and work activities / personal space and ‘office’ space / University hardware and personal devices / professional and personal boundaries, workplace relationships are increasingly blurred with the health of our private lives on an unprecedented scale.

  • Only 82.4% of you said you felt “completely safe” from domestic violence.  of you reported being “extremely unsafe” in your current working from home arrangement. 5.2% indicated concern for the safety of others living with you.
  • 70.3% of you indicated your relationship with students have changed.
  • 48.1% reported that your relationship with your colleagues and line manager have changed.


78.6% of you indicated that there was no change in the role you perform, in terms of seniority or job description, due to the sudden working-from-home emphasis. So over a fifth of you have experienced a role change in addition to all the other changes.

Your attitude to change

Despite being cast as an intransigent workforce in the face of management-driven change very recently, the evidence points to the contrary.

An impressive 62% of you agreed to the statement on your attitude to change as “Change depends on how supported I am and the nature of the change”. A further 7% offered a positive view of being “very open to change”. 

Your testimonies

A summary of extracts has been compiled for Management that are largely constructive – some comments have been kept out where it was evident that members needed a safe space to vent but were apprehensive about being identified. Key themes were:

  • the enormity of the stress you have felt and continue to feel
  • the impossibility of working a safe and complete full day, due to your personal life
  • the heartbreak that a number of you have suffered from bereavement due to COVID-19 while still feeling pressured to deliver extra work
  • the anxiety of caring for ill people close to you and/or sharing your working life with a frontline or keyworker whose health may be at risk
  • the precarity of your financial situation(s) in context with the intense loyalty to the College in delivering extra hours when you may not have a permanent job or extended contract
  • your concern for your children, who are being neglected while you rush to keep Programmes and assessments going
  • the above-and-beyond commitment to your students, sometimes including 24/7 pastoral care on your personal devices
  • the regret that the College could not have acted as quickly as other institutions in informing students of the change to online provision
  • the unanimity of your condemnation of any strike pay deductions
  • the regret about the College’s lack of compassion to its workforce, in contrast with other Universities

How will these results help to change things?

As your Union, we are committed to communicating these findings to the Senior Management Team, with the meaning of the HSE’s Management Standards, and to expanding this pilot survey to the whole workforce, so that material assistance can be put into place as soon as possible.

In the meantime, we ask that you do reach out to as many people as you can for support, as you have indicated, and we will of course do everything we can to protect your interests.

See the full analysis of the survey here.