More than a quarter of staff at Perth College say they have been subjected to bullying, a leaked study has revealed.
The internal questionnaire found that more than 40% faced some degree of “personal harassment in the form of unkind words or behaviour”.
Details of the stress study emerged as college management faced criticism for a memo to employees, asking them to sign in during a day of industrial action on Thursday or have their wages cut.
It followed an email last week, informing employees that their wages had been impacted by a recent cyber attack which forced the campus to close.
One staff member described Wednesday morning’s email as “threatening” and said it was further evidence of a “bullying culture” at the college.
The trade union Unison said it was concerned about the tone of the email, and said it amounted to punitive measures against its members who “have risked life and limb supporting students throughout the pandemic”.
Principal Margaret Cook stressed that the college – part of the University of Highlands and Islands (UHI) – was “working hard” to address issues raised in the survey. A “responsive action plan” was being drawn up, she said.
What the survey revealed
Nearly 280 support, academic and managerial staff responded to the stress survey which was carried out by education and technology firm JISC. The college has a total workforce of around 500.
Just under 60% of respondents said they had never suffered personal harassment, while 26.2% said they seldom did. Others said they faced harassment sometimes (10.5%), often (3.6%) and always (1.1%).
Asked if they were subject to bullying at work, 204 (73.6%) said never, while 48 (17.3%) said seldom and 25 (9%) replied sometimes, often or always.
Of those who filled in the questionnaire, 126 said there was sometimes, often or always “friction and anger between colleagues,” while 47% said they were more-than-seldom “pressured to work long hours”.
Cyber attack impacted payroll system
The college campus was forced to temporarily close after a cyber attack at the beginning of the month. Staff were told last week that, as a result, they would be paid an advance instead of their usual salary. This advance was calculated as an estimate of net pay, and would be deducted from their wages once the payroll system becomes operational again.
Wednesday morning’s email regarding industrial action by union Educational Institute of Scotland-Further Education Lecturers’ Association (EIS-FELA) informed staff that the college would operate a register system.
“All staff working (whether that is on campus or from home) will be asked to sign-in on the day. Failure to sign-in will result in a pay deduction,” the memo stated.
“Any employees who do not sign-in will be presumed to be participating in the strike, including those who have not been specifically called out on strike.”
A spokesperson for Unison said: “Our members are not directly involved in the dispute and should not have additional punitive measures imposed up on them because of industrial action being taken by our colleagues.
“We were concerned and disappointed by the tone of the email sent out to our members, particularly in the week that marks a year since many began working from home.
“It is even more difficult to fathom when our members have risked life and limb supporting students throughout the pandemic and this is how they are treated in a dispute which has nothing to do with them.”
Survey to support staff wellbeing
College principal Margaret Cook explained the stress survey was undertaken to evaluate how employees were coping during a challenging year.
“We have received some very positive feedback and also responses that we are working hard to address through the development of a responsive action plan which will be shared with staff,” she said.
“The purpose of these internal staff surveys are to support staff in a positive manner and improve any areas identified to help staff wellbeing.”
Responding to criticism about this week’s memo, Dr Cook said: “As outlined in a communication to staff, we created a sign-in process to capture staff who chose not to participate in the industrial action.
“This process was created in order not to disadvantage anyone and to ensure salaries are accurate – we don’t wish to add unnecessary financial pressures on our valued colleagues.
“I would like to reiterate that the health, safety and wellbeing of our staff and students is of utmost importance to us at Perth College UHI, particularly considering the level of effort, commitment and professionalism that has been made over the last year to continue to deliver our core remit of providing learning opportunities.
“We regularly offer resources, a weekly update and opportunity for open dialogue in order to support our college community as best we can. We very much recognise this is a difficult time for everyone and continue to thank all our staff and students for their continuing patience and support through a cyber incident, national industrial action and global pandemic.”