Bullying at the University of Newcastle (Australia)

We are working to highlight and stop academic workplace bullying at the University of Newcastle, Australia. We are a group of staff and students who have been bullied for speaking out about misconduct.

Help make a difference –

*answer our survey,

*contribute to the blog, or

*contact us.

This will help us gather as much information as possible so that we can put an end to this bullying with its’ decades-long history.

“Systemic bullying, hazing and abuse generally are identified with poor, weak or toxic organizational cultures. Cultures that are toxic have stated ethical values that are espoused but not employed, and other non-ethical values which are operational, dominant, but unstated.

Such cultures thrive when good people are silent, silenced, or pushed out; when bad apples are vocal, retained, promoted, and empowered; and when the neutral majority remain silent in order to survive. Those who are most successful in such a toxic culture are those who have adapted to it, or adopted it as their own”. (McKay, Arnold, Fratzl & Thomas, 2008)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The cost of workplace bullying at the University of Newcastle

The University of Newcastle has just been awarded a record amount of research funding by the ARC.  This was on the same day as staff and students marched in support of better remuneration and work conditions for university staff.

But....what about the cost of the bullying that happens here?

The exact cost would be impossible to calculate.  However, Sheehan et al in 2001 estimated that each case of workplace bullying in Australia cost the employer between approximately $17,000 and $25,000 (depending on the prevalence rate used in the calculation – higher education tends to have a higher prevalence rate).  Almost ten years later than this estimate was proposed, the cost would obviously have increased and would also depend on legal fees.  It is well known that Newcastle readily employs lawyers and barristers.

The Vice Chancellor, Professor Nick Saunders, told the Newcastle Herald that there had been 57 complaints of bullying in 2009.  Using the 2001 cost-of-bullying rate, this would mean that these bullying cases cost the university, in a conservative estimate,  $1,425,000  (57 X $25,000).

Wouldn’t the university employees and the NTEU rather have that money in their pay than being spent on defending bullies against legitimate complaints?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Interim summary of first 25 survey responses – 18th October 2010

We have had a good response to our survey.  Thank you to all of you who have completed it.  Please spread the word – we want to get an accurate and clear picture of bullying at the University of Newcastle and do not want to exaggerate or underestimate the problem.

Here are the results of the first 25 responses.

92% of respondents were female and 91% were staff or ex-staff, rather than students.

What event or action do you feel sparked the bullying? (as many as are relevant).  The most commonly reported (80%) event or action reported by the respondents was “Disagreeing with opinions, views, working style, etc of my supervisor/manager/head of school”.  The arrival of a new manager or a characteristic of themselves was given as the event or action by 27% of respondents.  Additional comments noted were being a whistleblower, a co-worker feeling threatened by the respondent, and funding issues.

If you have been bullied, what type of behaviour did you experience?  Indicate as many as are relevant to you.  The type of bullying behaviour experienced most commonly was “Being unfairly treated compared to others in your department/school” (87.5%) and “Having opinions and views ignored (81.3%).  Other behaviour frequently experienced was “Being humiliated, undervalued or ridiculed” (69%), Areas of responsibility removed (63%), Someone continually checking up on you or your work when it is not necessary (63%) and “Your employer not following proper procedures or using these to intimidate you” (63%).  Other behaviour mentioned less often was ‘Gossip and rumours being spread about you or having allegations made against you’ (56%) and ‘Being insulted or having offensive remarks made about you” (44%).  Respondents also stated the withholding of information affecting their performance, being pressured not to claim entitlements, hints to quit job, persistent criticism of work or performance and being prevented from expressing yourself.  Additional comments highlighted more unusual behaviour that had been experienced:- having funding threatened, having family members’ (at Uni) threatened with interference in their degree/career, and being dismissed on unfair grounds.

The bullying behaviour affected respondents in a variety of ways: the most common effect was sleep problems (73%), depression (60%) headaches (47%) and constant tiredness (40%).  Respondents also reported increased alcohol or smoking, panic attacks and digestive problems. 

Steps taken by the respondents to deal with the bullying have most frequently involved talking with co-workers (79%) and/or with family/friends (79%).  Other ways have teen to ask for a transfer (43%) and avoid the bully (50%).  36% of respondents stated that they had told their supervisor, Human Resources, filed a formal complaint, and/or lowered their productivity.  29% were planning to leave and an additional two respondents had either left the organisation or had even left Newcastle.

The outcome for respondents varied: 36% had been transferred to another area of the university and one other respondent had found another position at the uni and for 36% the bully had been transferred or had left.  Respondents reported that no action was taken by their supervisor or human resources to stop the bullying (29%) or that their complaint was dismissed on the grounds that it was not justified (22%).  Additional comments were:- respondents reported being told to stop making complaints and being threatened with expulsion, being victimised by management and subsequently developing PTSD and being investigated by the bully. 

Observing other people being bullied:- Forty percent of respondents reported that they had observed bullying of other staff.  The nature of the bullying included:-

  • inappropriate behaviour by a male member of staff which was reported but this male was moved sideways within the university where he continues to supervise women. 
  • supervisors bullying Postgrad students into doing the supervisor's work for them, taking credit for their work, not paying them for tutoring, using their funding for their own projects and denying it for the students
  • postgrad students being threatened if they tried to solve the problem or made a complaint.
  • gossip and innuendo about staff member and postgrad students, discrediting their name, lack of respect in meetings, abusive communication, opinions discarde, threatening them if they say they will complain or try to resolve the situation.
  • bullying team leader by railroading them during work conversations, going behind backs to find out gossip and manipulate situations.
  • witnessed a bully yelling at staff, threatening staff. Bully had favourites and non-favourites

No response had been forthcoming from the university in the case of a bully who had bullied a number of staff members. HR was told of bullying and attended a meeting with a number of staff members.

One of the perpetrators of a bullying situation had left the university but so have those members of staff that were seen to be bullied.  In one case, three academics were forced out and seven postgraduate students quit or changed universities as a direct consequence of bullying or the atmosphere in the school caused by the bullies. However, no support was given.  

Respondents had also been told of incidents of bullying.  These incorporated:-

  • supervisor bullying
  • in some management areas of the university, people are practically afraid to talk above a whisper.
  • one person being intimidated and forced out of their job when they had done nothing to deserve it
  • the actual bullies accusing the staff being bullied of bullying
  • staff member taking a secondment to get away from the bully
  • staff member moved away from a particular section due to a bully. HR was aware of them, but just said "oh that's how they are" in reponse to complaint.
  • Others who have worked for this bully before me tried to warn me.
    staff member did manager’s photocopying and edited her manager's children's essays..
  • Regular bullying in multiple work areas
  • Two senior academics in another school asked a postgrad to complain on their behalf so they could remain anonymous.
  • Being told of bullying events at newcastle 1-2 times year.
  • MANY people. Four other staff members (not connected to each other in any way) and 2 PhD students who are even more vulnerable than the staff.
  • Many people. All of these people are too frightened to support the victim because they know that if they do they will be targeted as well. They have seen what happens to people at Newcastle Uni if they report bullying, things like victimisation, loss of career, attacks from others, claims of mental instability and so forth.

There have been numerous personal stories of bullying that have been provided in the survey and these will be collated with those on the website and summarized at a later stage.

THANKS AGAIN - and keeps spreading the word!