Raising concerns

October 6, 2016

Students and postdocs, as well as administrative staff, will always be considered expendable when they conflict with a senior academic (“Life with an abusive lab boss: one postdoc’s story”, Opinion, 15 September). Someone who brings in large amounts of research income is irreplaceable; they will never be dismissed for poor behaviour.

Several cases I know suggest that “dignity at work” policies are there so universities can claim that is how they work rather than actually to be followed. An employee inspired by the lofty sentiments in these policies to raise concerns about a senior is likely to find their concerns deemed “accusations”, to be called “vexatious”, and accused themselves of unreasonable behaviour.

Employee Assistance Programmes seem to be there so that universities can tell concern raisers: “You are the problem – go and get counselling about it.” If they resist and say, “No, the problem is my senior’s behaviour”, they will be accused of insubordination for not following the advice, and the further stress they experience because of their real concerns will be written off as “your fault because you did not get the help we suggested”.

Matthew Huntbach

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