Thousands of researchers asked about working culture following public reports of bullying

One in ten scientists working at Germany’s Max Planck Society have experienced bullying in the last 12 months, an organisation-wide survey has indicated.

This number increases to one in five when the time period is extended beyond the past year, and other responses highlight problems with the organisational culture such as sex-based discrimination and a poor work-life balance.

The survey is the largest investigation of a single scientific organisation to date, and involved more than 9000 participants representing the society’s more than 20,000 staff employed at 86 institutions. It was commissioned following two high-profile bullying scandals last year involving institutional directors.

Although researchers generally report a high level of personal commitment to the organisation, the survey results suggest incidents of bullying and sexual discrimination occur regularly, with more than one in ten women saying they had experienced sexual discrimination in the last 12 months and a third of women reporting they had experienced unequal treatment because of their gender. The responses also indicated marked differences in the experiences of German and non-German staff, with half of non-German staff from other EU countries saying they have felt ignored or excluded.

Participants also reported difficulties balancing work and private life, with a third of staff saying their home life suffers due to work at least a couple of times a month. Half of all researchers reported taking less parental leave than they would have liked in order to prevent putting their careers at a disadvantage.

‘The results show how important it is to continue to build a performance-oriented but also a respectful and appreciative working culture and atmosphere at our Institutes and to introduce measures for changes at the relevant locations,’ the society’s president Martin Stratmann said in a statement. He added that the organisation has ‘a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and sexual harassment’.