Workplace harassment in higher education adversely impacts workforce productivity and has deleterious health effects on victims. The aim of this study was to review the literature pertaining to workplace harassment in higher education. This systematic literature search was conducted in December 2013 and completed in January 2014. Refereed journal publications from 1994 to 2013 inclusive were identified. The strategy was conducted on seven major databases. A total of 3278 articles were initially screened, and after review 51 refereed journal articles were included in the final analysis. A thematic analysis identified six themes: causation, types, employee roles, measurement, consequences and interventions. The published evidence, mainly from North America, suggests that workplace harassment is prevalent in higher education, such as gender harassment, workplace bullying, and mobbing. This review highlighted issues associated with: (1) confirming direct causation of harassment due to the high prevalence of correlational research in this area; (2) establishing and standardising measures of harassment that would have cross-cultural applicability and validity; (3) the demand for more comparative research to cater for the globally mobile workforce; (4) the requirement for greater monitoring and evaluation of the efficacy of policies and programmes purporting to be effective in dealing with harassment in the higher education workplace; and (5) the need for more contextually laden research to examine the unique nuances operating in countries, such as those in the Asia Pacific region, not well represented in the literature.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Aguirre Jr., A. (2000). Women and minority faculty in the academic workplace: Recruitment, retention, and academic culture. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 27(6). http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED447752.pdf.
Albarillo, F. (2014). Language in social science databases: English versus non-English articles in JSTOR and Scopus. Behavioral and Social Sciences Librarian, 33(2), 77–90.
American Association of University Professors. (2015, November 19, 2005). Sexual harassment in higher education: Current issues and trends. http://www.aaup.org/issues/sexual-harassment/resources-sexual-harassmentsexual-harassment-higher-education-current-issues-and-trends.
Amin, A., & Darrag, M. S. (2011). Sexual harassment in the Egyptian workplace: A literature review and research agenda. Review of Management, 1(4), 25–38.
Benson, S. D. (1998). The woman engineering academic: An investigation of departmental and institutional environments. In ASHE annual meeting paper. http://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED427569.pdf.
Bhagani, H. (2015). Addressing sexual harassment in universities. In UN women: Asia Pacific. http://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2015/09/addressing-sexual-harassment-in-universities.
Bilby, L. (2015, August 23). Surge in bullying complaints from medical students. New Zealand Herald. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11501401.
Bjorkqvist, K., Osterman, K., & Hjelt-Back, M. (1994). Aggression among university employees. Aggressive Behavior, 20(3), 173–184.
Bowling, N. A., & Beehr, T. A. (2006). Workplace harassment from the victim’s perspective: A theoretical model and meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 91(5), 998.
Bryden, P. J., & Fletcher, P. C. (2007). Personal safety practices, beliefs and attitudes of academic faculty on a small university campus: Comparison of males and females (part 1). College Student Journal, 41(3), 613–622.
Calafat, A., Hughes, K., Blay, N., Bellis, M. A., Mendes, F., Juan, M., et al. (2013). Sexual harassment among young tourists visiting Mediterranean resorts. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(4), 603–613.
Citizens Advice Bureaux New Zealand, Inc. (2016, June 1). Harassment. Retrieved July 15, 2017, from http://www.cab.org.nz/vat/gl/laws/Pages/Harassment.aspx#2.
Clark, C. M. (2008). The dance of incivility in nursing education as described by nursing faculty and students. Advances in Nursing Science, 31(4), E37–E54. doi:10.1097/01.ANS.0000341419.96338.a3.
Clark, C. M. (2013). National study on faculty-to-faculty incivility: Strategies to foster collegiality and civility. Nurse Educator, 38(3), 98–102. doi:10.1097/NNE.0b013e31828dc1b2.
Clarke, J. S. (2015, January 14). Universities ‘ignoring’ sexual harassment issue, says NUS. Times Higher Education. https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/universities-ignoring-sexual-harassment-issue-says-nus/2017977.article.
