Universiteit Leiden

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Creating a safer work environment

Two new studies have shown that university staff can be the victim of harassment from their managers or colleagues. Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker says: ‘Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me that you see this kind of grief here too. One instance is one too many. We’ve been focusing on the topic for some time already. We are working hard to prevent misconduct, and if it does occur, for it to be brought out in the open as soon as possible.’

The first study was commissioned by the Dutch Network of Women Professors (LNVH). They wanted to identify the types of harassment that women in Dutch academia experience. The report describes the personal stories of 53 research participants, manifestations and the facilitating factors of harassment, and makes recommendations on how to prevent harassment in academia.

The second study was commissioned by the FNV and VAWO trade unions and looked into hostile work environments (in Dutch) at universities. This study found that four in ten university staff members feel that their work environment is hostile. According to the report, what constitutes a hostile work environment can vary from bullying, abuses of power and humiliating behaviour to exclusion, deliberately holding back information and sexual harassment. In the study, female staff (44%) in particular report negative experiences, but male staff (35%) have also suffered from them.

Safe work environment

A safe work environment is high on Leiden University’s agenda, and we have prioritised the following points:

  • Improve the visibility of the confidential counsellors
  • Follow up on the results of the Personnel Monitor, the annual staff survey
  • Improve leadership
  • Reduce the staff workload
  • Draw people’s attention to the Code of Conduct on Integrity
  • Promote diversity and inclusion.

Confidential counsellors

If harassment is to be identified at an early stage, staff must know how to contact a confidential counsellor and the confidential counsellors in turn must be facilitated in their work. To increase the effectiveness of our confidential counsellors, we have adopted a threefold approach:

  • Increase the visibility of our confidential counsellors and their work, for instance in a series of articles in the staff newsletter
  • Consolidate the formal position of our confidential counsellors
  • Provide support for our confidential counsellors by providing training and encouraging them to collaborate, for instance at the ‘Bound by Confidentiality’ conference (in Dutch).


We are also paying more attention to academic integrity and the Code of Conduct on Integrity, for instance by addressing the matter of integrity in letters of appointment and introduction sessions for new staff. Our managers and administrators have received training on integrity and have discussed case studies with each other.


Managers play a crucial role in the work environment, hence the amount of attention being paid to good leadership skills. This was the topic of the strategic conference in 2018, for instance, and there are many other ways in which we are working to improve management skills at the University: in the teaching, in young talent (PhD candidates, postdocs), in University management, in supporting roles and fields as well as in various projects and programmes, research or otherwise.

Who to contact

Do you have questions about harassment? Are you the victim of harassment? Do you have a problem that you and your manager can’t solve? Do you think there may have been a breach of academic integrity? For these and other questions, please contact our confidential counsellors or complaints committees.

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