The principles of the HR Award raised the level of job applicants at the MU Faculty of Science

The Faculty of Science of Masaryk University (MU) gained a clear advantage on the labour market thanks to the HR Award, which it received three years ago. At that time, it was one of the first educational institutions in the country to obtain the award from the European Commission. According to the faculty’s human resources department, the quality of applicants for jobs at the faculty has increased significantly, whether for academic, scientific or other positions.

12 Oct 2021 Tereza Fojtová

A collage representing the MU Faculty of Science’s two campuses: the Bohunice University Campus and the Kotlářská campus in the centre of Brno. Photos: Helena Brunnerová, Collage: Magdalena Burgr.

The Faculty thus contributed to the fulfilment of the main aims of The European Charter for Researchers and The Code of Conduct for Recruitment of Researchers, which is to create an interconnected network of scientific and academic workplaces across the European Union guaranteeing similar working conditions. This will facilitate the free movement of scientists and thus contribute to the improvement of science and research. For the MU Faculty of Science, this means that, though it cannot fully compete with prestigious foreign institutions from some other countries in terms of salaries, it becomes an attractive proposition for scientists by guaranteeing a transparent, open and internationally friendly work environment.

From the point of view of a researcher who, often needs to change their place of work during their career in order to achieve their research goals, it is extremely important that the institution they come to has clearly defined processes, from selection procedures through career code, code of ethics, anti-discrimination rules, employee evaluation process and the like. “It is an advantage for employees that they know in advance what is expected of them, where and under what conditions they can progress in their career and exactly how they are evaluated in their work”, said the Dean of the Faculty Tomáš Kašparovský. He added, “through this, we succeed in fulfilling one of the basic goals and expectations with which the faculty entered into the process of obtaining and maintaining the award”. For the faculty management, the decision to strive for the HR Award also meant that it was possible to enforce changes that would otherwise have been difficult to implement. “As an example, we managed to introduce a clause stating that if someone wanted to be employed as an academic worker, they must have significant foreign experience. We now have this in our regulations, which would normally be very difficult to enforce”, the Dean explained.

Dean of the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University Tomáš Kašparovský, Photo: Helena Brunnerová.

In order for the institution to become an attractive employer for foreign researchers, it is absolutely crucial that it is able to ensure that all communication is also presented in English. “In practice, this first step on the road to internationalisation not only means that all employees are able to communicate in English but also that all key documents are bilingual, from strategic documents, directives and regulations to the minutes of ordinary meetings”, said the Dean.

The removal of language barriers was one of the concrete steps the faculty set itself in 2018 in order to meet its goal of obtaining the HR Award after endorsing principles of the European Charter for Researchers and Code of Conduct for the Recruitment of Researchers.

“In the beginning, we set ourselves a vision whereby we would build a work environment that was open, transparent, structured, international and friendly”, remembered Barbora Wahlová, the human resources manager and coordinator of the HR Award project at the MU Faculty of Science.

“It was crucial that we managed to create a solid system of job positions that included a clear description of the competencies and experience expected. This is also reflected in the quality of selection procedures, where it becomes very easy to specify the profile of the person a particular workplace is looking for”, said Barbora. “At the Faculty of Science, selection procedures are mandatory for all vacancies, which is not that common. This reflects the efforts made to be as open and transparent as possible, such that everyone who sees an advertisement gets the same chance and receives equal opportunities”, she added.

Considering the size of the faculty, which is comparable to the entire university in terms of number of employees and budget, the HR Award team prepared a detailed guide to help facilitate the faculty's selection procedures. “Everyone was given a clear ‘cookbook’ on how to proceed during the hiring and interview process. We have trained almost 100 people at the faculty and we continue to provide support”, explained Barbora.

Similarly, we managed to develop, and subsequently introduce, a system of employee evaluation. This can be an incredibly sensitive thing, especially in academia, and that is why most institutions have not yet implemented this goal. Academics are not used to having someone evaluate how they work or determine the way they should work. We also noted reactions of opponents, who said that it would never be possible to evaluate academics as individuals”, she admitted.

But the results surprised everyone. Employees who were not included in the first wave of evaluations also started requesting evaluations. According to the Dean, the basis for successful implementation of the changes was to have a broad discussion across the faculty, which was successful. For the HR professionals themselves, as well as the faculty management, it was a positive finding that one of the requirements for the next period, which came directly from the employees themselves, was to establish a system of evaluation on remuneration. “Today's young people in particular want to know how and for what they are evaluated and what to do in order to move forward in their careers”, explained the Dean.

Onboarding process, along with the training of newcomers, is no less important than transparent selection procedures, career code and evaluation process, both for the faculty as an employer and for its employees. “We have prepared documents for newcomers that tell them what they have to do and where they have to arrange it. The point is to make every newcomer feel welcome at the workplace”, Wahlová said, adding that “what awaits the faculty in the coming period is the tightening of such adaptation plans into a digitised format”.

Another topic will be the introduction of an ombudsman, who will help employees deal with situations that they cannot, or do not want to, solve with their immediate superiors. The introduction of this position is currently being considered at the university level, which, in the opinion of the Faculty of Science’s HR Award team, will be more appropriate as it will ensure independence and separation from events at the faculty.

Over the coming period, HR professionals will also be spending a lot of time working on the agenda for the “Gender Equality Plan”. The faculty has already passed a gender audit performed by an external company. “We want to develop a set of measures that will prevent the creation of inequalities in jobs, simply so that we do not create career obstacles. In the first phase, the big task will be to identify and name all the existing obstacles”, stressed the Dean, adding that “obtaining the HR Award, which made the faculty more visible abroad and allowed us to attract better experts, was not a one-time step but part of a long process on the road to a pre-determined target”.

Based on her experience, Barbora Wahlová recommends to all those at the start of the process that it is best to choose a path of gradual steps. “The important thing is that the organisation realises where its weaknesses are; it is certainly not possible to address all 40 principles at once and try to implement changes for each of them at the same time”, she advised. The Faculty of Science is now awaiting implementation of a revised action plan based on an interim evaluation that took place in February of this year, which should lead to the renewal of the HR Excellence in Research Award granted to SCI MUNI by the European Commission and a revised strategy that will be completed by February 2024.

Reproduced by kind permission of Science and Research.

Translated by Kevin Roche

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