October 23, 2015

Bullying of staff in regional universities is a serious problem that needs addressing - Australia

A study of more than 22,000 university staff shows that academics in regional universities were more likely to experience bullying compared to those at other types of universities.

The survey, which looked at working life in 19 different universities across Australia, was set up to test whether the anecdotal complaints of colleagues at regional universities was anything more than the traditional complaints of academics about freedom, autonomy and managerialism.
What did the study show?

This was the first study of its kind to look at bullying across a range of Australian universities. Overall, 28 per cent of academics reported being bullied, with 12 per cent saying the bullying they experienced was serious enough to consider taking a formal case.

However, people were reluctant to take action as they felt pursing the matter would only make things worse.

The rate of bullying varied a lot across different types of universities. One third (36 per cent) of academic staff at the four regional universities reporting being bullied, 1.5 times more than in the five Group of Eight — the most prestigious — universities.

Disturbingly, 42 per cent of staff at one regional university said they had been bullied. Academics reported being publicly humiliated, excluded, intimidated and discriminated against.

Given the well-documented impact of bullying on physical and emotional well-being, these figures are shocking.

The institutional effects are also worrying. Workplace bullying damages productivity and reputation and can be seriously costly to universities.

Work-related harassment and/or workplace bullying has a direct cost of around $18,000 per claim, according to Safe Work Australia — and this is without considering the indirect costs to productivity and staff turnover.

Given the recent changes in legislation, which requires employers to demonstrate they have been proactive in addressing workplace health and safety issues, it's critical to understand what might be contributing to these toxic work places.

Toxic work environments

The research showed that Aboriginal Australians, people from ethnic minority groups, women, and those with family commitments were more likely to be bullied.

Evidence of nepotism was also evident, with individuals who were appointed by a competitive process reporting more harassment than those who weren't. And this was more common in regional universities.

Health and safety regulations require senior management to act to reduce workplace health hazards. But it's likely that at least some senior managers of these institutions are modelling and enabling the bullying and harassment reported in this survey, without senior level support, a culture of bullying would not thrive.

How to change this culture of bullying

Changing a culture that propagates bullying and harassment, even with a determined cross-organisation effort, is a long-term endeavour.

Using guidance from Safe Work Australia on how to prevent and manage bullying in the workplace, going forward, universities need to:
  • Set the standard for appropriate behaviour — Senior management need to set and enforce clear standards of behaviour through a code of conduct or a workplace policy that outlines what is and is not appropriate behaviour. They also need to state what action will be taken to deal with unacceptable behaviour. Unfortunately, many university policies currently require the victim to make a complaint to the probable bully as a first step.
  • Develop positive workplace relationships — Universities need to promote positive leadership styles by providing training for managers and supervisors on communicating effectively in difficult situations, including how to engage workers in decision-making "(which the survey showed has decreased over recent years in regional universities), and providing constructive feedback.
  • Implement proper reporting procedures — A victim needs to know there is a reporting process that protects them and will be acted on. Unfortunately, fear of victimisation is the most common reason given for not reporting bullying in the study.
  • Make sure reporting systems are confidential — Using systems to provide confidential anonymous information on workplace behaviour, such as university surveys, like this one in the US called The Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education program, are easy to implement and safe for victims.

October 01, 2015

UCU at Ulster declare a dispute with employer

Press release

The University and Colleges Union at Ulster University have this morning declared a dispute with the employer because of a failure to properly consult over collective redundancies.
In a redundancy situation, employers are required to consult meaningfully with the recognised trade unions with a view to reaching agreement on a set of proposals that are fair and equitable. The trade unions must be consulted on avoiding dismissals, reducing the number of dismissals and mitigating the consequences of dismissals.

Ulster University Management has presented its proposals, which include course closures and the loss of significant proportions of staff in targeted areas, as a fait accompli. Immediately after the proposals were announced, rather than enter a period of statutory consultation, courses were removed from the UCAS application system. An unagreed ‘voluntary’ severance scheme was opened to some but not all staff in targeted areas and was done so before the University published its business case to the trade union. UCU does not believe this constitutes meaningful consultation.

The closing date for applications to the voluntary severance scheme time is 30th October 2015. It has been offered to selected staff simultaneous to public announcements of course and departmental closures. Individuals have been placed in an invidious position of either applying for an enhanced package ahead of and parallel to consultation, or risk a compulsory redundancy on materially worse terms. The UCU believes the employer is bullying our members and is doing so with deliberate intention of undermining a meaningful consultation process.

Anthea Irwin, president of the local association of UCU at Ulster, said, ‘UCU are deeply saddened to have been forced into declaring a dispute with the University but we cannot stand by and allow our management to steamroller through a set of proposals that lack rationale, unfairly target colleagues in particular areas, and threaten the breadth of education we offer to our young people.

‘This should be a time of vibrancy and excitement at Ulster, as our students embark upon their new year of studies with talented and dedicated staff who inspire them, support them, and prepare them to make an impact on our society. But all of this is overshadowed by the fact that our management have demonstrated that they do not respect and value us, in the way our students and their future employers do. If they did, they would have worked with us to find a better way to deal with the Stormont budget cuts.

‘UCU have repeatedly asked management to consult meaningfully with us, they have not done so, and we have been forced to declare a dispute as a last resort. It is ironic that at the time the Minister for Employment and Learning is launching his ‘big conversation’ about higher education, Ulster University management refuse to have any meaningful conversation with their employees about how to best protect and nurture that education through difficult times.

‘UCU are ready and waiting to have that conversation, but we can only do so if our management halt their unacceptable process and start again in meaningful consultation with the trade unions.’

Contact: Anthea Irwin a.irwin@ulster.ac.uk 07742889802

University of Ulster Victims Association: https://www.facebook.com/University-of-Ulster-Victims-Association-1614149405477420/timeline/