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Next Generation Bullying Reduction: New Considerations for Healthier Higher Education Workplaces in Aotearoa New Zealand

Friday 5 July: Conference day three, 10:30am – 11:00am parallel session



Room 11 – 303-B11 Sem



Dr Ursula Edgington

Dr Luk Swiatek
The University of New South Wales, Australia



Aotearoa New Zealand has a significant workplace bullying problem (Bentley et al., 2009; Kirkwood & Viitanen, 2015; Lewis, 2004). Research claims that the cause is often incompetent management and inadequate organisational policies assessing the risk of workplace bullying. Campaigns like #metoo have helped raise awareness, and reported rates of bullying and harassment have recently increased (Mitchell, 2018). Higher education institutions are not immune; workplace bullying affects academic and professional staff, students and, ultimately, teaching and learning outcomes (Twale & De Luca, 2008).


The issue

The reasons for New Zealand’s workplace bullying problems are numerous. Crucially, workplace bullying is not specifically defined in New Zealand’s Health and Safety at Work Act (1992). Because bullying is not formally recognised as a hazard, it is often unfairly dismissed as a ‘personality clash’ between individuals. However, internationally, workplace bullying is acknowledged as a source of psychological and physiological harm.

Worksafe NZ has claimed that staff with undiagnosed mental health issues are more likely to be victims of bullying (in CultureSafeNZ, 2018). However, evidence suggests that the opposite is true; it is often staff with higher levels of competence, high expectations and strong self-confidence who are bullied (Peeters, 2004). Worksafe NZ adopts a somewhat outdated deficit model of mental health.  Furthermore, Worksafe NZ is unable to implement fines on Crown organisations, potentially limiting ‘lessons learned’.

Universities in Aotearoa New Zealand need to develop and implement effective anti-bullying initiatives that foster healthier workplaces. These initiatives, crucially, need to support academic (teaching) staff, enabling them to support students’ diverse needs and deliver quality teaching. More holistic, creative approaches are needed. This roundtable will generate debate about these initiatives and whether/how they can be developed.


Intended outcomes

The session has two key outcomes: (1) raised awareness, and (2) shared strategies for addressing bullying and harassment that are fair, effective, culturally-sensitive and preventative.

The debate addresses the sub-theme ‘academics’ (and several of its topics, emphasised in bold). In recent decades, universities have experienced dramatic changes with the commercialisation and globalisation of higher education. Increasingly diverse and ever-larger student cohorts have demanded the recruitment of highly-skilled, culturally diverse teaching and support staff (OECD, 2017). Shrinking research funding, limited to government-focused criteria, brings added pressures at micro- and macro-levels (Ball & Youdell, 2008). Academic environments also increasingly adopt technological developments, resulting in intensified measurement and surveillance (Edgington, 2016; O’Leary, 2013). Overcoming these challenges requires originality, creativity and the innovative use of philosophical frameworks, methodologies and communication. These original ideas may be interpreted as disruptive, or even threatening, to staff embedded in normalised practice. Inevitably, tensions in professional relationships may result. This is especially so when early career academics (perhaps with different worldviews) question existing ways of knowing. These kinds of tensions may partly explain the high rates of bullying and harassment in the sector. A new generation of academic staff respond to significant change compared to those staff who have supervised their careers to date. Similarly, academic leadership requires different kinds of skills and strategies, including ensuring a culturally sensitive approach founded on social justice.



Ball, S. J., & Youdell, D. (2008). Hidden Privatisation in Public Education (Education International). Institute of Education, University of London, UK. Retrieved from
Bentley, T., Catley, B., Coper-Thomas, H., Gardner, D., O’Driscoll, M., & Trenberth, L. (2009). Understanding Stress and Bullying in New Zealand Workplaces. Health Research Council New Zealand. Retrieved from
CultureSafeNZ (2018). Culture Shift Conference, Wellington, Te Papa, October 24.
Edgington, U. (2016). Emotional Labour & Lesson Observation: a study of England’s Further Education. Springer.
Kirkwood, J., & Viitanen, T. (2015). Tall Poppy Syndrome and its effects upon entrepreneurs (Research Report). New Zealand: University of Otago,. Retrieved from
Lewis, D. (2004). Bullying at work: the impact of shame among university and college lecturers. British Journal of Guidance and Counselling, 32(2), 281–299.
OECD. (2017). Population with tertiary education (indicator). Retrieved from 10.1787/0b8f90e9-en (Accessed on 16 October 2017)
O’Leary, M. (2013). Expansive and Restrictive approaches to professionalism in FE colleges:  the observation of teaching and learning as a case in point. Research in Post-Compulsory Education, 18(4), 248–364.
Peeters, B. (2004). ‘“Thou shalt not be a tall poppy”’: Describing an Australian communicative (and behavioral) norm. Intercultural Pragmatics, 1, 71–92.
Twale, D. J. & De Luca, B. M. (2008). Faculty incivility: The rise of the academic bully culture and what to do about it. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass


Presentation topic

Academics – Changing Academic Practice

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