Workplace bullying on the rise at UNSW

WORKPLACE bullying is rife and on the rise at the University of NSW, according to a staff survey.

The vast majority of 552 people responded to the National Tertiary Education Union survey had experienced or witnessed bullying behaviours, the union found. Those included 68 per cent who said they had been bullied, and 83 per cent who had witnessed such behaviour.

Three quarters reported ‘‘someone being treated differently from other colleagues’’, two thirds said they knew of ‘‘arbitrary decision making with negative impacts on someone’’ and also of ‘‘misuse of power against a subordinate’’, while just under half listed ‘‘repeated shouting, swearing or threatening behaviour towards a staff member in public or private’’.

Of most concern, said Sarah Gregson, branch president of the NTEU, was that 70 per cent of respondents said the behaviour had not stopped, which she attributed to a culture of fear.

‘You would hope that universities are full of people who have the freedom to speak out and what we mainly found through this process is people are afraid to speak out. They know that there are an enormous number of ways that they be surreptitiously got at and so they keep their head down and try to do the best they can. It worries me very much that 70 per cent of people say that bullying is still ongoing.’’

One respondent wrote, ‘‘Fear and anxiety drive the lack of reporting and often because of the way bullying behaviour occurs, there isn’t tangible evidence of the behaviour, so it’s risky for the victim.’’

‘A university spokeswoman said there had not been a rise in reported cases.

‘‘Less than 10 complaints of bullying are reported through our complaint handling processes in any given year.

There has been no increase in the number of complaints received over recent years.’’

The report said the union had handled 18 cases of bullying and several of misconduct and performance management containing elements of bullying over the last two years, including one where the university acknowledged the manager was at fault but the victim left. The union acted on that person’s behalf to negotiate a separation agreement, Dr Gregson said.

Two thirds of the complainants were women but there was no question in the survey asking whether the perpetrator was male or female.

Dr Gregson said responses suggested that some of the bullies were women, and she said previous studies had shown that women were as likely as men to be bullies if they were in a position of power.

The NTEU presented the report to the university management this week. It includes recommendations such as the appointment of an independent bullying officer and the inclusion of clauses in enterprise agreements that ‘‘ensure management accountability, through external regulation and enforceable standards’’

There would be no decision about the recommendations until management had time to fully absorb the report, but the university remained committed to providing an equitable workplace, the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Mutual respect and collegiality is identified as a guiding principle for UNSW and any incidences of bullying that are reported are taken very seriously and addressed.’’

From: http://www.smh.com.au