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Work Environment

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Workplace Environment

This research brief focuses on how staff and faculty experience their workplaces, including their perceptions of the climate and quality of their immediate work environments, satisfaction with work/life balance, and experiences with mistreatment on the job. The brief also reports on graduate employees’ level of challenge balancing their work as employees and their academic work. Notably, the Campus Climate Survey (CCS) is the sole source of data pertaining to work environment quality and satisfaction for staff. In contrast, multiple survey instruments, including the COACHE Job Satisfaction Survey and the CCS, provide insight into the work lives of faculty. 

This brief begins by 1) describing and contrasting some distinctive aspects of the general campus contexts for the staff and faculty employee populations, and 2) reviewing pandemic-related circumstances and associated challenges that characterized the 17 months prior to the climate survey’s launch. 

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General Context for Staff 

In fall 2021 when the CCS was conducted, approximately 70% of UMass Amherst employees were staff members (N = 4483). One important context consideration that has implications for workplace inclusivity is the underrepresentation, relative to the population of Massachusetts, of Black, Latina/o/x, and Indigenous people among staff. Another is the gendered nature of organizational work units. Overall, the sex composition of staff was 53% women and 47% men. However, the composition of most administrative units was imbalanced (and is currently). For example, at the time of the CCS, 78% of Human Resources employees were women, as were 76% of Advancement staff, 69% of Research & Engagement staff, and 62% of staff in Student Affairs and Campus Life (SACL). In contrast, 69% of Information Technologies staff were men, as were 69% of Athletics staff, and 60% of staff in Administration and Finance (A&F). 

One of the most distinctive aspects of the campus context for staff is the heterogeneity of organizational roles. Staff members include groundskeepers, chefs, office managers, residence directors, administrators, academic advisors, maintainers, coaches, information technology specialists, police officers, procurement specialists, personnel officers, administrative assistants, engineers, electricians—to name a small fraction of the myriad staff roles. The vast majority of staff are represented by collective bargaining units (eight in total), and compensation levels vary substantially by position type. Formal and informal hierarchies based on unit/non-unit status, position, education level, and socioeconomic status can be a source of tension and division among staff. 

Year-round employment is another distinctive aspect of the campus context for many staff. Whereas most faculty have 9-month contracts, a majority of staff members are contracted to work throughout the full calendar year. Although most staff work standard daytime hours, many of those engaged in service roles – including custodial staff, residence life staff, police, and dining staff – work weekends and evening and/or overnight shifts. A few hundred staff members are University-designated “essential employees” who must report to work when the campus is officially closed. 

Although some staff positions entail routine movement about campus (e.g., police officers, groundskeepers, technicians), many staff members work in positions that require them to spend sustained time in particular physical locations on campus. Staff who work in managerial or professional positions (about one-third of all staff) are typically assigned an individual office, but a vast majority of staff members work in more communal settings that afford limited personal space and privacy. Some staff members venture out of their immediate work location routinely to attend meetings (although less so now that many meetings are held virtually), but others’ spheres of movement are much more constrained. The day-to-day work of most staff members involves considerable interaction with other staff members on their work team or in their office or unit. Given that the campus context for most staff work is both sustained/long-term and place-bound, members of this population may be invested in developing and fostering a campus climate characterized by mutual respect, inclusion, and belonging. 

General Context for Faculty 

In fall 2021, faculty comprised approximately 30% (N=1929) of UMass Amherst employees. One important context consideration is that domestic faculty members were (and are currently) predominately White, ranging from 60% in the College of Engineering to 81% in the College of Nursing. The underrepresentation of domestic Black, Latina/o/x, and Indigenous faculty members is a prominent aspect of the campus context for diversity and inclusion. 

The gendered nature of academic fields of study and their clustering within the nine discipline-based colleges and schools is another important aspect of the campus context for faculty. The distributions of women and men within seven of the nine the colleges/schools were quite disproportionate, which approximated national distributions within disciplinary clusters. (The College of Social and Behavioral Science and the College of Humanities and Fine Arts were fairly proportionate.) Overall, 47% of UMass Amherst faculty were women, but within the colleges/schools this percentage ranged from 20% in the College of Information and Computing Sciences to 94% in the College of Nursing.  

