Well-being and psychological safety

Well-being at work

The psychological work environment

A good psychological work environment is a fundamental prerequisite for satisfaction and well-being at work.

It is Aarhus University’s goal to develop and maintain a healthy and good work environment for all AU employees.

If you experience mental overload, stress, offensive behaviour or anything else that affects your well-being, you can find help and guidance on this website.

At AU we do not accept offensive behaviour at AU. In other words, we do not accept any form of bullying, sexual harassment, violence or discrimination. Everyone at the university is responsible for ensuring that offensive behaviour does not occur.

Learn more about psychological work environment at AU here.

What is psychological safety?

Psychological safety is trusting that you will not be humiliated or punished, if you talk about mistakes, doubts, questions, disagreements, ideas, etc. It is an expression of a group norm that, to a greater or lesser extent, can influence a workplace culture, and it is developed through our daily cooperation and communication with each other – i.e. in our daily working life.

Read more about psychological safety here.

Daily working life at AU

According to the norms for daily working life at Aarhus University, its employees should:

  • Respect and support freedom of speech and freedom of research
  • Contribute to creating openness, trust and timely communication at all levels
  • Experience good management and good relations with colleagues in their daily work
  • Respect the balance between work and private life

  • Contribute to a cohesive, collaborative university
  • Demonstrate mutual respect and decency
  • Value diversity among colleagues
  • Prioritise personal and professional development

Offensive behaviour

3 October 2023

Column by

Head of school

Joint union representative for academic and technical/administrative staff (AC-TAP) at CC

Column on offensive behaviour – October 2023

In the following, we will focus on how we are working to create a psychologically safe work environment. Like many other parts of society, we are currently preoccupied with discussing what offensive behaviour actually is in different situations and figuring out how we should react when it happens.

We are under no illusions that this short piece will provide all the answers and create the rules needed to prevent offensive behaviour. But the discussions are urgent. Both because of the movements we see in society in general, where our norms are in flux, and because it is something that union representatives and management are talking about in the wake of specific conflicts. In addition, we have a special focus on offensive behaviour in our follow-ups on the workplace assessment, because the figures in the report indicate that there are still certain challenges in this area. For the management and union representatives, it’s about opening a dialogue and encouraging conversation and reflection that reach deep into our community and don’t have an expiration date.

What does Aarhus University say?

At a large university, many different people meet each other every day. We cross paths, work together, learn, teach and fulfil our different functions. For the most part, all of this happens without us thinking about it, and we usually trust each other and have each other’s best interests at heart. But sometimes someone crosses someone else’s boundary.

Aarhus University already has a number of descriptions of offensive behaviour (see this link for descriptions and examples) and how to handle serious cases, and when you read all of this, it makes sense, but when you have to explain what it means in a specific context, it sometimes becomes more difficult. When is a remark inappropriate? Is there a difference in context – e.g. what can you say at a department meeting, and what can you say at a summer party? What do hierarchies and power relations mean with regard to what you can afford? What – if anything – do gender and generations mean in relation to how a situation is perceived? When has something become repetitive? Is it easy to determine what is abusive? How do students experience the informal, social encounter with a teacher?

What does research say?

Research in the field says that if something is perceived as offensive, it is offensive, and this holds true for the most part. When someone says that they have had their boundaries crossed, it’s true. But it also matters to the person who has crossed someone else’s boundaries. Crossing that person’s boundaries may not have been the intention. We may have to deal with questions and uncertainties about what you can and cannot do and what consequences an action may have. And in many ways, it’s good that we are becoming better at considering what’s OK and what’s not, but perhaps it also creates a culture where the trust that our social lives are built on is challenged, and then we need to work on that.

How do we create and maintain a safe work environment at IKK?

Across our various school forums, we pretty much agree that part of fostering psychological safety has to do with increasing the trust that should bind us together. Trust that we have a culture where you can say no. That your manager and colleagues are supportive. Trust that both as someone who has experienced inappropriate behaviour and as someone who has crossed a line, you will be treated respectfully and fairly. We cannot completely avoid conflicts, but we can work on and improve the ways we handle them, and that work is in progress. On the local liaison committee, we have discussed whether one way to work with these issues is to base the work on cases and concrete examples of conflict management. Aarhus University is in the process of drawing up some general guidelines. In the school management team, we have all participated in a conflict management course and take it very seriously when conflicts arise in our communities, and we have decided to ask whether and how offensive behaviour is encountered in everyday life. Only by having the courage to talk about the difficult things, we can work towards the culture that we all need, no matter who we are.

How can I help to prevent this? And what is my responsibility?

We all have a duty to:

→ object and say no to offensive behaviour – both if you experience offensive behaviour against yourself, and if you witness it

→ help a student or an employee who experiences offensive behaviour. 

Managers, supervisors, teaching staff and others in a mentor role or similar role have a particular responsibility to act professionally and objectively in situations in which they are part of an asymmetrical (unequal) collaboration, relationship and power balance.

What is offensive behaviour?

Offensive behaviour is a generic term for bullying, sexual harassment, discrimination (e.g. based on race, gender and age), violence, threats or other forms of offensive behaviour.  

Read  AU's definition and examples of offensive behaviour