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Workplace Bullying In Academia: A Canadian Study


This paper examines the results of a workplace bully survey sent to faculty, instructors and librarians at a mid-sized Canadian university in 2005. The potential sources of workplace bullying by colleagues, administrators and students are examined. The survey determined that workplace bullying is of particular concern for employees that are newly hired or untenured. The systemic nature of this phenomenon and the spillover effect from one job domain to another are identified. The findings indicate costs for the university linked to workplace bullying. Costs include increased employee turnover, changed perception of the university by employees and reduced employee engagement.

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Correspondence to Ruth McKay.



Bullying Behaviours Included in the Survey

Listed below are behaviours that have been considered to be bullying according to researchers (Boynton 2005; Namie and Namie 2003; Rayner et al. 2002; Coloroso 2002). Have you experienced or witnessed the following behaviours, initiated by an employee or a student over the last five years while at Carleton University ...? The first two columns refer to the respondent as a recipient of the behaviours and the last column refers to the respondent as a witness of the behaviours. Check all that apply.

  Yes by employee Yes by students Yes as a witness
Gossip or malicious rumours spread about you/someone    
Belittling remarks made about you/someone    
Belittling and/or humiliating remarks made to you/someone in front of others    
Pattern of not taking your/someone’s concerns seriously, especially when contrasted with the concerns of others    
Ignoring, or overlooking your/someone’s work contributions    
Ignoring your/someone’s legitimate requests, i.e. insubordination    
Stopping conversation when you/someone enter(s) the room (e.g. to emphasize exclusion)    
Unwarranted and unprofessional remarks    
Punishing trivial errors you/someone may have made    
Verbal harassment including abusive or offensive telephone messages    
Written harassment including abusive or offensive emails, letters or memos    
Teasing or name calling when it is obviously causing you/someone distress    
Isolating, or ostracizing you/someone from others    
Overriding your/someone’s decisions without justification    
Bypassing hierarchy for complaints    
Questioning your/someone’s decision(s) excessively and/or aggressively    
Challenging your/someone’s authority    
Intentionally not being given information or equipment to do a job    
Unwarranted criticism of your/someone’s performance    
Purposely interrupting class to distract the class    
Purposely interrupting class to communicate lack of respect    
Removing areas of responsibility without prior notice or reason    
Alienating you/someone from colleagues    
Shouting, swearing or sarcasm directed at you/someone    
Setting you/someone up to fail    
Blocking promotion    
Being assigned tasks/responsibilities inappropriately or punitively    
Made the subject of lies or accusations    
Given an unreasonable workload or deadline    
Excessive monitoring    
Excluded from relevant meetings    
Excluded from social events    
Taking credit for your/someone’s work or ideas    
Being the subject of eye rolling, sighs, and/or dirty looks    
Being lied to    
Having your/someone’s property maliciously damaged or stolen    
Incivility and rudeness    
Being treated unfairly or differently than others    
Unfairly refused time off or leave    
Criticized for taking time off due to illness    
Implied threats of personal/professional harm    
Being talked down to    
Excessive pressure or coercion to change your/someone’s stance (e.g. change a grade)    
Uninvited comments about your/someone’s body or appearance    
Uninvited comments about your/someone’s gender or sexual orientation    
Uninvited comments about your/someone’s age (young or old)    
Uninvited comments about your/someone’s personal life or beliefs (e.g. religion)    
Uninvited comments about a disability you/someone may have    
Threats regarding your/someone’s gender or sexual orientation    
Threats regarding your/someone’s personal beliefs (e.g. religion)    
Threats regarding a disability you/someone may have    
Threats of personal/professional harm    
Racist comments or jokes    
Sexist comments or jokes    
Inappropriate physical contact like patting, hugging, stroking    
Intrusion into your/someone’s home life (e.g. unwarranted phone calls to you at home outside work hours)    
Inappropriate visits at your/someone’s office    
Physical violence directed towards you/someone    
Sexual assault    

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McKay, R., Arnold, D.H., Fratzl, J. et al. Workplace Bullying In Academia: A Canadian Study. Employ Respons Rights J 20, 77–100 (2008).

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Key words

  • workplace bullying
  • education
  • employee engagement
  • legal
  • ethics