Why I ...believe universities should face up to workplace bullying

February 11, 2000

There are two types of bully: the psychopathic type, driven by a deep psychological need to demean, devalue or harass someone else to raise his/her own status; and the overloaded bully - someone who is under enormous pressure, overworked and who cannot cope, and uses this unacceptable behaviour as a coping strategy or management style.

The number of psychopathic bullies is very small, but the number of overloaded types is growing.

Bullying behaviour is devastating to the individual, the work-group and to all those surrounding the victim. Universities lose many working days every year because of it. British universities have their share of bullies and given the increasing demands on many people in management jobs, from senior lecturers to deans and vice-chancellors, the pressure of work is mounting.

Most academics in management jobs are not properly trained to handle the pressures that they are now confronting. Nor are they trained to understand some of the basic principles of personnel management.

When an individual head of department lacks the appropriate training and does not possess good coping skills when under pressure, the tendency may be to behave in an autocratic, harassing or demeaning way.

What universities need to do is acknowledge that bullying exists and put in place strategies to deal with it. They should:

* Set up a safe reporting system that protects the victim and the alleged bully n Put in place a procedure for dealing with the reported incidents, including disciplinary action and/or training after adjudication

* Introduce management training for all levels of management, maybe investing in part-time MBAs for more permanent posts

* Emphasise in mission statements that persistent harassment and demeaning of people is inappropriate and intolerable.

As John Ruskin said in 1851: "In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it and they must have a sense of success in it."

* Interview by Helen Hague

* Are you aware of bullying in your university?

Email us on soapbox@thes.co.uk

Cary Cooper

Professor of psychology University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology Next week, Professor Cooper presents a study on the cost of workplace bullying to union and business leaders. A sample of 5,500 employees across the public and private sectors - including staff at seven universities - was surveyed

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