Author Bio ▼

Dr Flis has a BA SSc and a PhD in organisational social psychology and is passionate about helping people who lead and work in organisations create better workplace experiences and improving work cultures. Get free resources and tactics on appropriately dealing with negative online and offline workplace behaviours at or contact Dr Flis at[email protected] or  LinkedIn. You can also follow Dr Flis on her blog Twitter or Facebook.
October 3, 2017

Get the SHP newsletter

Daily health and safety news, job alerts and resources

Dr Flis

Advice: How to build respectful behaviours in teams

Hi Dr Flis

My name is Lindsay and I’ve recently transferred to a new section that supports our top executive, which is a high tempo, high stress environment.

Last week, HR met with my boss and I to talk about the ‘dysfunction behaviours’ that have been reported recently, including online stalking and abuse, gossiping, bullying, and harassment. We were stunned.

HR has recommended placing everyone on the annual Respect In The Workplace re-fresher training, however I’m unsure that this is going to make much of a difference.

Can you help me please?

Kind regards,


Hi Lindsay

It’s really important to understand that dysfunctional work behaviours may sometimes make no sense at all.

I’ve inserted a video snippet below (or get the link here) that I’ve taken from my Pilot Program to help explain how dysfunctional or unhealthy, toxic conduct can start.

How stress can lead to dysfunctional team behaviours

Sometimes, unhealthy or dysfunctional work behaviours arise from unremitting stress that’s seen as unusual. For example, people may have been asked to ‘surge’ to meet a specific work demand, yet for some reason the stress hasn’t abated.

Also, there are different types of work stressors that can easily create dysfunctional conduct. These stressors can arise from a specific job, a workplace relationship, or from the work environment itself (i.e., culture/climate). Furthermore, studies have found significant links between people’s perceptions of high work stress and perceptions of low organisational justice. What do I mean by this?

How ongoing work stress can create perceptions of organisational injustice

Organisational justice is based on whether people perceive that they’re being treated fairly at work (e.g., fair salary/remuneration, fair management decisions and treatment, and fair processes and procedures).

Functional, healthy behaviours are more likely to develop when people feel they’re being treated fairly, and can trust their leaders, managers and processes.

Dysfunctional, unhealthy behaviours tend to arise when people feel that they can’t trust their leaders decisions or the work processes, and feel physically or psychologically unsafe.

STEP 1. Find out what’s really going on

It’s critical to first clarify what’s causing the unhealthy work environment before jumping into an implementation strategy, and so avoid making things worse.

Ask HR to run an anonymous health survey to unpack people’s worries and concerns (these surveys are good for teams with 50+ people) or consider implementing my Workplace Wish List, which is a simple, non-threatening tool I developed specifically for these situations.

Step 2. Build people’s skills and confidence to protect themselves

It’s can also be a good idea to provide people with the skills and confidence to accurately spot dysfunctional, unhealthy or toxic behaviour together with safe strategies to managing the conduct without making matters worse.

Locate a good course, or you can try my Experts Course: Expertly Managing Unhealthy, Dysfunctional Work Conduct.

There may also be some confusion about how to correctly diagnose the difference between bullying and other dysfunctional or toxic behaviours. As I describe in my ‘Beating Bullying Behaviours’ course, bullying behaviour is identified by three criterial including (1). persistent behaviour that’s designed to hurt, embarrass or defame a target(s), (2). That’s conducted by someone who’s perceived by the target as more powerful, (3). against whom the target(s) feels powerless to defend themselves.

Step 3. Build respectful, functional and healthy team behaviours and attitudes

If you want to avoid focusing on specific people or teams, it may be easier to build respectful, functional and healthy team behaviours. To help you get started, feel free to use my Respectful Work Cultures Blueprint to get going.

This blueprint is the foundation of my Creative, Healthy and Engaged Workplaces Initiative (CHEWI) program.

CHEWI is a two-pronged methodology. Firstly, it provides leaders, employees, HR, L&D and OHS professionals with the strategies and tools to actively build and instil respectful and healthy values, behaviours and attitudes into teams, workplaces and organisations. Secondly, it provides a framework that helps teams, workplaces and organisations to safely spot and manage dysfunctional or toxic conduct.

Dr Felicity (Flis) Lawrence | Email: [email protected]

My dissertation on the impact of on/offline bullying on people and workplaces in the Australian public sector was prompted by 25+ years leadership and management experience across private, military and government environments. Under my business brand, Dr Flis – Happier Workplaces For Creative, Engaged People, I provide leaders and people working in all organisations with strategies to both actively build respectful and healthy team or workplace behaviours and attitudes, and to safely stop toxic conduct. My focus is to shape safer, civil workplaces that sustain people’s good mental health, engagement and creativity. Follow me on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn.


What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


Related Topics

Notify of

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

Sad to see that such an important topic is being used as a marketing pitch

6 years ago

This article helped make sense of what’s been going on recently. My team lost 3 staff over the past few weeks and the boss has asked that we cover the workload until we recruit. The problem is, there’s no budget. I’m not sure about the others but the extra work load is getting me down and I’m worried my health will break.

Nigel Dupree
Nigel Dupree
6 years ago

Another 10 years with 2m plus functionally and digitally illiterate school leavers joining the 30% plus of the rest of UK population and the transition to an Hourglass Economy of haves and have-nots will be all but complete. De-skilling and depreciation of human resources will foster early replacement with more efficient resources that are able to sustain optimal performance and productivity and, will not suffer from work-related stress nor Computer Vision Syndrome or Screen Fatigue. “Work Exposure Limits” will not apply and nor will they need to take a tea / pee break or suffer a degree of presenteeism simply… Read more »