Research on work environment within the academia

Academic environment has been characterized by autonomy and independence, collegial governance, consensus decisions and legitimacy in the group. Previous research has shown that successful research environments have being described as having a creative and open climate, that talents are highlighted, that the group is heterogeneous, and that change is easily adopted.

Most studies show that there are many risk factors in the academic environment such as high levels of bullying, unsafe employment, and non-functioning leadership. The projects that will be presented below are about the working environment's connection to scientific achievement as well as bullying and harassment, that are common in the academy.


Work environment and productivity in research (AMP)


Theories of what determines research performance have evolved from political and economic science, amongst other disciplines. Contemporary research shows that universities have a problematic work environment characterized by bullying, insecure jobs, and dysfunctional leadership. The current knowledge in this field states a clear relation between psychosocial work environment and employee health. There is however a dearth of research investigating the relation between work environment and productivity. In previous studies, we have been able to show that work environment problems cause larger production losses than health problems among workers. In this project, we explore the relationship between the psycho-social work environment and research performance.


The objective of the project is to investigate factors in the psychosocial work environment, including the importance of leadership, for employee productivity.


The first step in this project is to conduct a systematic review of the literature in the area. Second, data from existing records from employee surveys and activity data at a university will be used to investigate the aims. The university keeps records of activity data such as bibliometrics (number of publications, impact factor, citation index, etc.) and external research grant awards. Moreover, interviews will be done with researchers focusing on the high fragmentation of work task in academia and how it affects research productivity.


The first results show that the work environment explained future research performance, with the highest impact on the quality of publications. The most important factors for good performance were fair, considerate leaders and a supportive social climate. The results suggest that improving the psycho-social work environment at the universities can be one strategy to improve research performance. Further results will be presented during late 2020 and spring 2021.

Researchers, project time and funding:

Involved researchers are Irene Jensen, Christina Björklund, Lennart Bodin, Emmanuel Aboagye, Malin Mattson Molar.

The project started in 2017 and continues til June 2021.

The project is funded by Karolinska Institutes samverkanskommitté


Arbetsmiljö och produktivitet inom akademin: En studie om den psykosociala arbetsmiljöns betydelse för forskares prestation

Perceived Health and Work-Environment Related Problems and Associated Subjective Production Loss in an Academic Population

An overlooked key to excellence in research: a longitudinal cohort study on the association between the psycho-social work environment and research performance

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Bullying an harassment in academic settings


Workplace bullying has been an important area of research internationally for quite some time and is a field of global interest in which new topics are steadily emerging. It has been suggested that workplace bullying is one of the most stressful phenomena and several studies have demonstrated its detrimental effects on the mental health of targets. Given that bullying is a severe work-environmental factor, it can have a major impact not only on health but also on an individual’s work performance.  Workplace bullying and harassment occurs in all kinds of organizations and professions, with academia being no exception. In fact, several of the studies report a quite high prevalence of bullying in academia compared to other types of organizations. Different types of harassments are present within academia, with a high prevalence of sexual harassment and gender-based harassment among women and primarily harassment due to ethnicity among men.
Studies show that individual and organizational factors such as high demands, low control, high levels of role conflict, poor leadership, lack of information flow, and a negative social climate increase the risk of bullying. Specifically, in an academic setting it has been found that the three most common risk factors related to bullying were competition about status or duties, jealousy, and the perpetrator being unsure of himself /herself. It has been reported in prior studies f that the highest rate of bullying among university staff were found among those whose work focused on administration, economy and service, whereas the lowest level was found among those whose activities instead focused on teaching and research.


In the first study the aim was to use a longitudinal approach to investigate the association between work related psychosocial factors and the reporting of being bullied in an academic setting. Gender and professions were also compared.
In the second study the aim was to investigate the prevalence of harassment within the academy, which type was most common and the relationship to the perpetrator. In this study, gender and profession were also compared


The study population consisted of employees (researchers and administrators) at a medical faculty at a Swedish  university. Three data collections (referred to as T1, T2, T3) were conducted by administrating a questionnaire on psychosocial work environment at two-year intervals. The total number of respondents were the following: T1= 2993, T2 = 3213, and T3 = 3525.

In study 2, only the measures of T2 and T3 were used as two different timepoints.

Descriptive statistics and regression analyzes have been performed to study the relationship between psychosocial factors and future bullying in academia. We used logistic regressions to calculate odds ratios (ORs) with the 95% confidence interval (95% CI). The odds ratio gives an idea of ​​ the relationship is between psychosocial work-related factors and future bullying in the workplace.


In study 1, we found that factors such as lack of support, low control, inconsistent role demands, poor leadership, poor organizational climate, high sickness absence and high sickness presence can be important predictors of future bullying. We found that factors in an academic setting differ somewhat for academics and non-academic staff. This might indicate that type of job should be take into consideration in attempts to successfully prevent bullying at an early stage.

