Dear Peter, dear Roger and dear Sally,
We would like to bring to your attention the tragic issue of entrenched workplace bullying in higher education, and we would like to have your comments, suggestions and proposed strategies to deal with this. We are making some suggestions and comments below but ultimately we want to hear your opinions on the matter.
Right now most - if not all - HEIs have in place and are required to have in place anti-bullying policies. These exist on paper, but - as evidenced in numerous cases (Sheffield Hallam University, Leeds Metropolitan, Birmingham's School of Health Sciences), plus our own UCU survey, the problems persist. Quote from recent UCU survey:
'...An astonishing 82% said their institution had a management culture which 'actively contributed to stress' (87% in colleges, 80% in universities). 27% thought their management 'acknowledged the causes of stress' but only 15% thought their management 'sought to address the causes...'
Some rough figures: It is estimated that 14-16% of the British workforce experiences workplace bullying. In a union with a membership of over 100.000, this translates to over 14.000 members.
It appears that there are few, if any, 'formal' evaluations of bullying intervention programmes. For example, the recent HSE Research Report 024 reviewing supporting knowledge for stress management standards (Rick et al, 2002) found no studies examining evidence on interventions to reduce the bullying/harassment stressor.
In our opinion, it is far more productive for our union to intervene before disciplinary decisions are imposed on academics and other staff, before bullied staff loose their jobs under tragic circumstances. It is far more productive for a truly independent body, external body to assess if the university (employer) has indeed followed the right procedures before reaching a decision. This needs to happen before a decision is imposed and not after. The problem with formal grievance/discipline procedures, from the point of view of statistical monitoring, is that they come at the end of a long chain of actions and decisions and are therefore rare.
Usually, any mediation offered by the employer can be used / is used as another forum for power games where the target (victim) experiences the ultimate bullying and usually leaves with an exit package, a confidentiality clause and wrecked health.
The 2005 Survey of HR Professionals: Which of the following factors impair your organisation's ability to deal effectively with bullying?
Unwillingness to acknowledge a problem by management - 74.4%
Prevailing management style - 70.4%
Lack of training in how to deal with bullying - 45.4%
Lack of cooperation from management - 44.4%
Inadequate procedures - 30.2%
In random order, some of the challenges we face, are:
• Failure of some employers/managers to fully implement ACAS guidelines, and in particular the right to call upon witnesses, to have representation, to have access to accurate records of all hearings. Yes, the Employment Tribunals can decide on this but does it have to always go that far? Are there no other options?
• Failure of some employers to have appropriate internal procedures, embedded with principles of natural justice. How many universities have a record of resolving employment disputes through negotiations and a truck record to prove so?
• Colleagues who are afraid to speak up for fear that they may suffer various forms of penalties. So the victim is often left without wtinesses. Which colleague will openly support the victim of bullying and become a witness against senior managers?
• HR and personnel departments caught in the dilemma between their professional training and professionalism, versus possible management 'pressures' to go along with the prevailing and obviously wrong groupthink.
• A noted lack of expert union reps in workplace bullying backed up by union active policy, strategy, negotiation, and legal action. There is a web page online from a network support group, and a legal/counseling help line that union members can phone, but the issue seems to be the lack of satisfactory results in some well document cases. The available help from the network support group, seems to come too late in the process.
• Funding and quality control bodies should somehow engage in the process of contributing to the implementation and appropriate application of internal grievance and disciplinary procedures. They should/can consider what is happening with workplace bullying, for this has effects on how the general workplace functions or dysfunctions. Yes, we know universities are independent bodies. True, but this is where the collective energies of multiple partners at all levels have to come into this, and the union is only one of them. In fact, the union could lead such a campaign and perhaps attempt to unite all the players in some kind of common cause.
Yes, we do have a new booklet that is well written, BUT the issue remains 'policing' and monitoring and from what we know, universities are not always good at policing their own. An independent party is indeed needed, an external party, even an ombudsman, something, anything… for there are far too many instances when universities when left on their own have not always done the right thing… (ACAS, internal procedures, discrimination, victimisation, racism etc)
TUC, Andrea Adams Trust, and other organisations are working/have worked on a number of projects – policing remains the issue, the gap, the weakness. We feel that our union could be more proactive on this issue and at least advocate for this. This is perhaps one of the central challenges. Does 'independence' mean lack of accountability and transparency on issues of workplace bullying?
The reply from HEFCE is/was that universities are accountable to their own governing bodies. Well, one wonders how cozy these relationships may become after some time. There is a voluntary code of practice for governors, but how many of us know about it or have read it? How many governors have been challenged successfully?
So, who has responsibility for this mess? So far, we have failed to pinpoint a single agent for change. That would be too easy. A collective and coordinated effort of multiple players is needed. We have a long way to go. We would like to know if our union will play a leading role in this or will remain a passive observer offering well-written booklets and support after the events.
It would be good to hear/read from all of you your thoughts and your suggestions on how to tackle workplace bullying in academia.
Peter Kropotkin and Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
PS: We have been suspended on full pay for over one year now. Our employer is hoping that we will not exhaust all internal procedures and as our health deteriorates we may decide to resign. In the meanwhile our employer has intimidated our witnesses, has refused to hand over important documents for our defense, has set up a 'micky mouse' court that has found us guilty in a grievance hearing that can be compared to stalinist courts, and has recently made us an offer for - yes do not laugh - £20000 with a confidentiality clause attached to it.
We are fully aware that our case is not unique. Workplace bullying in academia has been researched. For example, Professor of Sociology, Kenneth Westhues has come up with the following formula:
1. By standard criteria of job performance, the target is at least average, probably above average.
2. Rumours and gossip circulate about the target's misdeeds: "Did you hear what she did last week?"
3. The target is not invited to meetings or voted onto committees, is excluded or excludes self.
4. Collective focus on a critical incident that "shows what kind of man [woman] he [she] really is."
5. Shared conviction that the target needs some kind of formal punishment, "to be taught a lesson."
6. Unusual timing of the decision to punish, e. g., apart from the annual performance review.
7. Emotion-laden, defamatory rhetoric about the target in oral and written communications.
8. Formal expressions of collective negative sentiment toward the target, e. g. a vote of censure, signatures on a petition, meeting to discuss what to do about the target.
9. High value on secrecy, confidentiality, and collegial solidarity among the mobbers.
10. Loss of diversity of argument, so that it becomes dangerous to "speak up for"or defend the target.
11. The adding up of the target's real or imagined venial sins to make a mortal sin that cries for action.
12. The target is seen as personally abhorrent, with no redeeming qualities; stigmatizing, exclusionary labels are applied.
13. Disregard of established procedures, as mobbers take matters into their own hands.
14. Resistance to independent, outside review of sanctions imposed on the target.
15. Outraged response to any appeals for outside help the target may make.
16. Mobbers' fear of violence from target, target's fear of violence from mobbers, or both.