Organisation - November 4, 2010

One in five employees have felt intimidated

One in five Wageningen UR employees have felt intimidated at some point, this years ‘employees’ monitor’, a staff satisfaction survey, reveals. VHL staff seem to have suffered the most.

Employees are being intimidated often (red), sometimes (yellow) or never (green). From left to right: Verbal violence, physical violence, sexual harassment, intimidation and discrimination.
At the request of the employees' councils, this year's biennial 'employees' monitor' included a question about undesirable behaviour such as violence, bullying or sexual harassment. The results came out this week. Under the statement 'I have experienced intimidating behaviour at my work in the past year', two percent filled in 'often' and 17 percent 'sometimes'. So nineteen percent have experienced some sort of intimidation.
Is that a lot? 'We don't really have any reference points as this was the first time', says Cees van Dijk, chair of the central employees' council. 'But this is such a high proportion that we must address the issue.'
It is difficult to compare the Wageningen percentages with the national average. The 'National survey of labour conditions' carried out by TNO in 2009 makes a distinction between internal and external intimidation. An average of 11.2 percent of Dutch employees had experienced 'intimidation by managers or colleagues', while 19.4 percent had experienced 'intimidation by clients, pupils or passengers'. But those two figures cannot just be totted up, as the same person may have experienced both forms of intimidation.
Among Wageningen UR institutions, it is at VHL that the most staff reported feeling intimidated in the past year. Tineke Tromp, director of corporate human resources, says, 'It sounds strange, but it is understandable. When the survey was being done, VHL was going through a period of upheaval, with all the discussions about the merger. People may have felt that the merger was being imposed on them.
It is not clear what people understand by intimidation, either. For that reason, Tromp would like to find out what people mean by it, exactly. 'Intimidation is a blanket term, and we want to know what lies behind it.' Van Dijk: 'Some people laugh off a remark, and others feel attacked by it. It is important that people have the courage to raise it in discussions.'
The same results every time
The 2010 Employee Monitor shows that we find our work challenging and enjoyable while we are pleased with the atmosphere in our own team. We do not have much confidence in the Executive Board and half of us feel there is too much work pressure. This is a familiar story: these are the same results as in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Every survey is followed by recommendations and action in the form of lunchtime meetings, more information on intranet or work pressure as a subject in job performance reviews. Apparently this is not having an effect. Barbara Veltrop, one of those responsible for the Employee Monitor: 'I do think the right kind of action is being taken but processes like these take a very long time. It is hard to make rapid changes in things like confidence or how people perceive work pressure.'