In study 2, we found that the prevalence of harassment among academics was 5.6 percent at the first timepoint and 6.6 percent at the second timepoint. The group that was most exposed to harassment was the lecturers (teaching positions) in both timepoints followed by PhD students. In fact, it was shown that being a lecturer increased the risk, of being harassed by about almost two times compared to senior researchers. For PhD students the risk was 1.70 times higher be exposed to harassment compared to senior researchers.

The most common types of harassments were not defined in the discrimination act but was referred to as “other”. However, comparing men and women, there was a difference. Women were to a higher extent exposed to sexual harassment whereas men were more exposed to harassment due to ethnicity. The most common perpetrators were a colleague within the organization or a manger/leader.

Researchers, project time and funding

Researchers in study 1 were Christina Björklund, Irene Jensen, Marjan Vaez och Ulrik Stoetzer.

Researchers in study 2 are Christina Björklund, Irene Jensen, Malin Mattson Molnar  and Anna Wärnquist.  (This is still ongoing).

The project started in 2011.

The project was financed by av AFA- insurance.


Björklund, C., Vaez, M., & Jensen, I. (2020): Early work- environmental indicators of bullying in an academic setting: a longitudinal study of staff in a medical university, Studies in Higher Education,

Björklund, C., Mattson Molnar, M., Wärnquist, A., & Jensen,I. Harassment in an academic setting. How frequent is it , what types of harassment are present and who are the perpetrators? (ongoing)

The research and collaboration programme on gender-based violence 


The experience-based stories that emerged during #metoo have shown the extent and consequences of different forms of gender-based violence and victimization - at the individual, organizational and societal levels. However, research, both internationally and in Sweden, shows that we know too little about prevalence, causes and consequences. The programme aims to, with an interdisciplinary approach, contribute to the creation of new knowledge both theoretically and empirically as well as to develop the work with prevention and promotion. By applying a critical perspective on sexual harassment, we want to invite an examination of academia’s organization and structures and thereby contribute to sustainable change.

Purpose and goal

The goal of the programme is to establish research-based knowledge of inclusive work and study environments and a sustainable organization for the prevention of sexual harassment and gender-based violence and victimization in academia. The programme will, by extension, contribute to strengthening and intensifying work on academia's organizational culture, with a focus on quality, sustainable development, work environment, leadership, equality and equal opportunities.

The programme in brief

The programme aims to create a common platform for the work against sexual harassment and gender-based violence in academia.

The programme will include the following activities:

  • A national study of prevalence, causes and consequences of sexual harassment and gender-based violence and victimization in the entire Swedish higher education sector.
  • Development of new research-based knowledge of sexual harassment and gender-based violence and victimization in various contexts of the academy: at the individual, organizational and sectoral level that can serve as support in development work and
  • Common platforms, arenas and networks for both research collaborations and opportunities for joint improvement work.

The first task of the programme will be to identify sexual harassment and gender-based violence and victimization at a cross-sectoral level through a national prevalence study. The study will identify occurrence, causes and consequences and from an intersectional perspective. The study aims to cover all the higher educational institutions in Sweden as well as all students and employees. Based on the results of the study and existing research, the higher education institutions, both individually and jointly, will be able to initiate various research and development projects. The various arenas for collaboration provide a frame for this work.

Organization of the programme

The programme was initiated by KI, KTH, Malmö University and the Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research at the university of Gothenburg, but is based on collaboration between the higher education institutions in Sweden.

Funding, project time and participants

KI, KTH, Malmö University and The Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research at the University of Gothenburg are funding and conducting the prevalence study. The long-term goal is for the programme to become an independent, stable research environment.

The people involved in the programme are from Karolinska Institutet the programme leader and member of the steering committee Karin Dahlman Wright, coordinator Ulrika Helldén research leader, Christina Björklund, and communication officer, Tamara Fenjan. From Malmö University, Kerstin Tham, member of the steering committee, Charlotta Löfgren-Mårtenson, research leader and Cristina Liljeroth, coordinator. From Swedish Secretariat for Gender Research at the university of Gothenburg, Fredrik Bondeman member of the steering committee, Lisa Rudolfsson, research leader and Maja Lundqvist, coordinator. Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Anna Wahl, research leaders and member of the steering committee and Katrin Mörck, coordinator.

The programme started in 2019 and will continue until 2024.

Read more about our the Research and Collaboration Programme on Gender-based Violence here.

Read out our interview about our increased focus on sexual harassment in academia here.

Contact us

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Irene Jensen

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Christina Björklund

Principal Researcher
Content reviewer:
Anna Frantz