Recognition & Rewards

Summary and interpretation

Dutch universities, university medical centres, research institutes and funders of the academic world have worked together in the Recognition & Rewards programme since 2020 to bring about a culture change and create more room for the diverse talents of academics. Many academics feel that there is an overly one-sided emphasis on quantitative research output, as a result of which activities in other areas regularly fail to receive the appreciation they deserve. As Dutch knowledge institutions, we believe it is important for academics to be able to distinguish themselves within the fields of teaching, impact, leadership and patient care, as well as in research. At the same time, we think there should be a greater focus on the quality of academic work.

In January 2024, the Recognition & Rewards culture barometer was conducted among academics to provide insight into the extent to which the ambitions of the Recognition & Rewards programme and associated behaviours are recognised, experienced and shared in the workplace. We also want to use the results of this questionnaire to gauge the progress being made in implementing the intended culture change. Where necessary, we can use the insights gained to adjust our methods to achieve change. The culture barometer questionnaire was sent to over 65,000 academics from 26 institutions: universities, university medical centres and research institutes. Nearly 8,000 respondents completed the questionnaire in full. Their answers have been included in the results. This is a response rate of 12.1%. In this contribution, we summarise and interpret the main findings.

Are you curious about the full report of Berenschot with the results of the Recognition & Rewards culture barometer? Click here.

The Recognition & Rewards culture barometer shows that almost half of all respondents are familiar with the Recognition & Rewards programme. Only academics in engineering and healthcare disciplines are clearly less familiar with the programme than their colleagues in other disciplines. Incidentally, familiarity with the programme also varies by job category. In particular, PhD candidates, medical specialists, researchers and – to a lesser extent – teachers have little or no knowledge of the programme.

These results show that we are not yet sufficiently reaching out to certain stakeholder groups. In that respect, we clearly have some work to do. We believe it is important to engage actively with these target groups. For that reason, we expanded the national Recognition & Rewards steering group in 2023 to include representatives of Promovendi Netwerk Nederland (PNN) and PostdocNL, as well as an early-career academic with teaching talent from the ComeniusNetwork. We also endeavour to provide a platform for the above-mentioned target groups in other national activities. In the period ahead, we will discuss strategies to promote the involvement of those target groups in the Recognition & Rewards programme, both at the national level and at the different institutions.

There is broad support for the various ambitions set out in the programme. The respondents indicated that they particularly appreciated initiatives to diversify career paths and focus on quality. We understand this preference, as we have been highlighting these two spearheads more often than any other. They are also the most concrete ambitions and have a direct impact on individual academics. We find this support for the programme quite encouraging, as it shows that academics sincerely hope for a change in the academic community. Another positive finding is that almost half of all respondents expect to experience more job satisfaction and less frustration and annoyance as a result of implementing the programme. In addition, over half of the respondents expect to be better able to make fundamental decisions in line with their preferences, talents and life stage. A large proportion of respondents also expect the quality of their work to be appreciated more widely than before. These hopes support and encourage us to carry on our work on the Recognition & Rewards programme. In doing so, we will obviously continue to look into the concerns that have been raised.

In general, academics feel recognised and rewarded for the work they do. Note, however, that this is especially true for full professors, medical specialists and PhD candidates. At the same time, a quarter of respondents feel that the recognition and rewards they receive, if any, are insufficient. We believe that this clearly confirms the importance of our programme. Respondents indicated that they feel recognised and rewarded mainly through the support they receive from colleagues and managers. In addition, a permanent contract, the job level and an effective team appear to be important factors that contribute to the respondents’ sense of recognition and reward. Conversely, respondents who do not feel recognised and rewarded attribute this to a hierarchical work culture, high workload and limited opportunities for advancement in terms of career and salary. We must be honest and admit that Recognition & Rewards does not offer a comprehensive solution that covers all these factors. Through the programme, we are working towards a new balance in the way in which academic work is recognised and rewarded, ensuring that everyone’s talent counts. Where possible, we seek alignment with programmes and themes that have a degree of common ground with Recognition & Rewards, such as open science, diversity and inclusion, social safety and academic integrity.

In terms of receiving recognition and rewards, there is still ground to be gained. Indeed, a significant proportion of employees report that they do not feel fully recognised and rewarded. It is worth noting that both younger and older academics feel slightly more recognised and rewarded than their colleagues aged between 30 and 49. We take these findings very seriously. We would like to engage in a dialogue on how we and our institutions can recognise and reward the work of our teachers, researchers and assistant or associate professors more effectively. There might be a point in devoting extra attention to the group of assistant professors between 40 and 55 years of age, as they tend to feel less recognised and rewarded than both their younger and older fellow assistant professors.

The majority of respondents indicated that they have so far experienced little or no change as a result of the Recognition & Rewards programme. A distinction was made between policy, systemic and culture changes. At the moment, respondents mainly see changes in policy and are generally positive about them. Obviously, it is unfortunate that the systemic and culture changes are hardly visible at the moment, but it is not surprising. In setting up the Recognition & Rewards programme, we deliberately adopted a route towards change that initially focused on translating the position paper Room for everyone’s talent to the context of individual institutions. We actively involved academics in this process. Almost at the same time, we started to promote the development of a vision in all organisations. After all, if we had focused on developing new assessment criteria too early and without a clear vision, we would have risked changing the rules of the game but not the game itself. Moreover, in that case we would not have been able to really change the behaviours that are responsible for the excessive workload, perceived imbalances and failure to utilise talents.

