October 09, 2022

Report on the National Survey of Staff Experiences of Bullying in Irish Higher Education Institutions

This report presents the findings of an anonymous online survey examining the prevalence and impact of workplace bullying among staff in 20 publicly funded Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in Ireland. This survey study was commissioned by the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science. The survey included five sections: 

* demographics and work arrangements

* negative acts at work, bullying and cyberbullying

* bystander behaviour

* anti-bullying culture and awareness of anti-bullying policies

* team psychological safety and work demands

A total of 3,835 HEI staff (11.5% of employees working in the HEIs that were invited to participate in this study) aged between 18 and 65+ (65.1% female, 31.7% male, 0.5% non-binary, 2.7% did not disclose their gender identity) engaged with the online survey. Data were collected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thirty-point-five-percent (30.5%) of staff engaging with the survey was working remotely at the time of the data collection.

Findings showed that:

* 28% of the sample occasionally (“now and then”) endured work-orientated negative acts (targeting someone’s professional standing)

* 26% were subjected to person-orientated negative acts (targeting someone’s personal standing)

* an average of 32.9% respondents in the whole sample endured cyberbullying at work

* after being prompted to read the bullying definition, about one third of respondents (33.5%) reported having been bullied at work in the past three years, with 70.6% of them having been bullied for several months

* in the majority of cases, the perpetrator of bullying was a senior colleague (55%) or a peer (24.6%) * minority groups, such as LGBTQ+ respondents, ethnic minorities and respondents with a disability were more likely to endure negative acts at work, bullying and cyberbullying compared to majority groups (i.e., heterosexuals, ethnic majority groups and respondents with no disabilities)

* managers were more likely to endure negative acts and cyberbullying at work compared to respondents who did not cover a managerial role

* the rates of negative acts at work were comparable across respondents working in different work areas. *however, academics in the field of Social Sciences and Business and Law and those who did not disclose their work area endured higher levels of negative acts and cyberbullying compared to respondents working in other areas

* those who did not disclose their demographic information (gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, work area) were more likely to endure negative acts at work, bullying and cyberbullying compared to those who disclosed their demographic information. These findings suggest that employees who endure bullying at work might be afraid of reporting their negative experiences even when data are collected anonymously

Overall, enduring negative acts at work and cyberbullying had a negative impact on respondents’ mental health and wellbeing, with a slightly higher rate of female respondents and respondents belonging to minority groups reporting negative mood end emotions.

Incidents of negative acts at work were witnessed occasionally (“now and then”) by 34.5% of respondents. Over one third of respondents (35.3%) indicated that they had witnessed bullying at work in the past three years, with 50.5% reporting that they had taken action when witnessing bullying. Witnessing bullying was detrimental for the mental health of respondents, with 36.6% of bystanders reporting that witnessing bullying had a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

On a positive note, the majority of survey respondents (64.5%) were aware that their institution had an anti-bullying policy. However, only 20.8% of respondents agreed that the anti-bullying policy and procedures at their HEI contributed to effectively protecting all staff members.