test 33 
Five Action Steps for a More Positive Work Culture
Skip to content

Talent Acquisition

Five Action Steps for a More Positive Work Culture

One Minute Takeaway

  • 75% of employee who feel harassed never report it
  • When incivility and unprofessionalism are allowed, harassment and bullying follow
  • Anti-harassment training should focus on behavior and self-awareness, not legislation

We know that creating a positive and welcoming work environment is a cornerstone of a strong company culture—it helps organizations attract talent and increases productivity.

Paycor recently hosted a webinar by Catherine Mattice Zundel, president of training and consulting firm Civility Partners, HR consultant and author of several books on ending workplace bullying. She’s passionate about employers’ responsibility for creating a workplace where all employees can thrive.

To help HR leaders create more positive work cultures, we’re sharing the key findings of the webinar.

Why Employees are Afraid to Speak Up

75% of people who feel harassed never report it—a result found by separate studies by SHRM and the EEOC. Consider the number one reason people don’t speak up: fear of retaliation. Both harassment and retaliation are illegal, yet 3 out of 4 people are scared. Why?

Most organizations have anti-harassment policies, but are they followed in practice? Let’s consider the reasons employees don’t speak up about harassment:

  • Fear of retaliation
  • Fear of looking weak by seeming emotional
  • Bystander effect—believing someone else will speak up
  • Fear that making waves will be bad for career profession
  • Previous bad experiences with your current or previous employer
  • Organizational norms and culture—if bullying has gone on a long time, it might seem to employees that the behavior has the company’s approval

How Harassment and Bullying Occur

Too often, HR leaders have a poor understanding of how harassment and bullying actually work. 40 years of research into workplace bullying is clear: employees rarely start bullying the day they are hired. 99% of the time, it begins with unprofessionalism and incivility.

It could be rolling their eyes at a staff meeting, making snarky comments, firing off an ugly, negative email or pointing out mistakes in public. If these behaviors aren’t challenged, they become more frequent and more aggressive. Put a stop to these micro-aggressions early, and you’ll reduce the chances of it escalating into something more serious.

Conflict is normal, and it can be good, but it can also lead to incivility and unprofessionalism. Managers can’t allow conflicts to go unresolved. Believing that your team can figure out their conflicts themselves is dangerous. When frustrations mount, that’s when bullying begins.

Bullying v Harassment

Bullying is an overarching term for abuse of conduct at work. Group bullying is known as mobbing or hazing. If bullying is targeting at a protected class (race, religion, sex etc) it becomes harassment. Harassment is a form of discrimination, which becomes unlawful when:

1) Enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or,
2) The conduct is severe or pervasive enough a reasonable person would consider it intimidating, hostile or abusive.

If bullying is extreme, it can become workplace violence. While this includes punching or fighting, it can also be yelling or aggressive posturing. Picture a bully puffing up their chest, veins popping—they create a real sense of fear, which amounts to violence.

Changing Culture Takes More than Policy and Training

Creating a clear anti-harassment policy and training staff is important. Rather than legal definitions, focus on how harassment actually happens. Emphasize the importance of respect, civility and speaking up—giving people the tools to manage their own culture.

Culture also depends on leadership and behavior throughout your organization. People follow the cues of others. Training on its own isn’t enough to alter behavior—the way employees act is also shaped by core values, performance management and how policies are enacted.

Five Action Steps for a More Positive Work Culture

Step 1. Get Leadership on Board

Leadership must:

  • Commit to change
  • Support respect/civility initiatives
  • Be involved in the process

The CEO doesn’t need to be involved day-to-day, but meaningful change does require an executive sponsor to give permission to and support initiatives. 

Step 2. Conduct an assessment

An organizational assessment can prove more useful than a specific investigation.


  • Attempt to understand facts
  • Focused on one person’s story
  • May result in resolution for one problem area


  • Attempts to understand risk factors and cultural reality
  • Focused on everybody’s story
  • May result in resolution for many

When you conduct an assessment, make sure you know what you learn and tailor questions accordingly. A one-size-fits-all employee engagement survey may not fit your needs.

Step 3. Develop Action Items

Once you’ve completed your survey, you’ll have data on what people need and how they’ll feel. Create an action team of employees and leadership representing the full diversity of your organization. They should go through the survey and create a strategic plan. When the survey is completed, act quickly to build good faith.

Step 4. Use Your Core Values.

A consistent fact among toxic companies is that they don’t lean on their core values. Commitment to values should be seen as a core job competencies. Being able to believe in and fulfill core values is just as important as an employee’s other job responsibilities.

Step 5. Perpetuate Positive Behavior

Implement a healthy workplace policy and hold people accountable to it. Don’t end with anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies; explain what behavior you want from employees.

Managers are responsible for….

  • Setting expectations
  • Managing incivility, so it doesn’t escalate to bullying
  • Coaching behavior and performance
  • Creating a positive workplace for their team

All employees have a responsibility for…

  • Conflict management
  • Communication skills
  • Stress management
  • Customer service
  • Leadership
  • Respect and civility
  • Assertiveness
  • Inclusivity

Provide Coaching

Incivility, bullying and negative behaviors are a performance problem. Early intervention prevents escalation to harassment, the creation of a negative culture, and other future damage.

Many assume that bullies…

  • Are fully aware
  • Intend to harm
  • Cannot change

In reality, bullies …

  • May be totally unaware
  • Intend to get the job done, not cause harm
  • Can change (usually)

How Paycor Helps

Paycor builds HR solutions for leaders. With Paycor, you can modernize every aspect of people management, from the way you recruit, onboard and develop your team, to the way you pay and retain them. See how Paycor can help the leaders of your organization solve the problems of today and tomorrow.