The institutions are now translating their Recognition & Rewards vision into policy adjustments (e.g. in careers policy, assessment policy, annual appraisals, recruitment and selection, and strategy) and systemic adjustments (e.g. in terms of organisational structure and the composition of committees). They do so on the basis of the road map Room for everyone’s talent in practice that was published in 2023. The actions in the road map will further guide and confirm the new behaviours. Some academics are already experiencing a fairly positive change in this regard. At the same time, we are working to achieve a culture change by valuing team cooperation, focusing more specifically on the quality of academic work, providing room for personal development and ensuring effective leadership. While this is a challenging, exciting and important effort, it is anything but easy. We must be patient. A culture change takes time. Whatever the case may be, the Recognition & Rewards programme touches the heart of academia in multiple domains.

A paradigm shift like this one will only take place if our everyday discourse in these domains also changes; if we engage in a truly different kind of dialogue about research, teaching, talent development and leadership. Such changes take time. The results of the Recognition & Rewards culture barometer clearly show that the mindset is changing. However, this is not yet evident to all academics. It is up to the national programme and individual institutions alike to implement and highlight real changes. In addition, it is important to continue the dialogue on this issue within the institutions and involve academics from all job categories. After all, it appears that a large group of academics rarely, if ever, speak to colleagues about the Recognition & Rewards programme.

According to a large majority of respondents, their own ambitions are taken into account when working arrangements are made. At the same time, we note that almost three quarters of employees perceive pressure to excel in all domains. We think this perfectly illustrates the need to diversify and vitalise career paths. After all, a key point of the programme is precisely to prevent academics from feeling pressure to be good at everything at the same time. As far as we are concerned, diversification should also be reflected in the method of assessment. Furthermore, there is support among academics for attaching more importance to tasks in the fields of teaching, leadership, impact, patient care, team spirit, open science and open education. These results reflect support for the aims of the Recognition & Rewards programme. We will continue to develop and implement career and development paths with specific profiles or emphases within research, teaching, impact, leadership and patient care. In addition, this year, also as part of the study agreement on team cooperation in academia in the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, we intend to commission a study on how to assess whether a person is focused on team cooperation. We hope that this will provide tools to assign more weight to a person’s team spirit when judging a career move.

Experiences on leadership development differ among respondents. Nearly 40% feel there is sufficient attention for leadership development, but 30% disagree and say they think there is insufficient attention for this issue. More than half of respondents feel that showing personal leadership is encouraged and that managers pay attention to team cooperation and staff development. At the same time, over half of respondents feel that managers are not given enough time to perform their duties as supervisors/managers. In both the position paper and the road map, we argue that a focus on effective leadership is essential at all levels and in all age categories. This means that managers must be given enough time to perform their managerial duties. In addition, institutions are developing leadership training courses to equip employees at different levels with leadership competences. The results clearly encourage us to prioritise leadership as a theme.

The Recognition & Rewards culture barometer reflects concern among many academics about the effects of the programme on their own careers. Almost a third of respondents fear that choosing a particular profile will limit their mobility, both in the Netherlands and abroad. This is a worrying sign. We remain committed to ensuring that career paths do not stop at a particular institution. Together we are working to make sure, at the national level, that academics who choose a particular focus or profile at one university also have opportunities to pursue their careers elsewhere. Moreover, where possible we also seek to discuss Recognition & Rewards, academic career paths and research assessment in an international context. That is why we are actively involved in the international Coalition for Advancing Research Assessment. In more and more areas, things are beginning to move. Internationally, increasing numbers of countries, institutions and funders of the academic world are initiating similar changes.

It is also notable that nearly 40% of respondents fear that the quality of teaching and research will decline as a result of the Recognition & Rewards programme. Similarly, nearly 40% are concerned that Recognise & Rewards is adding to the pressure on academics to be good at everything at the same time. Finally, half of all respondents fear that the ambitions of Recognition & Rewards will not ultimately be realised in practice. Notably, mid-career employees in particular – mostly aged between 30 and 50 and working as assistant or associate professors, researchers and teachers – are more concerned than their colleagues in other job categories. We hope that the career paths currently being implemented by institutions (or to be implemented soon) will give academics a greater sense of freedom to make their own choices.

The results of the Recognition & Rewards culture barometer reflect considerable support for the ambitions set out in the Recognition & Rewards programme. Academics in the Netherlands would like the academic community to provide space for everyone’s talents. At the same time, a great deal of work remains to be done to achieve this ideal, as many academics have so far experienced little actual benefit from the changes that are already under way. During the remainder of the programme, we intend to involve academics even more explicitly in efforts to achieve our ambitions. We will also use the road map to implement a series of specific actions to enable academics to make fundamental decisions in line with their preferences, talents and life stage. In doing so, we strive to ensure that all employees at universities, university medical centres and research institutes receive the recognition and rewards they deserve.