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University staff feel more bullied than general population

Staff at UK universities have more stressful work relationships than those in the general working population, a University and College Union survey has found.

Fourteen thousand UCU members from 92 universities were asked to rate four statements about work relationships for the 2012 study. These were translated into a score, where 1 represents high stress and 5 low stress.

The average stress level relating to working relationships for UCU members was 3.53, compared with 4.2 for the general population in 2008. It found that every university surveyed had a level above this general population average—with the lowest being 4.01.

Stress levels relating to relationships at work have risen for UCU members over the past four years, the UCU said, as the average figure in a 2008 survey was 3.73.

The survey, carried out using a standard Health and Safety Executive questionnaire, asked staff to rate how often there was friction between colleagues, work relationships were strained or they were subject to personal harassment ‘in the form of unkind words or behaviour’. They were also asked how often they felt they were subject to bullying at work.

The 73 staff who responded from Canterbury Christ Church University had the highest perceived levels of workplace bullying, with 19.2 per cent saying they felt exposed to it ‘always’ or ‘often’. At the other end of the spectrum, only 2.2 per cent of the 136 respondents from Aberystwyth University ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt bullied at work.

The report has been published to coincide with anti-bullying week, and the UCU is calling on higher education institutions to tackle bullying, harassment and stress.

UCU’s general secretary, Sally Hunt, said, “The focus needs to be on employers taking seriously their responsibility to look after the well-being of their staff.

“At best, the universities represented in this survey have a climate of fear and anxiety,” she said. “At worst, overt harassment and bullying of individuals is going unchecked.”

Other institutions faring less well were the universities of Staffordshire, Brunel, Teeside and the University of the Arts London, which all had over 15 per cent of staff reporting that they ‘always’ or ‘often’ felt they were bullied at work. All were in the list of the 20 HEIs with the highest average stress levels, as calculated using the standard HSE methods.

Universities with the lowest average stress levels included Aberystwyth, Cambridge, Manchester and Imperial College London.