Queen's moves to stamp out widespread bullying issues

Managers tackle concerns as internal review supports UCU findings. Hannah Fearn reports

May 20, 2010

Queen's University Belfast has acted to improve the well-being of its staff after two separate studies suggested that it had a problem with bullying.

In a survey by the University and College Union in 2008, 10 per cent of respondents at Queen's claimed to be "often or always" bullied.

Just 37 per cent said they were never bullied - far below the academy's national average of 51 per cent - and Queen's was the only Russell Group university to be included in a list of the 19 worst offenders compiled by the union.

The institution questioned the UCU's conclusions and conducted its own research to investigate whether there was a problem.

Now details of the internal survey have come to light, corroborating the union's findings.

In a survey that attracted a 34 per cent response rate, 9.4 per cent of respondents say they are "always or often" bullied.

Staff also register complaints about the demands placed on them and the rate of change across the university.

In a range of categories, including managerial and peer support, Queen's scored lower than average when compared by the UCU with the Health and Safety Executive's survey of all industries in 2004.

Mark Gardiner, senior lecturer in medieval archaeology at Queen's, said that while he considered himself to be part of a "very supportive group of staff", there were wider problems.

"I think there is a genuine issue that the impression given is that the university is constantly dissatisfied with its staff," he said.

"There is a constant sense that the university does not value its staff. This is what the survey reflects."

Dr Gardiner added that there was a trickle-down aspect to the problem at Queen's. Heads of department were treated poorly by senior managers, and they in turn would pile the pressure on academic staff.

The university tried to gather a focus group to address the issue, but it attracted only 18 participants, he said.

Senior managers have now told each school to set up a working party that will be provided with departmental statistics on bullying and well-being from the internal survey. Each party will then draw up an action plan to deal with the problem.

Renee Prendergast, president of the UCU branch at Queen's, said she was pleased that the institution's management was now "taking this very seriously".

"The university has been trying to improve its standing and this has costs for staff," she said. "It's very important that the university recognises that change and additional demands can be stressful, and that demands are commensurate with resources."

A university spokeswoman said: "Queen's recently completed a well-being survey of all its staff and the findings have been very helpful in informing our ongoing programme of staff development and training."

hannah.fearn@tsleducation.com.

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