Curtin University Library. (2017, May 26). Systematic reviews: PICO or PICo? Retrieved July 30, 2017, from http://libguides.library.curtin.edu.au/c.php?g=202420&p=4518190.
Davis, N. J., & Robinson, R. V. (1991). Men’s and women’s consciousness of gender inequality: Austria, West Germany, Great Britain, and the United States. American Sociological Review, 56(1), 72–84.
Dekker, I., & Barling, J. (1998). Personal and organizational predictors of workplace sexual harassment of women by men. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 3(1), 7–18.
Dey, E. L., et al. (1996). Betrayed by the academy: The sexual harassment of women college faculty. Journal of Higher Education, 67(2), 149–173.
Education Law Association. (2005, November 19). Sexual harassment in Higher Education: Current issues and trends. Retrieved January 15, 2017, from https://www.aaup.org/issues/sexual-harassment/resources-sexual-harassmentsexual-harassment-higher-education-current-issues-and-trends.
Ekici, D., & Beder, A. (2014). The effects of workplace bullying on physicians and nurses. Australian Journal of Advanced Nursing, 31(4), 24–33.
Felblinger, D. M. (2008). Incivility and bullying in the workplace and nurses’ shame responses. Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Nursing, 37(2), 234–242.
Fendrich, M., Woodword, P., & Richman, J. A. (2002). The structure of harassment and abuse in the workplace: A factorial comparison of two measures. Violence and Victims, 17(4), 491–505.
Fogg, P. (2008a). Academic bullies. Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(3), pB10.
Fogg, P. (2008b). Take that, You Bully! Chronicle of Higher Education, 55(3), pB13.
Freels, S. A., Richman, J. A., & Rospenda, K. M. (2005). Gender differences in the causal direction between workplace harassment and drinking. Addictive Behaviors, 30(7), 1454–1458.
Gerrity, D. A. (2000). Male university employees’ experiences of sexual harassment-related behaviors. Psychology of Men and Masculinity, 1(2), 140–151.
Giorgi, G. (2012). Workplace bullying in academia creates a negative work environment. An Italian study. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 24(4), 261–275.
Grauerholz, L., Gottfried, H., Stohl, C., & Gabin, N. (1999). There’s safety in numbers: Creating a campus advisers’ network to help complainants of sexual harassment and complaint receivers. Violence Against Women, 5(8), 950–977.
Griffiths, M. (2016, August 23). Universities launch sexual harassment, assault survey to improve policies and support services. ABC News. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-08-23/universities-to-survey-students-on-sexual-harassment-and-assault/7773946.
Gutek, B. A., Murphy, R. O., & Douma, B. (2004). A review and critique of the Sexual Experiences Questionnaire (SEQ). Law and Human Behavior, 28(4), 457.
Harvey, M., Treadway, D., Heames, J. T., & Duke, A. (2009). Bullying in the 21st century global organization: An ethical perspective. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(1), 27–40.
Henning, M., & Adams, P. (2013, April). A sensitive issue: Workplace harassment in higher education. In Postgrad schools of education: Education review series (electronic article). http://archive-nz.com/page/3104766/2013-10-28/http://www.educationreview.co.nz/postgrad-schools-of-education/april-2013/.
Hill, C. E., Thompson, B. J., & Williams, E. N. (1997). A guide to conducting consensual qualitative research. The Counseling Psychologist, 25(4), 517–572.
Hoskin, R. (2012). The dangers of self-report. http://www.sciencebrainwaves.com/uncategorized/the-dangers-of-self-report/.
Howard, J. L. (2009). Employee awareness of workplace violence policies and perceptions for addressing perpetrators at colleges and universities. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 21(1), 7–19.
Hu, P., Parsons, N., Brown, K. M., & Hillman, V. (1996). Sexual harassment of health education faculty by co-worker(s): Implications for the profession. Journal of Health Education, 27(5), 300–306.
Hunt, M. L., Hughey, A. W., & Burke, M. G. (2012). Stress and violence in the workplace and on campus: A growing problem for business, industry and academia. Industry and Higher Education, 26(1), 43–51.
