In an effort to help staff and faculty deal with intimidating behavior on campus, University of Wisconsin announced the creation of a “Hostile and Intimidating Behavior” website to address workplace bullying.

According to the website, hostile and intimidating behavior is defined as “unwelcome behavior pervasive or severe to the extent that it makes the conditions for work inhospitable and impairs another person’s ability to carry out his/her responsibilities to the university.”

Workplace bullying is vastly different from the commonly pictured “schoolyard bullying,” said Luis Pinero, UW Office for Equity and diversity director and assistant vice provost for workforce equity and diversity.

Pinero attributes the differences between the two types of harassment to the variety of dynamics at play in a workplace, especially one as diverse as UW’s.

“I think what makes [workplace bullying] unique in higher education is a couple of things,” Pinero said. “The first thing is that you have different employee groups. People who may be tenured faculty, TAs,  part-time and full-time employees — some are professional, some are nonprofessional. You also have students. The interactions between those individuals makes for some unique dynamics in terms of power.”

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Examples of workplace bullying on the website included abusive expression directed at another individual in the workplace, unwarranted physical contact, sabotage of another person’s work and abuse of authority.

While Pinero did not have a direct role in the creation of the website, he was one of the first staff members on campus to help raise awareness of the issue of workplace bullying. He was a part of an adhoc committee in summer 2013 that reviewed and discussed research on workplace bullying and made a list of recommendations addressing the problem.

Dean of the UW School of Human Ecology Soyeon Shim also helped inspire the creation of the site to fight workplace bullying. Shim accredits the former dean of the UW Business School Francois Otalo-Mange as a major contributor to the site as well.

“[We] brought the need to create a policy to campus’s attention almost five years ago,” Shim said. “We learned quickly that there was a strong desire by campus at large to join the efforts, which led to establishing the policy and the procedure.”

Pinero is one of the contributors listed on the website as a resource for staff members to be able to reach to. He reviews the established workplace bullying policies with concerned staff members and helps determine their next steps to resolve an issue.

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Pinero said a majority of his contribution is policy interpretation.

“If employees have questions or want to discuss what a policy says, or discuss where they could take [a concern], that is where I can help,” Pinero said.

In addition to offering the opportunity for face-to-face resources, the “Hostile and Intimidating Behavior” site has possible informal and formal approaches on how to address hostile behavior in the workplace.

A website in and of itself doesn’t automatically reduce or eliminate situations like bullying and discrimination, Pinero said. It does, however, make the problem visible and reminds suffering individuals that they are not alone.  

“It sends a message that one can come forward and that [workplace bullying] is a legitimate issue,” Pinero said. “It’s important to make things like this visible.”

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Michael Bernard-Donals, vice provost for faculty and staff at UW, said the education of campus community members on hostile and intimidating workplace behavior is the site’s goal as well. Bernard-Donals said the aim is to teach what can be done to prevent it from happening, what to do when it happens and how university policies handle it.

Both Pinero and Shim acknowledged workplace bullying is not something that can ever be avoided entirely. The goal of the website is to build a climate of respect among faculty on campus and hopefully reduce the amount of bullying overall, Pinero said.

“The website itself won’t change the future of workplace bullying, but it will provide tools and resources for employees to find a solution,” Shim said. “The real change will come from cultural changes through awareness and education.”