Labour Authority: ‘TU/e insufficiently complies with Working Conditions Act’

A recently disclosed sub-report by the Netherlands Labour Authority revealed that TU/e insufficiently complies with the Dutch Working Conditions Act. The university doesn’t have sufficient insight into the causes of high work pressure and undesirable behavior, and into the effectiveness of measures that should be keeping these issues under control. The Executive Board recognizes the findings and has promised improvements.

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In 2020, after having received signals and reports on high work pressure, the Labour Authority asked universities to make a plan of action to control the ‘psychosocial workload’. Three years later, the Authority paid them another visit to see how they were doing. An umbrella report on all universities was published a few weeks ago. It says employees are struggling with high work pressure and undesirable behavior, and that the universities aren’t doing enough about these problems.

The sub-report for TU/e was recently disclosed (intranet). Its findings are in line with the general conclusions. The report is based on interviews with employees, a survey (436 respondents), and documentation submitted by the university. These show that policy on controlling high work pressure and undesirable behavior is overly focused on the individual rather than on causes. The effectiveness of the policy is hardly assessed, if at all. According to the Labour Authority, this should be done using the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle, but as far as the Authority has been able to determine, this is only present ‘in theory’ at the central level and present (or partially present) at the separate departments and divisions.

Response by Executive Board

On intranet, the Executive Board states it’s taking the findings from the sub-report seriously and calls a safe working environment an ‘absolute top priority’. “We have already taken many steps to lower the work pressure and reduce undesirable behavior. The Labor Authority is right to note that we still have work to do on the necessary points. These are points that we had already identified and that we are tackling step by step with extra urgency.”

The Board announces that TU/e will be collaborating with other universities and the Landelijk Netwerk Sociale Veiligheid (National Network for Social Safety). The university will also facilitate debate on work pressure and undesirable behavior. This will involve the creation of a broad program for staff and students, with the goal of making the TU/e community more aware of undesirable behavior and improving communication on the subject. “We encourage everyone to participate.”

Undesirable behavior on the work floor

The Labour Authority classifies the following things as undesirable behavior: discrimination, aggression and violence, bullying, and sexual harassment. In the survey among TU/e staff, bullying is mentioned most frequently: 37 percent experienced it themselves and 56 percent saw a colleague experience it. This is followed by science-related undesirable behavior, such as unjustly claiming authorship and various types of fraud: 29 percent experienced this themselves and 43 percent saw a colleague experience it.

Discrimination is the third-most mentioned issue: 28 percent experienced it themselves and 42 percent saw a colleague experience it. Stock was also taken of the grounds for discrimination, the main ones being sex and nationality. Although these percentages aren’t much different from the average of all the universities, the number of people experiencing discrimination based on age, sickness, work duration, type of contract, or parental status at TU/e is considerably below average.

Too little aftercare

The sub-report says multiple suggestions from 2021 to combat undesirable behavior have been implemented. In the employee satisfaction study, for instance, attention is paid to experiences involving undesirable behavior. But the Authority does conclude there is still too little insight into the causes of undesirable behavior and the effectiveness of measures to prevent this. Some measures are also too vague. “As a result, a number of aspects of the SMART goals do not seem to adhere to the basic principles of SMART,” the report concludes.

The Authority also finds it striking that there are only two internal and two external confidential counsellors at the university, for a total of twenty thousand students and employees. The internal counsellors hold an appointment for four hours per week. According to the Authority, that’s not enough to meet their job description, given the size of the target group.

The Authority also states it didn’t receive any documentation on aftercare for victims of undesirable behavior, except for the annual report of the confidential counsellors. That this report isn’t public is something that surprises the Authority as well. Finally, the Authority sees no attention is paid to aftercare in the policy plan on social safety and that participation in measures with respect to undesirable behavior (training, outreach, etc.) is voluntary rather than mandatory, which is a point for improvement dating back to 2021.

The Authority visited in July of 2023. This means the report doesn’t include new initiatives, such as a pilot project on social safety at Mechanical Engineering where staff got to see an impressive play meant to incite debate about undesirable behavior on the work floor.

Work pressure

Three years ago, it was found that TU/e mostly takes measures against high work pressure intended for individuals, one example being a time management course. TU/e was therefore advised to take more measures geared towards tackling causes. The university implemented part of this advice, by hiring extra employees among other things.

In 2021, the Labour Authority also found that the university had insufficient insight and paid too little attention to the hours its employees actually worked. Hardly any improvements seem to have been made in this respect in 2023, as no working hour records were submitted. The employee satisfaction study doesn’t clarify things either, as it didn’t pay any attention to working hours.


In the survey that was sent out, 43 percent of employees indicate they were asked to do an ‘extreme amount’ of work. 56 percent indicates they work more hours on a weekly basis than what is stipulated in their contracts. This is in line with the averages for all universities (42 and 56 percent). It also turns out the average TU/e employee works seven hours more a week than what it says in their contracts. This is one hour more than the average overtime for all universities.

The investigation of the Labour Authority focuses on academic staff and teaching staff, but the Authority says that the findings also apply to administrative and support staff. At the end of 2025, the Authority will carry out another inspection. If there are no signs of improvement then, it can issue what is known as a ‘compliance order’. And if that doesn’t do the trick, fines may be imposed.

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