Workplace Culture

While MSU has been ranked as one of the top 10 universities to work for (2012), there has been much conversation on campus lately about workplace climate and culture, and how we feel treated, at times more or less respectfully. Last semester, we talked with many Spartans who are very interested in learning more and finding ways to address unprofessional, uncivil, or bullying behavior when it does occur. We have assembled some resources to address equitable participation, harassment and discrimination in higher education.  It is our hope that these materials may contribute to the many constructive campus conversations, and hopefully facilitate a comprehensive, systemic approach to continuously recreating the kind of place we want to be in, where we all can thrive. The WorkLife Office welcomes and greatly appreciates any comments, suggestions or questions you may have as we move along this trajectory as a community, from conversation to changing the culture and the climate on campus. We are delighted to be part of these conversations, and our office is ready to help in any way we can. Click on the following resources to learn more (Require MSU NetID to view).

Toward a Respectful Workplace

MSU has launched a new website!  Visit today!

Click here to view our newly built WorkPlace Research webpage

In addition to the materials above, please enjoy the recent podcast with Dr. Barbara Roberts, Executive Director of the WorkLife Office and Dr. Morteza Mahmoudi, researcher in nanomedicine and academic bullying.MSU Podcast

Click here to listen to this podcast episode on Apple Podcasts.  Help others find the podcast by sharing the link with your friends and colleagues.

Click here to learn more about the Academic Parity Movement and take the survey mentioned in the podcast.

Listen to the program below!

Definitions @MSU

MSU Values

Three core values – quality, inclusiveness, and connectivity

Examples of sources that include this language:

University Wide Tolerance and Civility @MSU

MSU strives to build an academic community with living and learning environments that expects tolerance of viewpoints and civility toward others, whether at public forums, athletic events, in residential communities, classrooms or laboratories.

We call upon all who participate in university events to promote tolerance and civil behavior and to hold themselves to high standards that reflect the university’s commitment to respect viewpoints that may be different from their own. Only by respecting individuals with diverse perspectives and ideas can we build an environment of civility that is conducive to advancing knowledge and transforming lives.

(This statement was endorsed by the University Committee on Faculty Affairs and the University Committee on Student Affairs and approved by the Academic Council on April 20, 2010)

MSU Faculty Statement on Campus Climate, Diversity and Inclusion

We the faculty place the highest value on the free exchange of scholarly ideas and points of view, with the understanding that those are open to challenge. We take pride in the strength of our diversity and our ability to work together with respect and equality.

(Source: Link)

MSU Faculty Senate Ad-Hoc Committee Statement

We strive for a supportive environment that is free from hate, racism, sexism, misogyny, ableism, religious discrimination, and bullying of any kind. We are working to make a positive difference.

(Source: Link)

MSU Faculty Rights and Responsibilities

…[A] fundamental commitment to academic freedom and maintained through reasoned discourse, intellectual honesty, mutual respect and openness to constructive criticism and change… The responsibility to carry out assigned teaching, research, and public service duties in a professional manner and in keeping with University policy… The responsibility to pursue excellence and intellectual honesty… The responsibility to work in a collegial manner

(Source: Link)

MSU Support Staff Handbook

…Unwelcome conduct that is objectively and subjectively severe, persistent or pervasive and creates an unreasonable interference with the individual’s work or education experience is considered harassment… Behavior that is based on a protected category, but does not rise to the level of prohibited harassment under the ADP, may nonetheless be unprofessional in the workplace, disruptive in the classroom, or violate other University policies and, like other behavior that is unprofessional, disruptive, or violates a University policy or ordinance, could warrant discipline.

(Source: Rules Governing Personal Conduct of Employees)

MSU Union Contracts

The following language is found in at least 3 union contracts.

The parties are mutually committed to promoting respect, civility, teamwork and empowerment in the work place

Sources: Collective Bargaining AgreementsAPAAPSACTU)

MSU Deans’ Commitment

(1) create a culture that is transparent, open, trusting, and safe; (2) cultivate caring and accountable leadership; and (3) empower everyone to be engaged in a community that is inclusive and equitable.

