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Unacceptable behaviour: 240 employees suffered from it in 2017

MAASTRICHT. At least 240 employees at this university encountered an instance of ‘unacceptable  behaviour’ at least once last year. Approximately 50 of them can call themselves victims of repeated improper treatment. The Executive Board feels “every case is one too many”.

The figures come from a survey among UM personnel, instigated by confidential advisor Marloes Rikhof in the summer of 2017 and carried out by the bureau Monstarecon. The focus was on four forms of ‘unacceptable behaviour’: sexual harassment, aggression, bullying, and discrimination. In particular bullying seems to be an issue: almost half of the respondents were confronted with this one or more times in the six months prior to the survey. Sexual harassment occurs about as often as aggression, approximately 14 per cent has experienced it once, 2 per cent (20 people) are real victims. The latter means that those involved have been exposed to it on several occasions. Finally, discrimination occurs the least: more than 5 per cent has experienced it once, just over 3 per cent more than once.

The problem with this survey, the researchers themselves admit, was the low response rate. Although more people responded at the service centres than at the faculties, and support staff participated more than academic staff, all in all only one quarter of UM staff completed the questionnaire. According to the bureau, this kind of survey can be expected to have a response rate of 37 per cent, while 60 per cent is needed to draw conclusions about the whole population.

They emphasise, however, that this does not mean that the results are worthless. Especially because of the fact that in the first couple of days when the questionnaire was online, which is when most of the reactions were received, the conclusion is justified that mainly ‘complainants’ responded, the people who in fact were confronted with unacceptable behaviour. This means a few hundred. The Executive Board wrote to the University Council that they feel that “every case is one too many,” a reason why the theme of ‘unacceptable behaviour’ will be incorporated more prominently in the UM’s personnel policy. HR advisors will be more alert. The University Council expressed the desire to at least include the theme in the annual appraisal interviews.

When the data is broken down by faculty, it appears that the law faculty scored remarkably low: little happens there, a mere 1.5 per cent is classified in the category of real victims, persons who suffer repeatedly. The opposite was the case for Arts and Social Sciences. Of all the faculties, FASoS scored the worst: 10 per cent consider themselves victims, one third experienced something unpleasant in this field at least once.

In the case of the service centres, ICTS stands out: 11.5 per cent has been a victim of unacceptable behaviour on more than one occasion.

Another remarkable fact is that there is no great difference between men and women across the UM. Women are slightly worse off, but confidential advisor Rikhof states that she has different signs. The majority of those who come to her, are women.

Who are the culprits? According to the researchers, most of them are colleagues. This surprises Rikhof. She receives more complaints about those in charge. Maybe an additional study into the role of this group when it comes to unacceptable behaviour could throw more light on the case. It is one of the more detailed studies that will be carried out on the basis of the same data.

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