September 23, 2010

Faculty Experiences with Bullying in Higher Education: Causes, Consequences, and Management

...Surprisingly, university-based researchers have paid relatively little attention to bullying in their own backyards. This is an interesting oversight for a number of reasons. First, it stands in contrast to reliable evidence of other forms of hostile and demeaning behaviors on campus such as student and faculty incivility in the classroom (e.g., Braxton & Bayer, 2004). Second, the quality of interpersonal relations, such as collegiality, is an important factor in retention of faculty (Norman, Ambrose, & Huston, 2006). Third, the extensive literature on conflict and misconduct in higher education (Cameron, Meyers, & Olswang, 2005; Euben & Lee, 2006; Holton, 1998) highlights the structural and interpersonal opportunities for disagreement and potentially for hostility in such settings. Finally, the academic environment has a number of organizational and work features that increase the likelihood of hostile interpersonal behaviors (Neuman & Baron, 2003; Twale & De Luca, 2008).

While academics have paid little systematic empirical research attention to bullying in academic settings, this has not been the case in several popular online outlets and more traditional trade publications. For example, and www.mobbingportal. com/index.html represent some online destinations. In terms of a respected “industry” publication, the Chronicle of Higher Education has published numerous articles recently on the hostility and mistreatment that occurs on campuses (e.g., Fogg, 2008; Gravois, 2006). This suggests that academic settings are worthy and in need of concerted attention by researchers in workplace aggression and bullying.

...First, the rates of bullying seem relatively high when compared to those noted in the general population, which range from 2% to 5% in Scandinavian countries, 10% to 20% in the UK, and 10% to 14% in the United States (Keashly & Jagatic, in press; Rayner & Cooper, 2006). our recent study conducted with university employees (Keashly & Neuman, 2008), colleagues were more likely to be identified as bullies by faculty (63.4%), while superiors were more likely to be identified as bullies by frontline staff (52.9%). Contrary to the current emphasis on student incivility, faculty concern about workplace harassment was more likely to be associated with colleagues (especially senior colleagues) and superiors much more frequently than with students. These findings support the importance of focusing on faculty behaviors in understanding bullying in academic settings.

Another observation is that the experiences reported involved two or more actors, that is, mobbing. Westhues (2004), in discussing the mobbing of professors by their colleagues and administrators, has argued that the experience of being mobbed is very different from the experience (however upsetting) of being harassed by a single actor. In our 2008 sample, we found that rates of mobbing differed as a function of the occupational group being studied. Faculty members were almost twice as likely as staff to report being the victims of mobbing by three or more actors (14.5% vs. 8%, respectively). Frontline (nonacademic) staff members, on the other hand, were 1.5 times more likely to be bullied by a single perpetrator. These occupational group differences, and the possibility of some differences in antecedents, consequences, and dynamics, support our focus on faculty experiences for this article.

When bullying/mobbing occurs, it tends to be long-standing. McKay et al. (2008) found that 21% of their sample reported bullying that had persisted for more than five years in duration. In our 2008 study, 32% of the overall sample (faculty, staff, administrators, etc.) reported bullying lasting for more than three years. This percentage increased to 49% when we focused on faculty. It may be that academia is a particularly vulnerable setting for such persistent aggression as a result of tenure, which has faculty and some staff in very long-term relationships with one another... Further, while ensuring a “job for life,” tenure may also restrict mobility so that once a situation goes bad, there are few options for leaving.

...Of all the types of bullying discussed in the literature (e.g., Einarsen & Mikkelsen, 2003), the behaviors most frequently cited in academia involve threats to professional status and isolating and obstructional behavior (i.e., thwarting the target’s ability to obtain important objectives)...

Proposition 1: When faculty bullying does occur, aggression will be indirect (as opposed to direct) in form, given the norms of academic discourse and collegiality...

Proposition 2: Tenured faculty exposed to bullying will be more likely than untenured faculty to “retire on the job,” or lower the quality of their courses, or less likely to engage in “discretionary” service-related behavior...

In sum, the studies reviewed here suggest that workplace aggression, bullying, and mobbing are part of the academic landscape, and their impact not only can be damaging to the targets and bystanders, but also may adversely affect the learning environment and the institution itself...

Proposition 3: In general, perceived norm violations will result in higher levels of direct aggression and bullying on the part of senior (as opposed to junior) tenured faculty members.

Proposition 4: Senior (tenured) faculty members will direct their aggression and bullying against untenured faculty members who are lower in rank, students, or staff.

Proposition 5: Senior faculty members will be more likely to engage in indirect forms of aggression against colleagues of equal rank, department chairs, and other senior administrators...

Proposition 6: The experience of frustration and stress among junior (untenured) faculty will result in higher levels of indirect and passive aggression against the perceived source(s) of that frustration and stress...

Proposition 7: Increased levels of cost-cutting measures will be associated with increased levels of negative affect, unpleasant physiological arousal, and, ultimately, workplace aggression and bullying by faculty...