Hyde, J. S. (2014). Gender similarities and differences. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 373–398.
Inouye, D. K. (2017). Countries of the Asia-Pacific region. Retrieved July 16, 2017, from http://apcss.org/about-2/ap-countries/.
Irwin, J. (2002). Discrimination against gay men, lesbians, and transgender people working in education. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 14(2), 65–77.
Jacobs, C. D., Bergen, M. R., & Korn, D. (2000). Impact of a program to diminish gender insensitivity and sexual harassment at a medical school. Academic Medicine, 75(5), 464–469.
Keashly, L., & Neuman, J. H. (2013). Bullying in higher education. In J. Lester (Ed.), Workplace bullying in higher education (pp. 1–22). Oxon: Taylor and Francis.
Keim, J., & McDermott, J. C. (2010). Mobbing: Workplace violence in the academy. Educational Forum, 74(2), 167–173.
Kelley, M. L., & Parsons, B. (2000). Sexual harassment in the 1990s: A university-wide survey of female faculty, administrators, staff, and students. Journal of Higher Education, 71(5), 548–568.
Krefting, L. (1991). Rigor in qualitative research: The assessment of trustworthiness. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 45(3), 214–222.
Krener, P. (1996). In D. K. Shrier (Ed.), Sexual harassment in academia.
Lai, S.-L., Ye, R., & Chang, K.-P. (2008). Bullying in middle schools: An Asian-pacific regional study. Asia Pacific Education Review, 9(4), 503–515.
Lanza, M. L., Zeiss, R., & Rierdan, J. (2006). Violence against psychiatric nurses: Sensitive research as science and intervention. Contemporary Nurse, 21(1), 71–84.
Lau, R. (Producer). (2016). Traditional hierarchy makes way for employee engagement. http://chapmancg.com/hr-networking/2016/11/traditional-hierarchy-makes-way-for-employee-engagement.
Lee, R. T., Brotheridge, C. M., Cooper-Thomas, H., Gardner, D., O’Driscoll, M., Catley, B., et al. (2013). Neutralizing workplace bullying: The buffering effects of contextual factors. Journal of Managerial Psychology, 28(4), 384–407.
Lewis, D. (1999). Workplace bullying—Interim findings of a study in further and higher education in Wales. International Journal of Manpower, 20(1/2), 106–119.
Lewis, D. (2004). Bullying at work: The impact of shame among university and college lecturers. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 32(3), 281–299.
McDonald, P. (2012). Workplace sexual harassment 30 years on: A review of the literature. International Journal of Management Reviews, 14(1), 1–17.
McGinley, M., Rospenda, K. M., Liu, L., & Richman, J. A. (2015). Chronic generalized harassment during college: Influences on alcohol and drug use. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 44(10), 1898–1913.
McKay, R., Arnold, D. H., Fratzl, J., & Thomas, R. (2008). Workplace bullying in academia: A Canadian study. Employee Responsibilities and Rights Journal, 20(2), 77–100.
McKinney, K. (1994). Sexual harassment and college faculty members. Deviant Behavior, 15(2), 171–191.
Merkin, R. S. (2012). Sexual harassment indicators: The socio-cultural and cultural impact of marital status, age, education, race, and sex in Latin America. Intercultural Communication Studies, 21(1), 154.
Miner-Rubino, K. (2004). Beyond targets: Vicarious exposure to hostility towards women in the workplace. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 65(2-B), 1063.
Miner-Rubino, K., & Cortina, L. M. (2007). Beyond targets: Consequences of vicarious exposure to misogyny at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92(5), 1254–1269.
Munson, L. J., Hulin, C., & Drasgow, F. (2000). Longitudinal analysis of dispositional influences and sexual harassment: Effects on job and psychological outcomes. Personnel Psychology, 53(1), 21–46.
Nawyn, S. J., Richman, J. A., Rospenda, K. M., & Hughes, T. L. (2000). Sexual identity and alcohol-related outcomes: Contributions of workplace harassment. Journal of Substance Abuse, 11(3), 289–304.
