Staff report regular bullying

December 22, 2006

Leaked survey at Sheffield Hallam reveals 'disturbing' fears of victimisation, high stress and sub-par performance in many areas of work that require 'urgent action'. Phil Baty reports

Almost 100 members of staff at Sheffield Hallam University have reported being bullied "always, often or sometimes" in an internal survey leaked to The Times Higher .

The report also highlights serious concerns about staff stress levels, noting that "urgent action" is required by the university in ten areas of work relating to staff stress and that "clear improvement" is needed in 22 other areas. In no category was Sheffield Hallam rated as doing "very well", based on scales devised by the Government's Health and Safety Executive and benchmarked against other universities.

The survey follows a similar internal report, which was leaked to The Times Higher in the summer, in which staff rated the quality of the university management as "very unsatisfactory" in "many aspects". This report warned that staff had lost a sense of collegiality.

The University and College Union said the latest findings were "disturbing", but it pointed out that such problems were common throughout the sector. It praised Sheffield Hallam for seeking to understand the issues.

Diana Green, vice-chancellor of Sheffield Hallam, said this week that the fact that Sheffield Hallam had produced the report showed how seriously it took the issue of staff welfare. She confirmed that plans to improve the situation had already been put in place.

The Stress Survey 2006 was carried out this year by the university's Centre for Research and Evaluation for Sheffield Hallam's internal health and safety service. It received 844 responses.

In the survey, the university performed below national comparators in six of seven general work areas. The areas in which it was judged deficient were "demands, managers' support, peer support, relationships, role and change".

Staff reported greatest concern about their "role", which indicates that "urgent action" is needed to improve the situation, the report states.

With regard to role, staff reported very negative responses to the statements: "I am clear what my duties and responsibilities are, I am clear about the goals and objectives of my department, and I understand how my work fits into the overall aim of the organisation."

The report finds cause for alarm in response to the statement: "I am subject to bullying at work." Some 96 of the 844 staff report that they have been bullied "always, often or sometimes" - just over 11 per cent of respondents. Sixteen staff report that they are "always" bullied.

Professor Green said: "The survey allows us to take action to alleviate stress where there are concerns and the board of governors and I are publicly committed to improving the university's performance in this area."

She pointed out that there were 5,111 staff at the university and that 17 per cent had responded to the survey.

This meant that the 96 staff who reported being bullied "represent about 2 per cent of overall staff numbers".

Roger Kline, head of equality and employment at UCU, said: "This report makes disturbing reading - it shows the pressures that university staff are under and the levels of stress.

"This is not unique to Sheffield Hallam. I am quite certain that were surveys to be done in most institutions they would show similar or even worse responses."

He said that there had been a "good institutional response" from Sheffield Hallam and called on other institutions to conduct similar surveys.

phil.baty@thes.co.uk

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