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Making Strides Towards a Culture of Civility

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 deep.

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 a priority.

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 run rampant.

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.

Take this assessment 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 incivility-free workplace.

You must:

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.

Join Catherine for session 104 at Contact Center Expo: End Harassment by Creating a Respectful Culture.