The benefits of the best jobs

By Martin Augustus, Head of Employee Relations, UWE Bristol
21 July 2022
Have you ever wondered how online streaming companies like Netflix or Amazon Prime seem to know exactly what films you would like to watch next? As you might expect, the answer is artificial intelligence. The more you use such services the more data about your preferences is added to your profile. But apparently that’s not enough on its own and streaming companies also employ professional watchers whose job it is to pick up subtle nuances and emotional cues that computers haven’t yet managed to categorise. According to various online polls, being a professional Netflix watcher is one of the best jobs in the world, ranking alongside being an ice cream tester, caretaker for a private island or a waterslide tester in the top twenty jobs.

Digging a little deeper and checking on the highest paid jobs, these include investment bankers, chief executives, airline pilots and university Professors. Hang on a moment, university Professors? What are they doing on the lucrative list? Longstanding conventional thinking in our sector is that most academics are motivated by the intrinsic value of the work that they do and that pay plays a secondary role. While this remains a fair argument it is often overlooked that universities employ an amazing range of occupations and professions and, in academic or professional service staff, the sector must be doing something right. Higher education tempts medical and legal professionals, senior managers and many others away from sitting on the highest paid jobs list away in their core professions.

Perhaps the answer is the range of clear and hidden benefits that universities have to offer. We are unlikely to be employed to watch Netflix or eat ice cream (although I suspect someone in our sector to contact me and tell me that they do) but universities do, on the whole, provide us with a safe, enjoyable and supportive working environment where employee wellbeing ranks highly, and rightly so. It is clear that as a society we have, in a post-pandemic world, changed what we consider to be important and work-life balance, sustainability and wellbeing now rank much more highly for the majority of employees. Anyone working for a university is almost guaranteed to benefit from better benefits. These include the clearer ones, such as excellent provisions for maternity and paternity leave, child-care and holiday entitlement. It seems likely that priorities for the next generation of employees will shift even further in this direction with the increased flexibility that working in higher education can offer becoming even more attractive.

Pensions provisions in our sector, regardless of the difficulties in recent years, remain an incredibly valuable and important benefit, far better than most outside of our sector. Working for a university still provides the opportunity to enjoy these benefits – usually including life assurance and critical illness cover alongside retirement benefits that we would otherwise have to purchase separately.

And what about the ‘hidden’ or often overlooked benefits of working in our sector? Let’s face it, universities provide fantastic environments in which to work with the vast majority boasting combinations of well-designed buildings, open green spaces, travel links, restaurants and coffee shops and sports facilities on our doorsteps. Many of us also enjoy travel discounts and access to an abundance of learning and development opportunities. Taken as a whole, there are a fantastic range of benefits available. For those who have always worked in the sector these are often overlooked.

Speaking as an HE HR professional I think that we sometimes forget or don’t know how to get across to new recruits, let alone existing staff, just how vast the range of benefits are. We should spend more time speaking to our communications colleagues and beyond to work out how to spread that message, for both current and future employees. UCEA have helped us too, they are always updating their range of infographics that set out, in a clear and accessible way, the main tenants of universities’ benefits offer.  

Let’s get the positive messages out there for a change - we might not want you to watch telly all day and we certainly won’t be asking you to manage a private island but taken as a whole the benefits of working in higher education are really special and really valuable. They could even be described as amazing if your university’s nutrition research team happen to have landed a contract with a local ice cream manufacturer.