WorkLife Annual Conference: Toward a Positive Work Environment

Webinar Category
Webinar Date
Webinar Description
Toxic work environments, including instances of bullying and incivility, are highly prevalent in higher education.  Workplace climate and culture, at an institutional level, can affect the lived experience of individual employees.  Levels of safety and trust vary, resulting in different work environments within the same institution. This conference will address bullying, incivility in the workplace, and bystander intervention.

For PDF copies of the keynote and breakout session slides, click here - (link requires MSU NetID)

Toward a Respectful Workplace theme


Click any of the sections below to expand/collapse and learn more!

8:40a- 9:30a Keynote: Barbara Roberts


“Towards a Positive Work Environment: Where bullying has no place”

Bullying is not just a matter of perception, excessive sensitivity, or political correctness. It is not a matter of academic freedom or freedom of expression. Bullying is an abuse of power, which may or may not be based on race, gender, religion, disability or other protected class or identities. This conference draws upon an interdisciplinary research project on workplace bullying that occurs at MSU, outside the constructs of protected classes of people. In the context of current standards and expectations already in place at MSU, the keynote address will describe the project, and explore definitions what bullying is and is not. While the world has changed, the basics have not, and whether online, in print or in person, bullying is unacceptable in the workplace and academia. A new interactive website and teaching tool will be utilized, providing an ever-present resource for questions about bullying as they arise, and steps we can take to identify, address and prevent workplace bullying.

9:40a -10:50a Three Breakout Sessions

Session A

Filling the space: Integrative responding to academic bullying in higher education

Who should attend: Faculty, Post-Docs, PIs, Deans, Chairs

Presenter: Morteza Mahmoudi, Department of Radiology and Precision Health Program

Morteza Mahmoudi

About the Session

Academic bullying represents a serious issue that affects all disciplines and people of all levels of experience. To create a truly safe, productive and vibrant  environment in academia requires coordinated and collaborative input and action of a variety of stakeholders including scholarly communities, funding agencies, and institutions. In this presentation, I will focus on a framework of integrated responding  in which stakeholders as responsible and response able parties could proactively collaborate and coordinate to reduce the incidence and consequences of academic bullying while building constructive academic cultures.

Session B

Incivility in the workplace: Combating toxicity and improving workplace climate

Who should attend: Staff, Supervisors, Faculty, Post-Docs, PIs, Deans, Chairs

Presenters: Ann Marie Ryan and Jo Alanis, Psychology Department

Ann Marie Ryan

Jo AlanisAbout the Session

Complaints about incivility, bullying, and other toxic behaviors in the workplace are often met with advice to “just ignore it,” or “don’t let the haters get to you.”  However, research shows that incivility in the workplace has real consequences on the performance, well-being, and health of all – even those who are not targets or who claim to be able to ignore it.  In this presentation, we will discuss how incivility affects our attention, information processing, decision-making, creativity and other relevant aspects of being productive, in addition to effects on relationships, job satisfaction, and individual mental and physical health.  Common objections to taking an active approach to addressing incivility will be discussed (e.g., freedom of speech, intellectual freedom) and participants will share strategies for creating a more civil workplace climate.


Session C

When “I just didn’t know what to say” isn’t enough: Bystander Training for Bullying

Who should attend: Staff, Supervisors, Faculty, Post-Docs, PIs, Deans, Chairs

Presenters: Claudia Finkelstein, College of Human Medicine and Sabbi Merz, Prevention, Outreach and Education

Sabbi (she/her) is a Prevention Specialist in the Prevention, Outreach, and Education department at MSU. She oversees the content for the first- and second-year student workshops. This includes the Sexual Assault and Relationship Violence (SARV) Prevention Workshop and the Bystander Network Workshops.



Sabbi graduated from Western Michigan University with degrees in Interpersonal Communication and Educational Leadership for higher education. She also has a WMU Signature in Health and Wellness. While at WMU, Sabbi coordinated the Bystander Intervention and Sexual Health Peer Education programs.

Contact Sabbi:

Claudia Finkelstein

Sabbi Merz

About the Session

There is increasing awareness of the prevalence of workplace and academic bullying.

There is no room for either in a positive workplace environment. Institutional change takes time but, we, as individuals may still act

Despite the increased awareness and decreased tolerance for bullying, many of us are caught short when witnessing occurrences of bullying and sometimes stay silent or walk away not knowing what to say or do.

Please join us for this interactive one hour breakout session to learn practical skills and phrases.

You will have a chance to practice them in a low risk environment. These skills can be used when witnessing discrimination based on gender, race or ability as well.

11:00a - Noon Wrap-Up and Conclusion

  • Facilitated sharing of learnings from sessions with others
  • Discussion, Q&A 


"Group Share Out"

During the 11a - noon wrap-up session, participants will share:

What is 1 thing you learned and can implement tomorrow to promote a positive work place?

That is your goal!

Barbara Roberts will lead this session using the "Poll Everywhere" technology with support from Tiana Carter.

Goal-Setting Check-In Process: Attendees will set your personal goal.  Keep it to yourself.  We will never see that personal goal.  However, we will follow-up with you about 1 month after the conference to check in and see if you have met your goal, things that helped you accomplish your goal, and/or any barriers you encountered.



