The act of harassment and bullying is a very real and serious concern in workplaces across the country, and according to a study by members of the Centre for Work, Organisation and Wellbeing, the same can be said of staff members at Australian universities.

In 2011, Professor Glenda Strachan helped conduct a survey of permanent and fixed-term staff across 19 Australian universities. She found that from the over 22,000 responses, one-quarter of them had experienced harassment or bullying at work in the previous five years, with the women academic staff being the highest rates.

“Thirty five per cent of women academic staff said they had experienced an instance of harassment or bullying in the previous five years in their workplace,” said Professor Strachan.

“Women were more likely to report this than men, by about a ten per cent difference.”

About 40 per cent of those who reported their harassment said they had taken or seriously considered making a case. The most common reason given for not making a case, at approximately half the respondents, was that ‘it would have made it worse for me’.

What’s more, one in three of those who had experienced harassment said ‘[they] lacked faith in the complaints process’. Something that Professor Strachan feels is alarming:

“I think it’s a concern for the employer if people thought there was negative consequences if they took a case or they lacked faith in the system.”

“Part of the gender equity policy that universities have been pursuing from the late 1980’s is about particularly tackling sexual harassment and bullying and having policies specifically around that, that it doesn’t occur and having policies and procedures that if it does occur there’s a method of reporting it and dealing with it.”

“To end up between a quarter and a third of staff saying that it actually happened to them in the last five years is to me not a good policy and procedure outcome for universities.”

The study recommended that universities emphasise the importance of dealing with harassment and bullying in management training, as well as building the confidence of academic staff in the integrity of the complaints system.

“The outcome that I would like to see is that Universities re-look at their harassment and bullying policies processes because to me there is a clear need for that given the proportion of staff who say this is happening to them,” said Professor Strachan.

“There are other literature that say if you are being bullied and harassed at work, this is not a good place to be in.”

For further interviews and articles on bullying and harassment in Australian universities, check out:

  • Skinner, Timothy, Peetz, David, Strachan, Glenda, Whitehouse, Gillian, Bailey, Janis and Broadbent, Kaye 2015, ‘Self—reported harassment and bullying in Australian universities: Explaining differences between regional, metropolitan and elite institutions’, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, vol. 37, no. 5, pp. 558—571.
  • Strachan, Glenda, 2016,Campus Review radio. Available at: