This blog is a translation of an article that appeared in the Dutch news on May 6, 2019. The original text can be found here.

‘Universities in the Netherlands do not succeed in offering their employees a ssocially safe workplace’,

is the conclusion of the Union of Dutch Federations (FNV) and the Academic Union (VAWO).

From their survey it became clear that about half of the employees at Dutch universities work at a department where the work situation was or is perceived as socially unsafe.

Comparable conclusions are drawn by the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH) after an investigation under female employees.


It involves, amongst others, gossiping, bullying, threatening, humiliations, exclusion or abuse of power, alienation, withdrawal of information, sexual intimidation, and scientific sabotage.

In the latter, researchers are impeded in their scientific career, by for example forms of hinderance in attempts to step up the corporate ladder, not being listed as author on scientific papers, or otherwise.



FNA and VAWO conducted a survey under more than 1000 university employees.

Amongst the respondents, 40 percent personally experienced an unsafe working environment.

From this group, around 44 percent is still working in such unsafe working atmosphere.

Women are more often victim than man:  44% of the female respondents says to have had a negative experience at work against 35% male respondents.


The five most common unsafe situations according to FNV and VAWO




The Association of Universities in The Netherlands (VSNU) is shocked by the numbers.

“We take this very seriously”,

says spokesman Bart Pierik.

“We want to have a safe work environment. And we work very hard to realise that. We give trainings, have complaints regulations, and confidentiality advisors exchange experiences”.

To nuance that the work environment is unsafe, Pierik says that the Unions do not make enough distinction between the various categories contributing to the perceived unsafe environment.

“It includes gossiping, but also intimidation and hampering of research. You have to take everything seriously, but the weight of the last two categories are different from the first”.



“It happens at every university”,

says Jan Boersma. He is director of FNV and in a radio broadcast on the Dutch NPO Radio 1 he calls it

“a sad conclusion”.

The causes of the unsafe situation mentioned by the research are bad leadership, the hierarchical structure of the universities and the high working pressure.


Cultural anthropologist and gender researcher Marijke Naezer also criticizes the strong hierarchical culture at universities.

For a survey for the LNVH she interviewed 53 women who experienced misconduct at work.


“Scientists in higher positions are almost inviolable”,

says Naezer. According to her, the basis of this is the battle for research grants in science.

“Once you are positioned at higher hierarchical position, it is extremely difficult to put charges against somebody. Because that person is perceived as “the star, the one with scientific fame, and the one getting research grants”.


“Delivery of a baby, any idea how expensive that is?”

Naezer recognises six different categories for misbehaviour.

Those vary from sexual intimidation to physical harassment, alienation, and making a problem of special needs: “Delivery of a baby, any idea how expensive that is?

As a solution, Naezer pleads for more diversity in gender, ethnicity and age.

FNV director Boersma wants to have an independent complaints commission, and hope that universities take explicit measures against employees who misbehave.

In addition, he pleads for more training for employees and managers.



This is the translation of an article appearing on the Dutch news site NOS on May 6, 2019.