Update on the issue of workload

On November 6, the APUO held its second Strategic Thinking and Action Forum (STAF), which focused on the workload of APUO members.[1]The purpose of the meeting was to (i) share information on this issue; (ii) hear from members on the causes and effects of our increasing workload; and (iii) discuss the collective means and strategies available to us to deal with this situation. About 40 members participated in the two-hour discussion. Beyond the specificity of the conditions in the various faculties, the sharing of information during the Forum has reinforced the overall observation of an insidious increase in the workload of APUO members in recent years.

The sources of this growing workload most often mentioned by members are the following:

  • The hasty and deficient implementation of the computerization of the University of Ottawa’s management functions.
  • The growing bureaucratization of the University of Ottawa.
  • The hiring of an insufficient number of support staff.
  • The increase of shadow or invisible work.[2]
  • The hiring of an insufficient number of regular professors compared to the growth in the number of students over the past 15 years.
  • In some faculties, administrative pressures to increase admissions to graduate studies have been such that students with low marks have been admitted, resulting in a considerable workload increase for professors.

The effects of overload most often mentioned by members are the following:

  • The growing difficulty in meeting all the requirements of our work.
  • The scarcity of time that APUO members can devote to the university missions (teaching, research, community service).
  • The weakening of the sense of belonging to the University of Ottawa.
  • Increased stress levels and health problems.[3]
  • The growing difficulty in reconciling professional life with personal life. 

During the discussion, a consensus emerged that our thinking and action on workload should be part of a comprehensive analysis of university policies in Ontario and Canada. Thus, since the managerial and corporate turn of the university strongly determines the recent evolution of our working conditions, it is imperative that any mobilization around the issue of workload takes this context into account.

In terms of immediate and medium-term actions, various avenues have been mentioned, some of which have already been put forward:

  • Following the joint letter on workload from the APUO and the Support Staff Union (PSUO/SSUO) to Vice-Presidents Graham and Joyal, increase interunion cooperation on workload issues.
  • Continue to follow up on the joint workload letter.
  • Depending on the evolution of discussions with the Central Administration, consider occasional means of pressure to opposing shadow or invisible work.
  • Challenge the new centralized hiring management method.

As a follow-up to the November STAF discussions, the APUO will hold a STAF on the issue of university governance on Wednesday, March 6 from noon to 2:00 p.m., at Tabaret 083. For a growing number of academic staff unions in Canada, it is now well established that increased participation of professors, students, and employees in university governance is essential to reverse the most deleterious trends in the quality of education and university life, whether it is the rise of precarious work, the increase in invisible work, the centralization of decisions, excessive bureaucratization, or austerity as a management method. We will get back to you shortly with more details on this STAF on university governance, but you can register now. A lunch and coffee will be served. To ensure we can provide enough food for all participants, please RSVP through Eventbrite.

Finally, please note that the Central Administration recently informed us that its review of administrative and support processes initiated last spring reached similar conclusions to ours, namely that the implementation of Concur at the University of Ottawa is far from optimal and that its use should be entrusted to a team of specialized employees. As a result, the administration is currently working on the terms of this change and has promised us more details by the spring. We will inform you of the next steps as soon as we have more information.

The APUO strives to make its events accessible to everyone. If you require accommodations to access or to fully participate in this event (including dietary accommodations), please contact Anne-Marie Roy (apuoco@uottawa.ca, 613-230-3659) at the APUO office no later than three (3) working days prior to the meeting/event. 


[1]The first STAF was held on April 24, 2018, and focused on the financial situation of the University of Ottawa [2]“Shadow” or “invisible” work refers to the displacement of work from someone who is paid specifically to do the work onto people who are paid to do other types of work. The introduction of the Concur online platform for the reimbursement of professional expenses (RPE) and travel expenses is a good example of tasks shifting from support staff to APUO Members.[3]In 2007, in a major CAUT study titled Occupational Stress Among Canadian University Academic Staff, Catano et al. concluded that “the overall level of stress in Academic Staff employed in Canadian Universities is very high, consistent with the findings from the UK and Australian academic stress studies” and leading to health problems (Catano et al. 2007: 2).