A polite but insistent push to be a better employer. According to Petr Smutný, this is also the HR Award that the Faculty of Economics and Administration has received for the second time this year. In this interview, he talks about the challenges in HR management that lie ahead in the next three years, as well as why it is important to open up discussion on unpopular topics.
What have we learned from the HR Award?
The quality of a school – and a university is still first and foremost a school – is "made" mainly by the people who work there. That's why quality human resources work is important. Thanks to the HR Award project, we have been able to reflect more deeply on this general statement and develop it into concrete objectives and activities in the areas of recruitment, improving working conditions or training and development. In all of these areas, the faculty has made progress, which has been recognised by the European Commission in recent days – we have been awarded the prize for the next three years.
What commitments will the faculty keep as a result of the HR Award?
The basic principles include, for example, the continuous improvement of working conditions in teaching and research, fair remuneration, strengthening career development and support for international cooperation. Just as important as the content of these principles is the fact that we are committed to their long-term implementation. It is the journey towards this fulfilment that is perhaps the most important thing that the HR Award brings to us – the polite but insistent pressure to constantly rethink how to be a better and more attractive employer, combined with the support and opportunity to transfer good practice from like-minded universities and research institutions abroad.
This is also why the award is always given for a fixed period, after which the institution is re-evaluated. We have now successfully completed one of these and the result is an update of the Human Resources Action Plan for the next three-year period. In it, we have formulated the general commitments into specific measures and set deadlines by which they are to be implemented.
Could you summarize the most important activities that have been carried out at the ECON MUNI thanks to the HR Award?
I would divide them into two groups. The first group includes those that may not have been visible at first glance. We were involved in setting up and redefining processes related to human resources management. In many cases, these have produced visible results – new and future colleagues appreciate the efforts to improve the quality of selection procedures or the adaptation process in the period just before and after taking up a new position. For example, we can now all attend regular training sessions on safety or driving on business trips online.
In the second group of activities, we have worked specifically with researchers, both early career researchers and their more experienced colleagues. Here, the most visible activity was the courses and workshops we were able to organise thanks to the project. More than a hundred participants were involved, which is not a small number in the context of the number of faculty staff. The outputs in the area of doctoral studies are also hopefully visible and useful – for example, manuals and handbooks for supervisors and students have been produced.
The HR Award has opened up discussion at the faculty on topics such as gender equality, discrimination and sexual harassment. For many people, it can be uncomfortable to talk about them for a variety of reasons. Why is it important to open them up anyway?
I think the discussion of these topics would probably have happened without the HR Award, especially in the context of the direction of the societal debate and in light of some specific cases. I believe, however, that our involvement in the HR Award project has helped us to better structure the discussion and lead it to concrete, tangible outcomes. One of them is the Gender Equality Plan published by the university, which includes concrete steps to implement it.
These are sensitive, complex but important issues. There is no simple answer to the question of why we should raise them. Nevertheless, I will try to answer it. We must open these topics because it will make us a better institution. Not only in an ethical sense, which is important in itself, but also from a purely pragmatic point of view – because we will be better able to work together and better able to use the potential of all of us – women and men.
Has the faculty's perception of these issues shifted for the better? Are we seeing positive changes in the work culture?
The fact that we have had a structured and analysis-based discussion about this area is, in my opinion, an important first step. Moreover, that discussion has tangible outcomes. One of them is Masaryk University's Gender Equality Plan, but in addition to that, we have also managed to clarify some procedures and processes, for example in relation to reporting sexual harassment. We have defined roles in these processes and staffed them. This happened relatively quickly. And it is good that it has happened.
On the other hand, changing organisational culture is a long haul – indeed, we teach this to students in the third semester of their studies. The next shift will require a long-term effort, which is why we are thinking about a follow-up project to help us move towards a more open and flexible working culture.
The faculty is only at the beginning of the journey. What challenges has the HR Award opened up for us in the future?
As I said, from a certain point of view, the journey is the most important one. Our map on this journey is the updated action plan for the next three years. We have brought in a new discussion on the possible redefinition of lecturer positions and setting the conditions and funding for long-term trips abroad for academics. The full action plan is freely available on the ECON MUNI website.
Could you describe what the follow-up project, which is currently under development, will deal with?
Thanks to the HR Award, we have come across topics that are more general, not only related to male and female researchers. But addressing them will make us a better institution that will be more competitive in the future job market. That is why we are developing a project that will enable us to better respond to the problems and needs of selected groups of faculty members, not just parents of very young children. As the faculty "ages," it will be important in the future to respond to the needs of the so-called sandwich generation of adults who have dependent children but who also must already take care for their parents. How to help these groups continuously develop their careers and enable the realization of these important non-work commitments and needs is what we would like to address in the project. We are currently finalising it and will be submitting it to a grant call in the upcoming weeks. So let's keep our fingers crossed for success!
These activities are supported by the Operational Programme Research, Development and Education under the project "Development of human resources and other strategic areas to support research at MU (HR4MUII)", reg. no. CZ.02.2.69/0.0/0.0/18_054/0014703.