Blog Confidential: The bully has landed

Each week, Dr Margot Feelbetter poses a dilemma and offers advice for readers to respond to online. This week: The bully has landed

February 18, 2010

We have a new academic team leader. He is head of the social sciences department, but his credentials are dubious: he comes from the private sector and has limited knowledge of the academy. A number of staff members expressed concerns about his appointment, but I stayed well out of it. However, he recently acted in a manner that is tantamount to bullying.

I am 55 and decided to go part-time and access my pension. I had spoken to the previous head of department about this and she agreed to the move in principle. But then she left, so I needed to confirm the details with the new team leader.

I repeatedly attempted to see him to sort out my schedule, but was left frustrated by the lack of response. Finally, I received a belated reply: "Dear William, you will need to cover all your existing work within the reduced hours. As you know, these are difficult times. I trust this won't be a problem."

I feel a fool for not settling this before, but the team leader was on leave for two weeks over the Christmas period.

I contacted the union and it suggested I clarify matters with the dean. The dean said I needed to settle things with my line manager, so I went to see him last week.

He invited me in and immediately accused me of being a "moaner" and a bad influence on the department. He said I needed to "refocus", roll up my sleeves and get some work done. He added there was no place in his team for those who wanted an "easy time".

I told him I was shocked and astonished by his response and would be making a complaint about it. As I attempted to leave he blocked the door, saying: "You need to take care, or you will get into a lot of trouble."

I explained I had some teaching to do and requested he move out of the way. He begrudgingly did so. I left his office dazed and confused. I think he may be unstable.

I have received little support from the rest of my team in the aftermath of the incident. They are looking out for themselves in this harsh new departmental order: everyone is rushed off their feet and burnt out. The team leader is full of bravado and has the backing of the dean.

I recall reading The Bullied Blogger and realise that when you confront managers in the workplace, you can lose out. What should I do?

Your team leader's threatening behaviour is symptomatic of someone who is not coping in his new post. Hopefully, the bosses will realise that his management style is archaic and has no place in the modern university.

I would imagine he has treated others in your department equally badly, although he may be setting you up as an example so others won't challenge him.

Here's my advice:

  • Do not attend meetings with him alone; take a colleague along to back you up;
  • Consider an approach to HR;
  • Get the union involved.

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