Nielsen, M. B., & Einarsen, S. (2012). Outcomes of exposure to workplace bullying: A meta-analytic review. Work and Stress, 26(4), 309–332.
Nolfe, G., Petrella, C., Blasi, F., Zontini, G., & Nolfe, G. (2007). Psychopathological dimensions of harassment in the workplace (mobbing). International Journal of Mental Health, 36(4), 67–85.
O’Connell, C. E., & Korabik, K. (2000). Sexual harassment: The relationship of personal vulnerability, work context, perpetrator status, and type of harassment to outcomes. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 56(3), 299–329.
O’Driscoll, M. P., Cooper-Thomas, H. D., Bentley, T., Catley, B. E., Gardner, D. H., & Trenberth, L. (2011). Workplace bullying in New Zealand: A survey of employee perceptions and attitudes. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 49(4), 390–408.
O’Hare, E. A., & O’Donohue, W. (1998). Sexual harassment: Identifying risk factors. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 27(6), 561–580.
Ozturk, H., Sokmen, S., Yilmaz, F., & Cilingir, D. (2008). Measuring mobbing experiences of academic nurses: Development of a mobbing scale. Journal of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, 20(9), 435–442. doi:10.1111/j.1745-7599.2008.00347.x.
Paludi, M., Nydegger, R., DeSouza, E., Nydegger, L., & Dicker, K. A. (2006). International perspectives on sexual harassment of college students. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1087(1), 103–120.
Ramachandran, V. (2010). Gender issues in higher education. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0018/001898/189825e.pdf.
Richman, J. A., Rospenda, K. M., Nawyn, S. J., Flaherty, J. A., Fendrich, M., Drum, M. L., et al. (1999). Sexual harassment and generalized workplace abuse among university employees: Prevalence and mental health correlates. American Journal of Public Health, 89(3), 358–363.
Richter, L., & Johnson, P. B. (2001). Current methods of assessing substance use: A review of strengths, problems, and developments. Journal of Drug Issues, 31(4), 809–832.
Rospenda, K. M. (2002). Workplace harassment, services utilization, and drinking outcomes. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 7(2), 141–155.
Rospenda, K. M., & Richman, J. A. (2004). The factor structure of generalized workplace harassment. Violence and Victims, 19(2), 221–238.
Rospenda, K. M., Richman, J. A., Ehmke, J. L., & Zlatoper, K. W. (2005). Is workplace harassment hazardous to your health? Journal of Business and Psychology, 20(1), 95–110.
Rospenda, K. M., Richman, J. A., & Nawyn, S. J. (1998). Doing power: The confluence of gender, race, and class in contrapower sexual harassment. Gender and Society, 12(1), 40–60.
Rospenda, K. M., Richman, J. A., & Shannon, C. A. (2006). Patterns of workplace harassment, gender, and use of services: An update. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 11(4), 379–393.
Sakurai, K., & Jex, S. M. (2012). Coworker incivility and incivility targets’ work effort and counterproductive work behaviors: The moderating role of supervisor social support. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17(2), 150–161. doi:10.1037/a0027350.
Scarduzio, J. A., & Geist-Martin, P. (2008). Making sense of fractured identities: Male professors’ narratives of sexual harassment. Communication Monographs, 75(4), 369–395.
Schneider, K. T. (1997). Bystander stress: The effect of organizational tolerance of sexual harassment on victims’ co-workers. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 57(8-B), 5375.
Schneider, K. T., Swan, S., & Fitzgerald, L. F. (1997). Job-related and psychological effects of sexual harassment in the workplace: Empirical evidence from two organizations. Journal of Applied Psychology, 82(3), 401–415.
Shaffer, M. A., Joplin, J. R. W., Bell, M. P., Lau, T., & Oguz, C. (2000). Gender discrimination and job-related outcomes: A cross-cultural comparison of working women in the United States and China. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 57(3), 395–427.
Sieber, J. E., & Stanley, B. (1988). Ethical and professional dimensions of socially sensitive research. American Psychologist, 43(1), 49.