The designation of positions as either tenure system (59%) or non-tenure system (41%) is another distinctive aspect of the campus context for faculty. Faculty members in tenure-system roles are eligible to pursue tenure (and the job security it offers) whereas faculty not on the tenure track are not eligible for tenure. The extent to which this dichotomy undergirds hierarchies and impacts faculty work environments can vary among academic departments/programs. 

Compared to most staff, faculty exercise substantial control over their work environments.  Most faculty members have a private, campus-based office; and many have discretion about when and where they work. Consequently, most faculty have greater control over their own interfacing with the campus environment—including the amount of time they spend on campus—than do other categories of employees, particularly those whose work confines them to specific, physical locations, and set work schedules. 

For the undergraduate and graduate students with whom they interact through their teaching, research, advising, and mentoring, faculty members are principal representatives of both their academic departments/programs and the larger University. The institutional prominence of and value afforded to the faculty role, and the organizational longevity of this group of campus employees, position faculty members to be influential cultivators of an inclusive campus climate.  

Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic  

The COVID-19 pandemic prompted the University to shift in March 2020 to remote learning, advising and support for most undergraduate and graduate students; remote teaching for all faculty and graduate student instructors; and remote work for most staff. Employees designated as “essential,” such as maintainers and police officers continued to work in-person on campus. Some staff, including many frontline workers (e.g., UMass Dining service staff) were placed on long-term, unpaid “furloughs.” And most University employees, including administrators, experienced the loss of three weeks of pay due to short-term furloughs enacted to counter significantly reduced institutional revenue. Only faculty were not subjected to furloughs; rather, some received additional compensation for converting the format of their courses from in-person to online. The University’s prioritization of faculty salaries during the period of remote operations prompted resentment among many staff, who felt devalued by what they perceived to be pronounced inequitable treatment. 

As documented by both national-level and campus-based research, the unprecedented and lengthy period of primarily remote work and learning was challenging for most staff and faculty for multiple reasons, including personal illness, caregiving for ill family members, the death of loved ones, childcare responsibilities, elder care responsibilities, social isolation, mental health struggles, learning curves associated with new technologies and pedagogies, online fatigue, children’s and teens’ struggles with remote instruction, economic hardships due to loss of earnings, and extra work demands related to the pandemic. This array of challenges impacted the singularly entwined work and personal lives of faculty and staff during the period of primarily remote operations that extended through the summer of 2021 and provided a complex backdrop for the Campus Climate Survey. 

At the discretion of campus leadership, the 2021 CCS was conducted during the first semester that students, non-essential staff, and most faculty resumed in-person activities -- albeit within a markedly different context of mask-wearing; social distancing; and “hybrid,” flexible, or entirely remote work for many employees. By this time, staff ranks had diminished considerably due to pandemic-prompted early retirements and separations: in fall 2021, A&F was down 238 employees, Academic Affairs was down 64, SACL was down 57, and Information Technologies was down 36. Therefore, another important aspect of the campus context for the CCS was increased workloads for many employees, including faculty members impacted by the loss of staff in their academic units (the total faculty population decreased by 10 from 2019 to 2021). Lastly, contract bargaining with the staff and faculty unions was well underway but not yet completed at the time the CCS was conducted. 

An Important Limitation of the Staff Survey Results 

Unfortunately, as detailed in the CCS Background and Methods brief (https://www.umass.edu/diversity/background-and-methods) survey participation rates among two sizeable groups of employees were unacceptably low: only 10% of staff in Service/Maintenance (SM) roles and 19% in Skilled Crafts (SC) roles participated in the survey. Undoubtedly, these low participation levels stemmed, at least in part, from the severe understaffing that A&F was experiencing at the time the survey was conducted. 

Low participation among SM and SC workers negatively impacted the demographic representativeness of staff survey results for both the University overall, and for A&F specifically. Although these two groups of employees comprised 31% of all staff at the time of the survey, they represent only 8% of survey participants. And because this low participation was highly concentrated in one executive area, A&F staff are extremely underrepresented among survey participants. Ultimately, the CCS research team determined that representation of SM and SC staff in the data set was so inadequate that it compromised the accuracy of staff results for the University overall, as well as for A&F. Consequently, the staff results communicated here exclude A&F.  

