Championing students is a challenge for any university union, and the Durham Students’ Union takes its role as the representative for the 16,000 students at Durham University seriously.
The charity has undergone a turbulent period of change over the last decade, which made its relationships with students, the university and local community weak. Its financial position was precarious, and it had been through three staffing restructures during a five-year period.
Staff felt they had little job security, and by the start of 2017, overall staff engagement was at 46 per cent. Only half (50 per cent) of colleagues felt leadership was able to make the organisation successful. Something had to change.
So in March 2017, the Students’ Union appointed Atkinson HR Consulting to provide a Virtual People Director service and instill a more proactive approach to people management and culture.
This service, which is targeted for small- to medium-sized charities, provides HR director-level work and expertise on a three-days-per-month basis to employers who can’t afford their own permanent HR director.
Atkinson HR Consulting worked with the union to understand where people management practices operated well and where they needed to be improved. And only nine months into delivery of the new people strategy, it has already started to deliver rapid progress with staff and management teams.
Its 2019 staff engagement survey also revealed remarkable changes. Overall engagement skyrocketed to 90 per cent, and the majority of staff (90 per cent) said they believed the organisation cares about its employees – up from just 28 per cent.
These results are impressive, but there has also been a knock-on effect for organisational performance. The charity’s commercial revenue also increased by 70 per cent over the last two years, and it has recently achieved the national Quality Students’ Union status.