Creating Better Workplaces by Eradicating Bullying and Creating More Effective Models

Hosted by Chris Dyer, the CEO of PeopleG2 – TalentTalk Radio features engaging conversation with CEOs, thought leaders and HR executives.  TalentTalk connects professionals who care about talent-related issues and having the cultural mindset to embrace the needed diversity of the workplace.

Today’s guests are Len Carter, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at Freeport Health Network and Catherine Mattice, President of Civility Partners. To hear the entire show, click here.

On the show today, the first guest is an HR veteran discussing effective models and programs while the second guest is an expert in creating positive, bullying-free work environments.

Len Carter bullying

An HR veteran, Len Carter has been working in the field of human resources since 1979 and has been with Freeport Health Network (FHN) for the past 24 years. FHN is an integrated healthcare system that employs 1,500 people and serves about 1,500 patients a day.

Having spent over 35 years in HR, Carter has witnessed the human resources department go through extensive changes and transitions over the years. From the manual side of HR to the tech-savvy one, Carter has seen it all. The most exciting change in the profession in the last decade, according to him, is the introduction of the new HR model – the HRBP (HR Business Partner) Strategic Model. This model enables HR leaders to work closely with various departments to help them achieve their strategic goals, which are tied to the organizational goals. FHN adopted this model in early 2011 in a category where only about 10 percent of healthcare organizations have moved to this model, allowing HR become a more of a strategic partner in the organization.

HRBP Model

At FHN, there are three HR business partners. On a daily basis, their role is to be with the department directors and help them drive their goals towards the end of the year. “In the earlier days of HR, you would sit in your office and wait for someone to come to you with an issue and you would solve it. Now with the technology and data, we take information to people and address problems that are developing. We are able to address problems they may have with talent plans such as performance assessment, quality of hire, and so on. Then we decide how to get the director and the staff in the department involved and work together to solve problems,” explains Carter. They also conduct quarterly surveys for inter-departmental satisfaction. According to Carter, this new model has been well received in his organization and is helping business leads substantially in their daily work lives.

Leadership Excellence Development Program

In 2003-2004, the HR metrics at FHN began to show some early warning signs of possible issues.  They stopped seeing an increase in returns, external reviews showed concerns tied to leadership and the staff survey showed negative decline in different leadership aspects. That year they had also participated in the Great Places to Work survey and saw similar results. These results forced them to analyze what was going wrong, and from there, worked to implement a number of changes in that two-year period. Central to these changes was leadership. FHN has always adhered to the evidence-based leadership standards, baked in the research of Kouzes and Posner.

Since prior leaders didn’t have enough experience and they weren’t getting the necessary coaching, a 22-month Leadership Excellence Development Program was created with the help of university research. It comprised of 18 months of actual curriculum that coached leaders on various leadership standards. In addition to normal classroom teaching, they heard from renown leadership experts. The program also included leadership assessments, literature and web-based reading, team projects and presentations. After the program concluded, FHN tracked the impact it had over the following years. The organization saw over 17% reduction in turnover, staff survey results jumped and patient loyalty scores increased 11%. This program was honored at SHRM’s Human Capital Leadership Awards in 2006.

The success of the leadership development program resulted in the organization developing two more programs. A 6-month on boarding program for leaders to orient them around the organization’s leadership standards. They also developed a Physician Leadership Institute, a 2-year program that to help physicians become better leaders.

Employee Engagement

Carter believes that HR professionals constantly turn to the market to find out what other people are doing. They adopt best practices of other organizations and try to make them work. According to Carter, these people typically fail. “I don’t believe in using just one initiative. You need to try determining the best initiative…that impacts the staff and ultimately the organization. It is also important that the initiatives have a life cycle. It is important from an HR perspective because you always have to keep looking at what the data is showing you about the workforce and how you need to respond to it,” advises Carter.

He strongly believes that for engagement to have an effect, performance goals developed at the top of the organization should cascade down throughout the organization at the individual level so that every employee knows how their work impacts the organization and its goals. This enables employees to become more involved in the process. Beyond this, Carter sites additional engagement tactics, including frequently recognizing individual and team contributions as well as utilizing preference assessments to understand what motivates individuals. Employees should be given growth and development opportunities by helping them with their education or through mentorship programs. “On the executive side, you can have leaders demonstrate their values and commitment to the mission of the organization. They can do employee-focused rounding where they meet individuals on a regular basis. Hand-written thank you notes also go a long way. At FHN, every executive has to write at least one thank you note each month. All of these initiatives have responded positively on the staff survey,” Carter elaborates. At the end of the day, employees want to feel valued and know that their work is making a difference, Carter sums up.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Len via email at his company website at