As explained in the Background and Methods brief, the demographic characteristics of staff survey participants (excluding A&F) and faculty survey participants are closely aligned with those of their respective target populations. Survey participation rates were robust in Academic Affairs, and across the University’s other executive areas (minus A&F). That the CCS results reported here cannot reflect the experiences of staff University-wide is a shortcoming. However, the extremely low level of survey participation among SM and SC workers in A&F is anomalous, and a likely consequence of the challenging work environment experienced by these groups of employees in fall 2021. 

The 2021 Campus Climate Survey was conducted and analyzed by the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment (OAPA) and was sponsored by the Office of Equity and Inclusion. This report, UMass Amherst Campus Climate Survey 2021: Workplace Climate was written by OAPA and contains their thematic findings.

outside of ILC

Work Environment Climate: Perceptions of Specific Climate Aspects

Staff and faculty were asked to rate their immediate work environment on the same scales that were used to assess the campus climate (e.g., Unsafe-Safe, Unwelcoming-Welcoming, Disrespectful-Respectful). These ten items, once combined, form a robust composite measure of work environment climate that facilitates exploration of potential differences in perceptions of work environment climate by social identity.  

Do Perceptions of Work Environment Climate Vary by Social Identity?

The dashboards in this section allow for comparison of mean ratings of work environment climate by social identity aspects. As illustrated, staff rated their work environment climate slightly higher than did faculty (3.9 vs. 3.7). Among staff, perceptions of work environment climate vary somewhat by disability status, race/ethnicity, gender, and role/job classification.

aerial view of campus

Work Environment Quality

To assess work environment quality, faculty and staff were asked to indicate the extent to which they agree or disagree with eight statements relating to important aspects of their immediate work environment. These eight items, once combined, form a robust composite measure of work environment quality that facilitates exploration of potential differences in perceptions by social identity.  

view of campus pond and library

Do Perceptions of Work Environment Quality Vary by Social Identity?

These dashboards allow for comparison of mean ratings of work environment quality by social identity aspects. Overall ratings for staff and faculty were nearly identical (3.0 and 2.9, respectively, on a scale ranging from 1 to 4). Among faculty, mean ratings were very similar across most social identity aspects.

Perceptions of Supervisor Attentiveness to Employees’ Treatment

Staff only were asked to indicate the extent to which their supervisor pays attention to how people in their workplace are treated. Overall, 61% of staff indicated that their supervisor pays attention to employees’ treatment in the workplace To a Great Extent or To a Very Great Extent. Responses to this question varied modestly by social identity. 

exterior of Olver design building

Work-Life Balance

Staff and faculty were asked to indicate how satisfied or dissatisfied they are with their ability (“so far this semester”) to balance their work priorities with their personal life priorities. Overall, 66% of staff and 58% of faculty indicated being somewhat or very satisfied with their ability to balance their work and personal life priorities

Graduate Employees’ Balancing of Academic and Assistantship Work

Whereas staff and faculty were asked about the balance between their personal life and their work life, graduate student employees were asked about the balance between two different types of work -- their paid work as a graduate assistant and their academic work.  

Experiences with Mistreatment and Bullying On the Job

Overall, majorities of both staff (69%) and faculty (67%) indicated that they Rarely or Never experience mistreatment at their campus job. For both populations, responses varied by social identity. Staff and faculty who indicated that they experience mistreatment on the job were asked to share whether they would describe the mistreatment as bullying.

Why We Conduct This Survey

At UMass Amherst, diversity, equity, and inclusion are central to our mission, our values, and our success. We conduct the Campus Climate Survey every several years to assess whether our values are reflected in the daily experience of students, faculty, staff, and visitors in order to better understand the challenges of creating an environment that is respectful and inclusive for all. The survey data collected will guide our process for diversity strategic planning in specific and tangible ways, including campus policies, priorities, and distribution of resources. 

Backgrounds and Methods

In fall 2021, all UMass Amherst students and employees were invited to participate in a Campus Climate Survey to help the university better understand the challenges of creating a respectful and inclusive campus environment. The survey was sponsored by the university’s Office of Equity and Inclusion and conducted by the Office of Academic Planning and Assessment. The survey included a set of core questions about campus climate perceptions and experiences at UMass Amherst, and items about social identity aspects.