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The lived experience of toxic leadership in Irish higher education

Declan Fahie (School of Education, University College Dublin, Dublin, Ireland)

International Journal of Workplace Health Management

ISSN: 1753-8351

Article publication date: 29 October 2019

Issue publication date: 3 September 2020




The purpose of this paper is to reveal the lived experience of toxic leadership for a cohort of 11 individuals who work, or have worked, in the field of higher education in Ireland. Drawing on national and international literature, as well as the testimonies of a cohort of academic and administrative staff, the study considers the impact of this negative management style on these individuals as well as upon the organisation itself.


A total of 11 self-selected individuals (four males and seven females) were interviewed for this pilot study. Data from the semi-structured interviews were organised thematically and analysed with the support of the computer software package MAXQDA®.


The results show that the experience of toxic leadership was profound for the interviewees across a number of contexts. They reported adverse physical and psychological impacts as well as detailing the repercussions for their respective career trajectories as they endeavoured to safely navigate their often-hostile work environment. Human resources departments within their respective institutions were the focus of considerable criticism by the interviewees who highlighted, what they saw as, the inherent contradiction/tension between the perceived roles and responsibilities of such departments in addressing or resolving interpersonal work-related disputes.


The findings expand on the extant scholarly literature on toxic leadership in higher education and, for the first time, offer a revealing insight on this phenomenon within the Irish context.



Fahie, D. (2020), "The lived experience of toxic leadership in Irish higher education", International Journal of Workplace Health Management, Vol. 13 No. 3, pp. 341-355.



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