What are your goals for your work plan? Choose from the following.
Work plans don’t always correspond to reality but they are important in making work visible.
Text Kyösti Niemelä Image aarni korpela
In May 2020, Jukka Huhtamäki live-tweeted himself filling out a yearly work plan. On Twitter the researcher at the University of Tampere wondered how work is divided and what the guidelines actually mean.
“I read the guidelines like the devil reads the bible, made nonsense observations and wondered how I was going to fill in each section.”
The execution of the yearly work plan is provided for in universities’ general collective agreement. For many it causes headaches or cynical laughter. Some do it without much thought, while others go to great pains.
Huhtamaki, for example, is burdened by the fact that, as a researcher, he cannot always know when he is at work and when he is not.
“If I, for example, go for a walk out in nature and think about the structure of an article. Or I read research literature. Or on Slack I talk with my research community as if gathering in the breakroom.”
In the world of research, time does not always move at the pace of official systems. The researcher sends the article to the journal; after a year it is returned with requests for revision. By then the researcher has moved on to completely different jobs. However, the article should be revised immediately.
In the world of research, time does not always move at the pace of official systems.
“In what time frame will it be done?” Huhtamäki asks.
He says the work plan could serve as a tool for self-management, but he is sceptical about whether the plans will create valuable data for anyone.
Do the plans create valuabel data for anyone?
There is more to the work plan. It creates a meta-burden for the researcher, Huhtamaki says, meaning that the researcher actively thinks about time, classifies it and keeps track of it. Time becomes more concrete.
He says that making a work plan has also strengthened the feeling that there is an employer and employees in academia. Before that, he had considered his own research community as more communal.
Huhtamaki warns that work plans and worktime monitoring systems could erode the ethical foundation of the university community. For those who have chosen a career as a researcher, it can be particularly stressful to create data that doesn’t add up.
“If a stone is thrown into the air and its trajectory is calculated, then the stone will not get offended. But when people are measured, it always affects the person.”
“When people are measured, it always affects the person.”Jukka Huhtamäki
Reality is ever-changing, plans aren’t
Katja Aho, Juko’s Head of Collective Bargaining, is also concerned that work plans do not always correspond to reality. In that case, they cannot be used, for example, to plan the units’ work or to limit workloads.
When Aho asked the universities’ chief shop stewards for their views of work plans, one clear theme emerged: unpredictability. Situations change. A professor may get a big expert assignment, or a teacher may change jobs, resulting in his or her work being transferred to someone else. However, the work plan is not always revised, even if the collective agreement requires such.
Longer absences are another matter. Aho says that after at least two weeks of sick leave, the work plan should be reviewed again. She also emphasises that when parental or sick leave occurs, the employee should contact their supervisor and discuss updating the work plan.
Based on the same survey, work plan practices vary from university to university and unit to unit. In some places, work plans are visible to everyone, while in others they are not. Sometimes the work plan is approved by the HR secretary, sometimes by the dean or department head.
Work plan practices vary from university to university and unit to unit.
“It should be transparent who makes that approval,” Aho says, adding that work plans should be made public.
Jussi Välimaa, Director of the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä, has worked as a researcher since the late 1980s. He says that back then, work plans were used mostly as a guiding resource. Since then they have come to be seen as descriptions of reality, which, according to, causes problems.
“It is known from empirical research that everyone at the university works more than 1,612 hours a year. For hard-working academics, a permanent moral problem can arise from the work plan. For many it puts them in a tough place where they have to make a ‘cheat paper’.”
Välimaa thinks it is good that people are thinking as realistically as possible about what they will do during the year and how it relates to the operation of the department. For example, a work plan could prevent burnout.
“It’s worth thinking about in terms of the benefits of planning your own work. I think counting the hours is secondary.”
“It’s worth thinking about in terms of the benefits of planning your own work. I think counting the hours is secondary.”Jussi Välimaa
If the plans are unrealistic, the foreman should intervene, Välimaa says. He also recommends that immediate supervisors discuss work plans with subordinates in advance.
He also hopes that the design of work plans could be linked to personal development and appraisal discussions. His research institute has previously held simultaneous work plan and personal appraisals in the autumn. However, this is facilitated by the fact that the research institute does not provide teaching.
For the protection of workers
Katja Aho thinks that development discussions could be accompanied by a review of work plans. This way those involved can assess how it has been achieved so far.
The work plan protects the employee, Aho says, because in principle new tasks cannot be assigned without updating the work plan. In fact, major changes should not be agreed on at all without updating the plan, as sometimes happens.
“It’s a plan to protect a person so that the work they do becomes visible.”Katja Aho
Aho emphasises that a work plan should be made, and that it can be beneficial to the employee in many situations. A carefully made plan is an important document when evaluating work performance or considering the organisation of the work, the workload, or, for example, consecutive fixed-term contracts.
“It’s a plan to protect a person so that the work they do becomes visible.”