(Source: Link)

MSU Anti-Discrimination Policy

[T]he University community holds itself to certain standards of conduct more stringent than those mandated by law. Thus, even if not illegal, acts are prohibited under this policy if they:

  • Discriminate against any University community member(s) through inappropriate limitation of employment opportunity, access to University residential facilities, or participation in education, athletic, social, cultural, or other University activities on the basis of age, color, gender, gender identity, disability status, height, marital status, national origin, political persuasion, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, or weight; or

  • Harass any University community member(s) on the basis of age, color, gender, gender identity, disability status, height, marital status, national origin, political persuasion, race, religion, sexual orientation, veteran status, or weight.

(Source: Link)

MSU Non-Retaliation Statement

MSU is committed to conducting prompt and equitable investigations and will appropriately address violations of University policy. Upon completion of an investigation, students and employees found to have engaged in acts of harassment, discrimination or retaliation will be promptly disciplined. If circumstances warrant, discipline may include suspension, expulsion, or termination…


MSU will implement reasonably available supportive or interim measures to protect a claimant and facilitate the claimant’s continued access to University employment or education programs and activities

(Source: Link)

MSU Additional Definitions and Resources

For more information, please review the following policies and resources:

Other Universities

University of New Brunswick

Harassment: Behavior which serves no legitimate purpose and which the instigator knows, or ought reasonably to know, has the effect of creating an intimidating, humiliating, hostile or offensive environment.

(Source: Link)

Colorado State University

Bullying in the context of the workplace is repeated mistreatment by words or actions that are intended to shame, embarrass, humiliate, degrade, demean, intimidate, and/or threaten an individual or group.

(Source: Link)

University of Wisconsin – Madison

Hostile and intimidating behavior is defined as unwelcome behavior pervasive or severe to the extent that it makes the conditions for work inhospitable and impairs another person’s ability to carry out his/her responsibilities to the university, and that does not further the University’s academic or operational interests. A person or a group can perpetrate this behavior. The person need not be more senior than or a supervisor to the target.

(Source: Link)

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

People who step on others often have several perspectives that seem to be immutable justifications. Let’s bust some myths about justifying disrespectful behavior.

First, is there a difference between bullying and incivility, or are they the same?

Bullying is behavior that has no legitimate purpose, is known or reasonably ought to be known to be unwelcome, and creates a hostile, intimidating, toxic or humiliating environment. (UNB, 2011) It is generally thought to be a pattern of persistent, repetitive behavior targeted at an individual or group of individuals. Most often, there is a power imbalance involved, which is exploited to the detriment of the targeted party. If it is based on a protected class, e.g. based on religion, race, nationality, gender, etc, it is discriminatory. If it is not based on a protected class, it is nonetheless unacceptable.

Incivility, by contrast, is conduct that is not typically persistent or targeted toward an individual or group, but may be frequent, generalized rude behavior exercised toward any/everyone, without any pattern. It does not typically convey a threat to the other party/parties present, but is generally outside the bounds of respectful, equitable, dignified communication. Examples would include but not be limited to vulgar, or hostile comments: profanity, rudeness, overt unfairness and unprofessional conduct.

“But I didn’t intend...”

Lack of intent does not mitigate the consequence of behavior. “I didn’t intend to kill someone when I got in the car” does not resurrect the victim. “I didn’t mean that comment in a racist way, I’m just saying...” does not erase the impact of the words. Spilled milk is still on the floor, and even mopping it up does not replace the lost milk - or the breach in relationship that is created when respect is dismissed in favor of intent. Knowing there was no intent to harm is the beginning of the conversation toward understanding; it is not an excuse or rationale.

"The unprofessional co‐worker is often unaware of their behaviour, particularly in environments where like behaviours are tolerated. As such, these enactors are framed as lacking the conscious malicious intent of bullying, as committed by a pathological bully and the need to justify their behaviour, as a self‐justified bully might."

Taylor, R. A., & Taylor, S. S. (2017). Enactors of Horizontal Violence: The Pathological Bully, the Self-Justified Bully and the Unprofessional Co-Worker. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 73(12), 3111–3118.

“That’s just their perception...”

The target’s perception/experience of an event is as valid as the perpetrator’s intent or lack thereof. See above. Dismissing the reality of consequences is as disrespectful of others’ lived experience as the damaging action was in the first place. This supposed justification just adds salt to the wound. From another “perspective”, why does “stand your ground” legislation hinge on the perception of threat by the homeowner, not on the intent of the intruder (to seek help, ask directions, introduce themselves)? Clearly, perception counts when it supports the power imbalance; why not when it calls out power imbalance?