This analysis suggests that faculty may have little motivation (or perceive themselves as not having the “legitimate” authority) to handle issues with “difficult” colleagues—allowing situations to escalate, resulting in a toxic climate and an increased likelihood of aggression and bullying. Recent research suggests that faculty find such circumstances difficult and often intolerable. For example, Ambrose, Huston, and Norman (2005) found that lack of collegiality was a key influence in the dissatisfaction of current and former faculty, resulting in their decisions to leave their institutions...

We believe that we have demonstrated that aggression and bullying is part of faculty experiences, and the potential consequences of these behaviors... Over the past 10–15 years, researchers have learned quite a bit about workplace aggression and bullying in a variety of organizational settings, but very limited attention has been focused on bullying in the academy. We have suggested there are contextual factors that seem unique to institutions of higher education that have been strongly linked to the onset of aggression both theoretically and empirically. Consequently, we believe that there is sufficient justification for pursuing more systematic research on bullying and aggression to better understand the nature, causes, consequences, and management of such damaging behaviors within institutions of higher education...

Keashly, L. & Neuman, J.H. (2010). Faculty Experiences with Bullying in Higher Education: Causes, Consequences, and Management. Administrative Theory & Praxis, Vol. 32, No. 1, pp. 48–70.

September 13, 2010

Bullying at work: the impact of shame among university and college lecturers


This paper explores the concept of shame within the context of workplace bullying. Despite a decade or more of international research into bullying at work, there is little or no evidence for explicit exploration of shame amongst those who have experienced bullying. Based on content analysis from the narratives of 15 college and university lecturers who were self-selecting victims of bullying we find clear evidence for feelings of shame which appear to last long after the bullying episodes have ended...

The escalation of workplace bullying

The growth of workplace bullying both in terms of research, and as an organisational phenomena in the UK, has been spectacular since 1993. Although known by a number of different names including ‘mobbing’ (Leymann, 1996; Zapf et al ., 1996), harassment (Bjorqvist et al., 1994), bullying (Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996; Lewis, 1999), workplace harassment (Brodsky, 1976) and emotional abuse (Keashly, 1998) amongst others, the central core of these differing concepts are ‘systematic mistreatment’ of an individual which, if unabated, results in severe problems for the victim (Einarsen et al ., 2003). The reported growth of bullying inside organisations appears widespread, regardless of geography. Studies undertaken in the UK (for example, Hoel & Cooper, 2000; UNISON, 1997), Scandinavia and Europe (for example, Einarsen & Skogstad, 1996; Vartia, 1996) and Australia (for example, McCarthy et al ., 1996; Richards & Freeman, 2002) have all shown increasing numbers of employees being exposed to bullying behaviours. Part of the reason for this increase in reports of bullying might be the product of amplified coverage by numerous media (Lewis, 2002) and to the growth in litigation and subsequent attention to policy and procedures by organisations and trade unions (Lewis & Rayner, 2003). These different narratives coupled with talk amongst victims, colleagues and ‘canteen lawyers’ provide fertile ground for multiple socially constructed realities of workplace bullying as a phenomenon rapidly on the increase...

Supporting the bullied victim

According to Leymann and Gustafsson (1996) and Matthiesen et al. (2003), bullied victims suffer from a lack of social support in work, which is central to coping with the experience of bullying and in mitigating health and stress symptoms. Hubert (2003) explains that from her experience of dealing with bullied victims, people get pushed from person to person or even institution to institution. Could this process of ‘push’ result in further feelings of shame? Hubert (2003) suggests that the initial desire to offer help to people who have been bullied operates merely as a referral service rather than any real practicable source of assistance. Even when referral to organisational departments who are supposed to assist bullied victims actually takes place, research suggests outcomes can often be unsatisfactory. Both Adams (1992) and Rayner (1998) report how it is often the junior ‘bullied’ individual who is relocated and not the ‘senior’ bully. This sense of injustice might well result in thoughts of shame as one is moved to new surroundings, new colleagues or even new work tasks. Here it is the victim who may suffer feelings of shame for not being able to deal with the original situation...

According to Hubert (2003), inappropriate advice on bullying can often result in escalation of the conflict. Witnesses or bystanders can be drawn into the conflict to such an extent that a ‘conflict of fear’ establishes itself (see Rayner, 1999, for example). Within this enculturation of fear, people become too scared to report bullying or believe that management know about it but will not take appropriate action to deal with it (Rayner, 1999). Liefooghe (2001) showed how employees at a UK bank were reluctant to speak out against bullying, despite assurances of nonreprisal for doing so. Instead, Liefooghe (2001) found more subtle intimidation and discreet forms of bullying occurring as a result...

