“I recognize the frustration and administrative incompetence at TU Delft”

“I recognize the frustration and administrative incompetence at TU Delft”

Naomi Ellemers, social and organizational psychologist.Photo by Kiki Groot

On Monday, discussions will be held in all TU Delft faculties on a damning report from the Education Inspectorate. It came as a bombshell on Friday: the union federation was said to have “mismanaged” and “neglected” the social safety of its employees.

This caused not only self-reflection at Delft University, but also anger. The university even threatens to take legal action against the inspection.

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George Van Hal is science editor at De Volkskrant. He writes about astronomy, physics, and space travel.

“You see that all organizations are looking at these types of situations,” says organizational psychologist Naomi Ellemers (Utrecht University), and you should know it. Not only did she conduct scientific research into these types of situations, but she was also the chair of the advisory committee of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences, which Lengthy report Books about social safety in universities. Moreover, I participated in the implementation Cultural research into transgressive behavior in nonprofit organizations This came after revealing the corrupt work atmosphere in The world goes on In NOS Sport.

On Friday, TU Delft itself published the negative report it received from the Education Inspectorate. What do you think at such a moment?

“I recognize the frustrations and the administrative incompetence. The University Council thinks: ‘But we are doing everything we can, aren't we?’ We even see in our internal staff monitoring processes that it would be useful to reduce the proportion of people with undesirable behaviour. Why is it being offered to us now? Like this report?

'Only: the inspectorate deals with it in a different way. He points out that the feeling in the boardroom does not yet match the experience in the workplace. The distance between paper reality and everyday practice is often very large.

“Look, social insecurity is often not about one major criminal offense, it's about the sum of all sorts of little things that individually don't seem like a big problem, but when taken together they do. A purely legal approach doesn't fit, and that's why Everyone is looking. The organizations themselves, but also the inspection body. I think what is happening now at TU Delft is a clear example of that.

“I am also doing scientific research on this with my colleagues. In cooperation with the Labor Inspectorate, we have now started a four-year doctoral program where someone is researching how to deal with this kind of matter. Is there a best possible way? Can we establish some kind of protocol ?

TU Delft says social safety is important, but also attacks the report. What do you think about this response?

“This is understandable, from a psychological point of view. We also see this in our academic research: if you receive such judgment from others, it does something to you neurophysiologically.”

“People, including administrators, find this difficult to address and often become defensive. Punishment alone does not help ensure that people are in a position of improvement.”

But you want to deal with the culprit, right?

“Then you think legally: about enforcement, about catching criminals. This approach is not always appropriate. We often see that people don't really know how bad it is for the other person. Or they are too afraid of a fine, punishment or public humiliation to question… Wrongness and the search for solutions. Moreover, when we talk to people who have had to deal with social insecurity, they often say: My boss does not need to leave, but I want my behavior to change.

Does this problem affect the entire academic world?

“I suppose so.” And not only there. This plays a role in science, in the broadcasting world, in the art world, in journalism, in fact everywhere where you have a mix of very motivated professionals and a lot of competition for a limited number of job places. Then do not quickly say: I do not like this behavior.

“For example, a specialist researcher cannot move so quickly to a similar workplace. This is an additional risk factor. Then employees cross their boundaries more quickly and then do not dare to say anything about it.

The Education Inspectorate received 148 reports after asking 12,000 employees about their experiences with undesirable behaviour. That's just over 1 percent. Shouldn't you then say: It is logical that something happens in every organization?

'Naturally. You can never 100 percent avoid making a stupid comment at some point. But if your system is working fine, that's it. A conversation will follow, or the manager will have coffee with that person to explain why such a comment is inappropriate. Then no one will be left feeling insecure.

There are also those who think this is exaggerated, and shout: “You are forbidden to say anything these days!”

'I get it.' Fear of being canceled at the first stupid comment. This is not fair either. Everyone should have the opportunity to correct a mistake. Only if it doesn't, will there really be a problem.

“But in situations like the current one at TU, people in charge also find it difficult to empathize with the situation of their subordinates. Having a position of power and being part of the majority colors your image. This has been proven often enough.”

“It may also make sense for a manager to think, for example, after conducting an internal employee survey: 80 percent of respondents think this is an excellent organization, there is nothing to worry about! When in reality you should be thinking: How is it possible that the 20% Don't they feel at home here? Especially when you feel comfortable, you have to be open to the experiences of people for whom the same work situation might make them feel unsafe.

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