Simpson, R., & Cohen, C. (2004). Dangerous work: The gendered nature of bullying in the context of higher education. Gender, Work and Organization, 11(2), 163–186.
Spratlen, L. P. (1995). Interpersonal conflict which includes mistreatment in a university workplace. Violence and Victims, 10(4), 285–297.
Stern, C., Jordan, Z., & McArthur, A. (2014). Developing the review question and inclusion criteria. The American Journal of Nursing, 114(4), 53–56.
Stockdale, M. S., & Hope, K. G. (1997). Confirmatory factor analysis of U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board’s survey of sexual harassment: The fit of a three-factor model. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 51(3), 338–357.
Stockdale, M. S., Vaux, A., & Cashin, J. (1995). Acknowledging sexual harassment: A test of alternative models. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 17(4), 469–496.
Sundt, M. (1996). Understanding the characteristics of the sexual harasser. Initiatives, 57(2), 27–35.
Taylor, S. K. (2012). Workplace bullying in higher education: Faculty experiences and responses. PhD, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
The University of Auckland. (2015). The University of Auckland prevention of bullying and harassment policy. https://cdn.auckland.ac.nz/assets/central/about/the-university/how-the-university-works/policy-and-administration/prevention-of-bullying-and-harassment-policy.pdf.
Thomas, M. (2005). Bullying among support staff in a higher education institution. Health Education, 105(4), 273–288.
Thomas, J., & Harden, A. (2008). Methods for the thematic synthesis of qualitative research in systematic reviews. BMC Medical Research Methodology, 8(1), 45. http://www.biomedcentral.com/content/pdf/1471-2288-8-45.pdf.
Van den Brande, W., Baillien, E., De Witte, H., Vander Elst, T., & Godderis, L. (2016). The role of work stressors, coping strategies and coping resources in the process of workplace bullying: A systematic review and development of a comprehensive model. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 29, 61–71.
Van Wersch, A., & Walker, W. (2009). Binge-drinking in Britain as a social and cultural phenomenon the development of a grounded theoretical model. Journal of Health Psychology, 14(1), 124–134.
Wall, C. J. (2001). Communication and sexual harassment in academe: An exploratory study of the relationship between sexual harassment and the communication environment. Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences, 61(9-A), 3798.
Whatley, M. A., & Wasieleski, D. T. (2001). The incidence of sexual harassment in academia: A pilot study. Radical Pedagogy, 3(1). https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mark_Whatley/publication/284031011_The_Incidence_of_Sexual_Harassment_in_Academia_A_Pilot_Study/links/564b82ff08ae020ae9f82a6d.pdf.
Willness, C. R., Steel, P., & Lee, K. (2007). A meta-analysis of the antecedents and consequences of workplace sexual harassment. Personnel Psychology, 60(1), 127–162.
Wislar, J. S., Richman, J. A., Fendrich, M., & Flaherty, J. A. (2002). Sexual harassment, generalized workplace abuse and drinking outcomes: The role of personality vulnerability. Journal of Drug Issues, 32(4), 1071–1088.
Woodrow, C., & Guest, D. E. (2014). When good HR gets bad results: exploring the challenge of HR implementation in the case of workplace bullying. Human Resource Management Journal, 24(1), 38–56.
Yaman, E. (2010). Perception of faculty members exposed to mobbing about the organizational culture and climate. Kuram ve Uygulamada Egitim Bilimleri, 10(1), 567–578.
Yildirim, D., Yildirim, A., & Timucin, A. (2007). Mobbing behaviors encountered by nurse teaching staff. Nursing Ethics, 14(4), 447–463. doi:10.1177/0969733007077879.
This Project was supported by a Summer Studentship Stipend from the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences, University of Auckland, New Zealand.
See Table 2.
About this article
Cite this article
Henning, M.A., Zhou, C., Adams, P. et al. Workplace harassment among staff in higher education: a systematic review. Asia Pacific Educ. Rev. 18, 521–539 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12564-017-9499-0
- Workplace harassment
- Higher education
- Systematic review