Given the wider evidence of links between shame and depression, what evidence exists for similar associations in the bullying literature? Although there is limited discussion in the workplace bullying literature about shame, there are clear signals that this construct exists for bullied victims. Regardless of the source of the bullying behaviours, the shame impact, if prolonged and selectively targeted, is the same. Recipients are worn down, frustrated or intimidated, and severe cases can suffer with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (Einarsen & Mikkelsen, 2003)...

Whilst some bullied victims found it difficult to concede they were victims, they also sought comfort in sharing their experiences with colleagues rather than with legitimised authorities. This contradicts the notion of shame as an isolatory experience. The fact that some victims of bullying seek colleague support during or after a bullying episode may indicate there is a collective need to administer retributive justice that they are unlikely to find within the corridors of personnel or their trades union. Their feelings of humiliation as to what was happening to them can only truly be understood by sharing their experiences with those who have also been bullied, or simply with those who know and understand the context. Neither personnel nor their union representatives seem to be able to undertake this role. This is partly because the bullied victims are experiencing shame at having to expose themselves to authority and also because they have feelings of humiliation for failing to deal with the issues themselves...

In trying to better understand workplace bullying it might serve researchers and those charged with dealing with the aftermath of an event to consider the importance of the shame construct, the ramifications of which are destructive, debilitating and long lasting.

Lewis, D. (2004). Bullying at work: the impact of shame among university and college lecturers, British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, Vol. 32, No. 3, pp. 281-299.

September 07, 2010

Bullying at Stirling University

I worked at Stirling University for 13 years. I was bullied by my manager. I asked her to stop, but the ill treatment continued, and I raised grievances against her. As a result I was dismissed. Stirling Uni claims to be committed to allowing employees to be able to work free from bullying, victimisation and discrimination. They claim that their commitment exceeds any legal requirement. However, here I provide evidence of the extreme lengths that management takes to protect and support bullies.

More info at:

September 03, 2010

HR stops Workplace Bullying, if 3% = Success

I want to love HR. I know good HR people. One shining example was a 2009 WBI University graduate. She was accustomed to serving at the executive level, as Senior Vice President, in several hospitals. When we met, she had lost two previous jobs simply because she dared to stand up to senior manager bullies. Each time, the CEOs terminated her and kept their buddies. We withhold her name so she can work again.

Another good person is a New York City-based HR professional who blogs and has written a book called the HR Toolkit and works with our NY State group to pass the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill, despite SHRM’s official opposition to the legislation.

I write this love letter at the request of HR folks who hate reading the negative news about how HR does too little to stop bullying within their organizations. Believe me, I hate the fact that HR doesn’t help enough, too.

Really, I want to tout the value HR brings to organizations, but I need proof. I do not demonize HR. They are not wicked, ok maybe threatening, but not demonic. But I report the experiences bullied targets tell us. It’s that simple.

Clearly individuals are separate from the institutional role that dictates that they serve their executive masters and allow bullies to operate with impunity. The caveat is that whatever personal conflict over doing the right thing or the commanded or expected thing should compel more HR folks to be ethical, right and just.

That’s why I rely on empirical and anecdotal data to shape the story. HR folks, here is what 462 people who probably had been bullied told us on our summer 2010 online Instant Poll.

The percentage of cases in which HR took action and stopped the bullying: 3.4. There it is — the good news. Headline: HR Effectively Stops Bullying (3% of the time). HR you earned it. Celebrate. The 3%-ers are the good people. But what about the rest of you?

In 60% of cases HR did nothing after bullying was reported to them. Doing nothing was followed by an increase in bullying, for 26.6% of respondents.

Worse still, HR botched matters by taking action that helped the alleged bully and hurt the complainant in 32.5% of cases.

This is the reality confirmed by WBI coaches who have listened to over 6,000 detailed tales. And you might want to view the contributions to our HR Forum.

Don’t get defensive. Don’t attack WBI. Just do the right thing for the person hurt by the ones typically more powerful. Stop siding with the powerful just to keep your job or to curry favor from them. Grow a conscience. Be moral leaders. Teach executives about bullying and show them how destructive it is, for people and for leaders.

Now the Good News …

Here’s some great news for HR staffers. Though you have not fooled those who turned to you for help inside your organizations, the general public believes that HR is serving aggrieved employees. This statistic is derived from the latest 2010 WBI-Zogby national poll.

14.3% of adult Americans credited HR with taking appropriate actions that stopped the bullying with positive outcomes for the target. (compared to the 3.4% from the non-scientific online poll)

Botched efforts occurred in only 5.3% of cases.

HR doing nothing was estimated at 24.9%, allowing the bullying to continue but in only 6.2% of situations was the target harmed by increased bullying.

In the majority of cases, 51% of adult Americans , survey respondents were not sure if HR was told about the workplace bullying situation.

So, HR, please do not demonize WBI. Do better and we will gladly report it.


Professor Caroline Gipps VC of the University of Wolverhampton announces retirement

...and we remind you of some of her 'achievements':