  • What word describes a toxic work environment? (word wall) toxic
  • Have you witnessed/experienced workplace bullying on campus. (Y/N) 


  • What word describes a positive work environment? (word wall) 



  • What is one thing you can do this week to help build a respectful workplace?
    • Appreciate someone
      Ask for clarification and hold people accountable
      Assess my own behavior to confirm I am a good role model
      Be brave and ready to call out poor behavior
      Be empathetic
      be genuine
      be inclusive
      be kind
      Be mindful with responses
      Be positive and helpful
      be respectful
      Be the change
      Bring this topic up in the next all staff meeting.
      Consider everyone's feelings
      Create a space for open communication and respect
      Encourage all DDC to take this session.
      Express gratitude
      express your faith
      Have a conversation with my boss
      Have a transparent conversation
      I hope leadership at the highest level of MSU will recognize the prevalence of these issues!
      listen and speak up when it happens
      Listen more, talk less.
      mindful of impact
      Model by example
      Model desired behavior
      Practice humility and empathy
      Reach out to colleagues to see how they are doing
      Realize my intent doesn't override someone's perceptoin
      recognize others often
      Safely practice intervening with inappropriate behavior
      Send resources to department colleagues
      Set team guidelines
      Share gratitude and appreciation for members or your team
      share resources
      share this information
      Share this training with my supervisor and co-workers.
      Share this training with other colleagues
      Share this training!
      show grace
      show gratitude
      speak up
      Stand up for others.
      Start off emails with an encouragement
      Start the day with a positive note to colleagues.
      Talk to others who have been impacted.
      Tell them the Provost is supporting this initiative and they may be interested in learning more
      Think before I speak.
      Treat others the way I like to be treated
      Treat others the way THEY want to be treated.
      Treat others the way you want to be treated
      watch for the incivility spiral
      Watch other sessions and pass the information to others.
      Watch the other sessions!

Small groups 

  • What did you learn about incivility/workplace toxicity today?
  • How do these things impact individuals, the workplaces, the culture of the larger unit/college?
  • If you witness incivility/bullying/toxic moment/discrimination, what did you learn that you can do or say?
  • What are some ideas for addressing the situation?
  • How can you help build a respectful workplace?

Goal Setting: Set yourself a goal.


Attendee Q&A

The following questions were posed to the panelists during the webinar but we did not have time to answer them during the conference.  Here are responses from Executive Director Barbara Roberts.

How does someone currently report suspected bullying, particularly for non-protected-by-legal-requirement areas and by a senior leader?

This depends on a number of things: your employee group, your relationship with your boss, the level/relationship to the bully, etc. For example, if you are in a union, you can discuss the situation with your union representative, or your supervisor, or both. If you are not in a union, and you are not comfortable talking with your supervisor (or your supervisor is the bully), you can go to the Office of Prevention, Outreach and Education. Or you could start there. Or you could start with the WorkLife Office to help you sort out the best path. Or you could go to Human Resources or Academic Human Resources, depending on your appointment type. You can see there are many paths, so the first place is probably one of the offices that can help you find your own best path that fits your situation – POE, WLO or HR. Visit our Workplace Conflict Resource Map (Navigation Guide) for more information.

You addressed the issue of 'perception' and largely dismissed this in many contexts.  I wonder about the role of misunderstanding between parties, more so in the less obviously egregious cases.  Could you comment on the role potential misunderstandings play in addressing conflict?

Of course. I did not mean to be dismissive of perception; perception matters enormously. Indeed, it is often the point. I meant to clarify that dismissing bullying as “just someone else’s perception” does not negate the consequences for that person. Perception cannot be used as an excuse.  Now, to your question of misunderstanding, yes – this is an excellent point. The possibility, or likelihood, of something resulting from a misunderstanding is why we recommend that people clarify the communication or the action, if they can. Asking questions like, “Did I just hear you say my work doesn’t matter? Because that’s how it sounded to me.” Or “Could you clarify what you meant by that comment?” Making some effort, whatever is feasible for the target, can start a clarifying conversation that might reveal an easily resolved misunderstanding.  A neutral third party, a supervisor or colleague, might also be able to help clarify something experienced as hurtful without escalating it to an incident of bullying. This is why I often teach people to reflect on and use the phrase,”I feel... when... because... I need...” For example, “I feel [name the feeling – hurt, insulted, confused, frustrated, angry...] when [name the action/behavior –I’m not allowed to complete my idea, or others are interrupted...] because [name the consequence – I can’t share my thoughts, or I can’t hear that person’s contribution]. And I need [name the alternative – everyone to be heard, less interrupting/talking over...]”  Starting with something like that can also help clarify a misunderstanding without invoking defensiveness or excuses that would result from putting someone on the spot with shaming and blaming or accusing.

Maybe having all faculty meetings on Zoom right now might help this.  I'm thinking I can put notes to myself on my wall behind my screen - - things I can call upon to calmly say during meetings.

This is a great idea. Not only does it remind you of how you want to be in a meeting, but the writing out of your goal/reminder requires reflection, writing down and placing it someplace, which reinforces the idea for you. And then it’s there for you in a meaningful way going forward.