Science - November 10, 2005

Increase in inappropriate behaviour

The confidential counsellors at Wageningen UR received slightly more complaints about inappropriate behaviour in the workplace during the past two years than in previous years. In their annual report they argue that more attention needs to be paid to these complaints. Incidents involving inappropriate behaviour are more likely to occur in organisations that are under pressure, according to the counsellors.

The term inappropriate behaviour refers not only to sexual harassment, but also bullying, aggression, intimidation and discrimination. The recently published report for 2003 and 2004 indicates that the confidential counsellors received a total of 57 complaints, of which four ended up being taken further. This is a slight rise compared with previous years.

Almost half of the cases involved intimidating or manipulative behaviour, and a quarter were incidences of bullying. The majority of complaints came from women, and the reports often concern the behaviour of men in relatively high positions.

The confidential counsellors have no simple explanation as to why the number of complaints has risen slightly. What they have noticed is that the number of complaints about work content and working conditions made to the ombudsman has risen. This could be linked to reorganisations. ‘When redundancies are on the cards, some people tend to pick on others more unfortunate than themselves. People get the job ads in a newspaper shoved under their noses, for example. It’s quite possible that people do not mean to be offensive, but some people feel intimidated by behaviour like this,’ says Marian Baltussen, one of the sixteen confidential counsellors at Wageningen UR.

The counsellors are worried that none of the complainants that started an official procedure in the last two years has won their case. Baltussen: ‘They were serious complaints, and should be dealt with carefully. The external complaints committee is only approached on an ad hoc basis. The committee might be worth more if it had a permanent chairperson.’

The confidential counsellors would like to see a special confidential counsellor for students reappointed, after an absence of four years. ‘Students have their own problems and are in a different position, for instance as a result of dependence on their supervisors.’

A new information leaflet on the work of the confidential counsellors was distributed two weeks ago. It includes an explanation of the work they do and where they can be contacted. The counsellors can be asked for advice and are also entitled to offer unasked advice to Wageningen UR. / YdH

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