"Some targets may not perceive their treatment as bullying, while others may simply avoid self‐labelling as a target/victim because being bullied connotes weakness or childishness (Rayner et al., 2002). As a result, assessing bullying prevalence based on perceptions of being targeted likely results in a level of underreporting."

Lutgen‐Sandvik, P., Tracy, S. J., & Alberts, J. K. (2007). Burned by Bullying in the American Workplace: Prevalence, Perception, Degree and Impact*. Journal of Management Studies, 44(6), 837–862.

Rayner, C., Hoel, H., & Cooper, C. (2002). Workplace Bullying: What We Know, Who Is to Blame and What Can We Do? CRC Press.

“I’m exercising my right to freedom of speech...”

We are not, in fact, free to say anything that comes into our heads to whomever we choose whenever we like.  It is a hate crime to say things that incite violence against others because of personal characteristics, because people will get hurt. We cannot talk about confidential information because it is a breach of someone’s privacy and people get hurt. Our freedoms of speech, religion, peaceable assembly and so on are freedoms only until other people get hurt. They are freedoms to hold differing beliefs, to practice different religious expressions, to gather with contrasting points of view - they are not freedoms to be unleashed on one another in hatred, violence or disrespect. They are not freedoms to force one another into submission, oppression or exclude participation.

"[T]here are a number of reasons why companies should pay close attention to communicating both the law and their own perspective. The first is that many employees do not fully grasp the limitations on their right to free speech in the workplace and need to have these limitations clearly explained. The second is that in the age of the internet and social media, the lines between private and public speech have essentially been erased, creating many ambiguous situations."

Hirsch, P. B. (2018). Trolls in the Cafeteria: Managing Political Speech in the Workplace. The Journal of Business Strategy, 39(6), 56–59.

“I am exercising my academic freedom...”

Academic freedom is not a license to mistreat others, to diminish or suppress ideas or participation, or to treat disrespectfully those with whom we may quite legitimately disagree. Academic freedom is a construct designed to protect the exploration and expression of thought, ideas and innovation that may go against the status quo or the institutional position, and must not be constrained by threats of job loss, curtailment of exploration or funding cuts. Academic freedom is not a freedom to be abusive of others. It must be exercised with wisdom, respect and responsibility, in recognition of the protection of creative, challenging ideas without censure or job loss. It is a misuse of academic freedom to justify abuse.

"Some supervisors get away with abuse for years. The tendency of universities to take a hands-off approach in the name of academic freedom provides few brakes on outrageous behaviours."

Moss, S. (2018). Research Is Set up for Bullies to Thrive. Nature, 560(7719), 529–530.

“That’s just them... they don’t mean anything by their [harsh tone or mean comments or disparaging remarks]. Don’t take them so seriously”

Excusing abuse as a function of someone’s personality is like saying we should tolerate being struck in the face because the person has poor aim. Or that it’s OK for some people to be disrespectful because of their personality, but it’s not OK for others. So, if I’m garrulous and jovial, I can say whatever I want and no one will complain - “that’s just them”, but if I am quiet and retiring my mean remarks are unacceptable? Who can and who cannot be abusive because it’s “just them”? If I am unkind and disrespectful to everyone does that make it alright? (What kind of world would we have in that case?) No, it is not sufficient to excuse disrespectful behavior because it is a function of personality, style, or power.

Employees "can assist managers' efforts to deal with bullying by providing appropriate documentation of behaviors and by not excusing or normalizing these behaviors."

Johnson, S. L., Boutain, D. M., Tsai, J. H.-C., Beaton, R., & Castro, A. B. de. (2015). An Exploration of Managers’ Discourses of Workplace Bullying. Nursing Forum, 50(4), 265–273.

“I was only joking!”

When someone is insulted, it is doubly hurtful to then minimize that experience by calling the event a joke. Not only was it experienced as hurtful, that hurt was then dismissed. More salt in the wound. Should we not respect the experience of another - whether we agree or understand it or not, it is theirs - and stop to learn about that? Falling back on an excuse of joking only makes the situation worse. Seek first to understand, not to dismiss, another’s experience.

"[T]he legal framework – specifically, the definition of bullying and related legislation such as health and safety laws and equal employment opportunity legislation – is key for HRPs (human resource professionals) in establishing whether joking behaviours transgress into bullying."

Djurkovic, N., McCormack, D., Hoel, H., & Salin, D. (2020). Joking Behaviours and Bullying from the Perspective of Australian Human Resource Professionals. Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 58(3).