July 2nd, 2013

Chancellor’s Leadership of Campus Anti-Workplace Bullying Campaign

Here at WBI, we have long contended that organizations need their highest ranking leaders to genuinely want to stop workplace bullying. Lip service from the top might be adequate to get an initiative started by the internal champions and advocates, but the risk is that the executive reserves the right for him or herself to stop the program without warning or justification. Unfortunately, most executives squash attempts by earnest champions at the start.

Here’s a rare good news tale from the University of Massachusetts. These are the words of the Chancellor writing to all campus staff with my comments in burgundy.

Shortly after my arrival on campus last year, I learned of the disturbing results of a survey about workplace bullying that had been administered to all faculty and staff members. While the numbers were consistent with those found at workplaces of all types throughout the country, this is clearly an area in which UMass Amherst aspires to be something much better than average.

The UMass online survey found that 39% of respondents (a whopping 2,249 staff completed the survey) said they were bullied, with 48% witnessing it. Note how closely the prevalence rate matches the national figure for the U.S. from the WBI 2010 scientific survey — 35%. And 44% of the UMass sample said the institution responded inadequately to reported workplace bullying.

… the survey results here, and especially the poignant comments that survey respondents submitted, point to the very serious effects that workplace bullying can have as well. Such behavior is antithetical to the values we espouse as a place where all should be free to take full advantage of the learning and employment opportunities the campus offers. And it violates Trustee policy, which provides that … conduct of University employees is expected to be characterized by integrity and dignity … employees are expected to be honest and conduct themselves in ways that accord respect to themselves and others …

Two key points. The Chancellor (or someone in his office) actually bothered to read the comments that bullied targets and witnesses to bullying wrote. It’s the kind of powerful ancedotal tales we listen to everyday here at WBI. At UMass, the executive reacted with compassion rather than disdain or discounting the information as something exaggerated. Kudos to him.

The reference to core policy that reads more like a mission statement is brilliant. It is a restatement about what University life is supposed to be like — the ideal. Bullying is antithetical to that code. It’s not just the Chancellor’s opinion, but the institutional commitment to certain behaviors.

Building on the work of [Campus Coalition Against Workplace Bullying, a Committee on Workplace Climate and Bullying], which includes representatives of [AFSCME, GEO, MSP, PSU, USA/MTA, the Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, the Faculty and Staff Assistance Program, the Labor/Management Workplace Education program, the Ombuds Office, and the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences], as well as several campus administrators and is chaired by a representative of my office, has been working for the past year on how best to address the serious problem that has been identified.

The original Coalition and its evolved form, the Committee, is multi-disciplinary and multi-functional with unions and administration sharing governance of this important work. Further, an executive-designated rep serves on the Committee. If that person, in the role of chair, tries to undermine the project, there are 21 other members who can keep that person honest.

On the recommendation of that committee, the campus will begin in the fall of this year a comprehensive educational campaign aimed at increasing understanding of the problem of workplace bullying, minimizing its occurrence, and clarifying the responsibility of supervisors for ensuring a productive workplace in which all can contribute to their maximum potential …

There actually is a plan, primarily educational in nature — a full-day seminar and subsequent workshops with an emphasis on training supervisors. This is all good and sounds ambitious. The work will be invaluable when trained supervisors are evaluated on traditional performance criteria AND their ability to resist the temptation to bully others. With luck, the Committee will have a life after the project launch to provide continuity and to ensure steps to integrate the anti-bullying ethos into every aspect of campus life.

In the meantime, I hope all members of the campus community will consider carefully the ways in which we interact with fellow faculty and staff members and will ensure that those interactions are characterized by mutual respect and civility …
Kumble R. Subbaswamy

The Chancellor invited suggestions to be shared with any of the Committee members who were named at the bottom of the emailed message. We wish UMass the best of luck. It’s a great start!


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This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 at 3:24 pm and is filed under Good News, Tutorials About Bullying, Unions, WBI Education. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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