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Has anyone put in a grievance against a senior academic?

(18 Posts)
Levithecat Mon 21-Mar-16 22:32:23

This has all got very messy and I feel like it won't have a good outcome. I'd appreciate any experiences others have had, or advice.
I'm a lecturer and co-lead a course with a reader whose behaviour has been awful--verbally aggressive, hostile, overbearing, generating a lot of unnecessary excess work and undermining me. They have form for this. I've raised concerns about the behaviour eight times in total but nothing has changed. Apparently their line manager tried to speak with them but got shouted down. I think everyone just wants to appease the person and get through the work, but it means their behaviour is enabled. For example, a senior lecturer told me they wouldn't sit near me in a meeting or look at me in case it antagonised the person. I don't want to be too specific because of confidentiality but I hope this makes sense.

I'm really unhappy with the lack of action and that Im expected to accept being bullied by this person. I raised it at my staff review but my line manager got exasperated and now a second senior person has requested a meeting with me to see 'how we can move forwards'.

I'm considering putting in a complaint under our acceptable behaviour/bullying policy, but I think that will be very unpopular and I'll be seen as a troublemaker. At the same time I don't want to contribute to a culture of overlooking bullying, and I am finding it all very upsetting.

Has anyone else had any experience? Or advice to give?

MedSchoolRat Tue 22-Mar-16 09:45:32

EIGHT times you've raised concerns... how? Is there any documentation for those 8x? What documentation do you have going forward about the difficult behaviour?

If it comes down to your word against Colleague, big battle, are you up for it?

Levithecat Tue 22-Mar-16 10:05:02

Thanks for replying, medschoolrat. I've raised it with my line manager six times, with HR once and once with my previous line manager who is now faculty dean. I've kept it informal, as I hoped that someone would escalate it effectively. As far as I know, the person's line manager and my own have tried to talk to them directly but it has resulted in them being shouted at so they've backed off.

I've spent the weekend writing out a timeline etc in case I need it. I have emails from a number of senior people talking about how this person is being 'difficult' and witnesses, though I doubt they'd be willing to act as witnesses if things go further.

No, I don't feel up to a big battle, especially when the message I get from above is to play along and give everyone an easy life (so I've become the problem too). But the impact this is having on me is significant.
It's probably not worth the battle is it?

Fyaral Tue 22-Mar-16 10:07:53

It may well be but you know your workplace best. It may become intolerable though if you do nothing.

MedSchoolRat Tue 22-Mar-16 10:10:11

It may become intolerable if you do do something.
Could you sound out possible support from colleagues? Keeping in mind that talk is cheap. Your case would be so much stronger if others would agree to give evidence on your behalf, about the difficult person, should you file a formal complaint.

MatildaBeetham Tue 22-Mar-16 10:11:25

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

LunaLunaLovegood Tue 22-Mar-16 10:14:24

In a similar but different situation I raised an official complaint. My boss HATED me for it. It really created a headache for him. However I just kept repeating, to anyone and everyone, 'x has behaved disgracefully towards me and I am not prepared to accept this'.

I suspect I am now seen as a troublemaker and that the board roll their eyes about me being 'that difficult woman' - but none will dare say it to my face.

I decided it was better to stick to my principles and be able to live with myself/conscience than to care much about what the higher echelons think of me.

In my situation there is no career advancement/promotion anyway. So I didn't have to think about the impact on my career just on my ongoing role, iyswim. Which made it a lot easier to decide to go ahead and complain.

And by the way, the subject of the complaint left the organisation before any action could be taken against them.

I do feel for you and suspect there isn't really a right or wrong answer.

Levithecat Tue 22-Mar-16 10:20:41

Thank you all very much. I feel so passive and unconfident at the moment, it's reassuring to hear from other people. I am used to working with idiosyncratic and tricky senior academics, but I know that by 'kicking up a fuss' I will be viewed as failing to fit with academic/departmental culture.

Gently seeing if others would be willing to act as witnesses is a good idea.

Mathilda, thank you, that's kind and I may well take you up on it.

Levithecat Tue 22-Mar-16 10:28:04

Luna, thank you! Think this is how my line manager is begining to feel.

There isn't an ideal solution--it could well damage my career to be pushy about it.

LunaLunaLovegood Tue 22-Mar-16 10:39:08

NB I didn't make it clear - I am not an academic, I sort of wandered into your corner. So my industry is different but the problems seem to be the same everywhere!

slug Tue 22-Mar-16 10:59:43

Do we work in the same university? Small? Specialist? I could immediately picture at least two people your description would fit.

