Stress and strain blamed on 'bullying culture'

November 27, 2008

A culture of strained working relationships is endemic in UK universities, according to a survey of almost 10,000 academics by the University and College Union (UCU).

One third of UCU members questioned agreed with the statement that "relationships at work are strained", and fewer than 3 per cent of respondents said that there was "never" any friction or anger between colleagues.

The UCU blamed a bullying culture in academe for the sense of discord, as more than half of a total of 9,700 respondents to the survey reported having been subjected to some form of bullying or personal harassment during their career.

Gill Evans, project leader for the Improving Dispute Resolution programme funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, said that the results should not come as a surprise.

"The root of the problem is the shift from the old collegial assumption that academics were all essentially equals and free to express their view to (one of) top-down line management," she said.

"With line management you get patronage and mutual mistrust. Without old-fashioned tenure people can lose their jobs, so they try not to rock the boat. But then they feel resentment that they dared not say what they thought, and that poisons the atmosphere," she said.

Professor Evans said a collegial working environment "involves lots of discussion and it can make decision-making slow", but added that "speedy decision-making is not necessarily good decision-making".

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "Good institutions are ones that are aware of the problem and (are) proactively trying to tackle it. Poor ones are those who refuse to accept there may be a problem or try to place the blame elsewhere."

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