Catherine Mattice Zundel
Published: May 01, 2019 | Comments
Negative behaviors like bullying, harassment, and violence can occur in any
organization, in any industry. I have worked with universities, banks,
restaurants, insurance companies, and more, but one industry really hits
home for me – call centers.
Over a decade ago, I worked as the Director of HR for a call center in San Diego, and found myself working with a bully. I
experienced the bullying as a target, and as an HR Director. Not only was I
on the receiving end of his micromanagement, aggressive communication, and
other negative behaviors, but I also dealt with the turnover he created and
spent time consoling employees who were unfortunate enough to get caught in
his tornado of toxicity. Eventually, the toll on me was too much to bare,
and I resigned my position.
From there, I started building my business and dedicated myself to working
with organizations to build positive work environments where employees are
happy and thriving - in a time where corporate culture wasn’t a priority.
Back then, many organizations were still in the habit of treating employees
like numbers instead of the assets they truly are. Requests to speak at
conferences and professional associations were denied or ignored, but I
kept trekking forward, devoted to my mission. Then one denial really cut
A collection center reached out to me after two of their employees
committed suicide, partially due to repeated toxic behavior they
experienced at work. Determined to help this organization, I drafted a
detailed proposal with a step by step plan to help the organization make
employees’ lives better.
On the day I was scheduled to meet with the CEO and all the other
decision-makers, I got an email eight minutes prior to the call from the HR
Director I’d been working with. It simply said, “Leadership has determined
this is not a priority, so our meeting is canceled.”
I spent the day in shock and tears - suicide was not enough to make culture
Over the last ten years I’ve seen culture evolve into a hot business topic
and with the #MeToo movement in full swing, organizations are looking to
solve negative behaviors such as harassment with training and policy – but
that’s only one part of the puzzle. True harassment prevention is rooted in
a positive culture where any and all negative behaviors are not allowed to
Call centers are unique and ripe with bullying and harassment because
employees constantly deal with the outside world – and employers have to
protect their employees from those 100 plus people they talk to throughout
the day, in addition to negative colleagues. This means that if culture
isn’t nurtured and steps aren’t taken to create a positive environment,
toxic behavior is inevitable.
to see if your organization is fostering a negative work environment
without even realizing it.
Understand that one act of incivility - that goes unacknowledged or
addressed - sends the message that bad behavior is acceptable. This leaves
room for more egregious acts to occur. To
create a harassment-free workplace, you have to create an
1. Train managers to step into bad behavior complaints.
Employees who confide in their manager about negative treatment and don’t
feel heard and validated lose trust in that manager. Managers need to
listen actively, ask questions to understand the behavior and offer
resources to their employees. They also need to help the person engaging in
negative behavior make a change.
2. Train employees to speak up for themselves and others.
Provide employees the tools to stand up for themselves when they experience
negative behaviors both from colleagues and customers – and make sure you
explicitly give permission to do so. Make sure also to include training on
stepping in for others when they witness negative interactions.
3. Create a culture that supports employees. Corporate
culture dictates behavior. A culture that encourages employees to have
candid conversations with each other about behavior squashes toxicity
before it can escalate. A culture that does not actually encourages employees to reach out to an attorney when they feel targeted rather than
going through internal channels.
Employees are an organization's biggest asset and investment. Failing to
treat them as such is a huge mistake. Because of the nature of their work,
call centers are breeding grounds for negative behaviors that can be
harmful to employees and costly to the organization. It’s time to start
valuing employees as more than voices on the phone.