Catherine Mattice bullying

Catherine Mattice is a workplace bullying consultant – a distinct career path that was the result of her first-hand experience with bullying at work. She used to be the Director of Human Resources for an organization where she personally felt bullied. As the HR Director she was bearing the brunt of all the problems this person created. Around that time she was pursuing graduate school and came across the term workplace bullying. Having experienced this kind of bullying herself, she found the perfect opportunity to dive deeper. She dedicated all her school papers as well as the final thesis to workplace bullying. After graduation she realized she had all this knowledge that could be of use to other people and thus decided to launch Civility Partners, a consultancy that helps organizations solve the problem of workplace bullying and helps them create a positive work culture.

Workplace Bullying

It is important to understand what workplace bullying is and distinguish it from one-off instances of rude behavior by colleagues. There are three elements that define workplace bullying, Mattice explains. The first element is repetitive behavior. Someone yelling once or twice or having a bad day doesn’t qualify as a bully. In order to be considered bullying it has to be repetitive, long-time behavior. Research has quantified the frequency as something that happens at least once a week over a period of six months.

The second element is that it causes power imbalance between the bully and the target. “When two people have a working relationship and over time the bully is pushing on the target and the bullying behavior becomes more and more frequent it is time to raise red flags. The target comes to realize that the person has power over them and the bully realizes they have power over this person. This psychological imbalance is key to looking at workplace bullying because it’s different from a conflict. In a conflict there is no psychological power imbalance. There is just a disagreement,” Mattice explains.

Finally, bullying causes harm to the people who experience it and the people who witness it. They feel anxious, depressed, sad, afraid and stressed. Stress causes physical problems and thus, bullying has a psychological as well as physical effect on people witnessing it.

Behavioral Aspects of Bullying

In terms of bullying behaviors, Mattice says that there are three buckets. Aggressive communication is the first bucket of behavior. It includes nasty emails, getting in someone’s personal space, pointing fingers in someone’s face, yelling, and so on. The second bucket is humiliation, which includes ridiculing someone, spreading rumors, calling out mistakes in public ans cyber bullying. Manipulation is the last bucket of bullying behavior. According to Mattice, this is the hardest one to see or pinpoint because it is under the radar and mostly passive aggressive. Removing someone from their job responsibilities without any explanation, regularly assigning tasks that are far beneath or far above someone’s level of competency, setting up someone to fail by giving them way more work than others are all examples of bullying through manipulation.

While most people assume that bullies are always people in power who target their subordinates, it is not always the case; there are instances of bullying between peers and sometimes even senior employees are bullied by their juniors. Research shows that in 70% of the cases, it is a superior bullying people under them and in 30% of cases it is either peer-to-peer or a subordinate bullying their superior.

Positive Work Environment

“If you want to remove bullying, you have to replace it with something. In my opinion it is civility. In a work environment, people may not always love each other but they can at least treat one another with civility,” explains Mattice. When there’s civility, people talk to each other. If there’s fear and anxiety that comes from interacting with someone then you tend to stay away from them and it affects work eventually. With civility comes better communication and better relationships, which lead to people making better decisions and learning from each other. This creates an engaged and motivated workforce that feels valued and is willing to give 100% to their work. Thus, civility can be directly tied to the bottom line of an organization.

Psyche of a Bully

Bullies are always looking for power and tend to pick on everyone. People who give the green light by not speaking up for themselves are the safest targets for bullies. It often starts off with minor acts of power. After gauging who reacts in what ways, bullies pick their targets. In most cases they bully people they perceive as a threat. It could be a high performer or someone the leadership responds to well.

“Bullying is under the radar and is manipulative. Victims often call me with some horrifying stories about being bullied but no one around them can see it. HR doesn’t understand their problem and they feel confused and lost. Thus, because of the nature of bullying, it has got to do with the culture of an organization. If you have an organization that has a positive culture that is focused on respect then bullying…wouldn’t be allowed or tolerated. Bullying happens because people tolerate it and nobody says anything about it. Thus, the resolution has to be a change in culture,” says Mattice.

What Are You Reading?

Mattice is currently reading Practicing Positive Leadership: Tools and Techniques That Create Extraordinary Results by Kim Cameron. The book is about principles and practices that set highly-effective organizations apart from the merely successful ones.

How Can People Connect With You?

Connect with Mattice via Twitter at @CatMattice. To learn more about her company visit