Bullied staff turn to colleagues

September 27, 2002

Bullied academics need to share their experiences with colleagues to understand what is happening to them, according to research presented to a conference at Birkbeck College, London, this week.

Duncan Lewis, head of strategy in the business school at the University of Glamorgan, told delegates: "It is only through their interactions with colleagues who tell them they have been bullies that they suddenly recognise so. Victims need validation and affirmation of colleagues that what is happening to them is bullying."

The research forms part of Mr Lewis's PhD thesis. He surveyed more than 400 academics and interviewed bullied victims, human resource managers and trade union leaders working in further and higher education in Wales.

He said: "The evidence points to colleagues offering their support directly to victims, forming informal support networks where groups of colleagues have been bullied and also operating as a group long after the bullying has ceased.

"These colleague support systems appear to be critical in the process of support provision. By supporting each other through the experience of bullying, colleagues help to validate, affirm and provide recognition of what they see as constituting bullying at work."

Mr Lewis said that victims of bullying found trade union representation and negotiations with their employers far less useful than the support of colleagues.

He said: "Academics feel a sense of shame and failure because they are unable to cope with what's happening to them. It's an embarrassment, almost. Bullying is something that is supposed to have ended at the school gates."

Mr Lewis's research also signalled that bullying in universities and colleges was more organisational and managerial in origin, rather than the result of singular conflicts between individuals.

"By and large, the central cause of bullying for most interviewees was as a result of something organisational or managerial. Education as a whole, and their respective organisations in particular, has slipped into a culture where macho management styles have become dominant," he said.

"We also see from these victim accounts that their realities of bullying point to ineffective leadership, poor management styles and ill-equipped and poorly trained managers as a reason for being bullied. The exposure to the organisational and managerial domination felt by these victims has resulted in a number of experiences that were labelled as bullying."

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