Levithecat Tue 22-Mar-16 18:13:08

No I think not, slug, but sorry you have to live with similar...

fluffikins Wed 23-Mar-16 12:57:34

Welcome to academia wink

geekaMaxima Wed 23-Mar-16 18:06:55

Sympathies, OP thanks It sounds horrible, and I experienced something similar once as a brand-new lecturer.

However, since your line manager (is it your head of dept or equivalent?) seems to be trying to duck responsibility for managing the problem, I think you need to get a paper trail started asap. A string of verbal complaints will mean nothing until there is an email record of your requests and their responses.

Would you consider emailing your HoD / line manager (whoever is at the top of the local tree) to lay out the situation as it currently stands (e.g., you are deeply troubled by Difficult Colleague's unacceptable behaviour towards you - give specific examples - and the situation has become untenable because it means you cannot perform your job effectively), and that you are not satisfied by the actions taken to date (e.g., previous discussions with Difficult Colleague had brought about no change in behaviour, or have made it worse; whatever).

Then you could request that your HoD takes immediate action, but give a choice:


(A) Difficult Colleague is given a written instruction to behave professionally towards you, which will include ceasing to do X (specific examples) and cooperating with you to do Y (more specific examples). The instruction should include the proviso that if their unacceptable behaviour continues, you will lodge a formal complaint with HR.


(B) Your teaching and admin load is arranged by HoD to minimise contact with Difficult Colleague (so one of you comes off the co-led module, you don't have to work on the same committees, etc. Be specific). This change should take effect immediately and for the foreseeable future, and should not result in you losing opportunities to develop your portfolio of skills for promotion.

You look forward to HoD's response to your proposals and would like a decision by [date about 8-10 working days away]...

A decent HoD would try option (A), or at least a close version of it, because it offers a potential long-term solution to a problem that is unlikely to be confined to you.

A completely chickenshit HoD who can't actually manage people will go for option (B), particularly if they are afraid of Difficult Colleague themselves.

But even (B) might make your life workable again... And you might have a better chance of a workable result if you try emailing a written request within the department (i.e., where HoD is obligated to respond) before going nuclear with a formal complaint to HR.

MarasmeAbsolu Mon 28-Mar-16 14:35:13

we've got a similar character where I work - complaints have been raised formally AND informally, but noone in management ever tackled the "problem".

The solution that a few of us are now adopting is:
1) at each board of studies / course management committee meeting, any shitty behaviour from the difficult colleague is brought up in front of everyone along the lines "this has been a tough term again, I cannot do this again next year if X continues undermining me in front of students" or "we must agree on a way to communicate respectfully - the way we work at the moment is not working for me". Since everything is minuted, it creates a paper trail.

2) all communications by email, with avoidance of face to face with the bully at all cost [management does nothing about it, there is enough verbal abuse one can tolerate]. Management Cced on any communication where things are getting a be heated.

3) systematic mention of the bully's attitude and behaviour in PDR yearly assessment as a hindrance to success

4) we have started a dialogue with the bullying and harassment unit. no idea of what will come of this though

Good luck with what is a trully shitty situation sad

MatildaBeetham Mon 28-Mar-16 14:37:01

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

geekaMaxima Mon 28-Mar-16 16:05:40

When you step back, it's simply astonishing that these people get away with their tantrums and abuse, isn't it.

Yes - astonishing but unfortunately not uncommon sad

Once a bullying culture establishes itself in a dept - and it might just be one individual as the bully, but HoD or equivalent becomes complicit when complaints are not addressed - it seems to get under everyone's skin and make the whole place miserable.

One of my old departments is still dysfunctional, years after the original bully left, because the whole culture of appeasement ("keep your head down, don't make a fuss, I just want a quiet life", etc.) has become so deeply ingrained. Loads of new staff have arrived since, but either leave or pick up the unhealthy culture. Bah!

Levithecat Wed 30-Mar-16 15:44:00

Back after a few days with my family/ burying my head in the sand. I'm seeing HR again tomorrow to discuss how mediation might work, but I have big reservations about that path.

Geeka, you're right it seems common, which is utterly depressing. The culture in my dept enables poor behaviour. I think a part of it is that the senior mgmt (like all of us) are under huge pressure / have heavy workloads so discouraging me from 'kicking up a fuss' is way easier than tackling the bullying behaviour. There is also something about being 'tricky' = a normal (desirable?!) character for an academic. But there is a line between an inflated ego/highly individual character and bullying.

Marasme, your efforts to tackle things sound really sensible. Some of them are things I've tried but without any support from elsewhere it's tough. Good luck to you too, it does absolutely suck.

Thanks everyone flowers

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