You are currently using an unsupported browser which could affect the appearance and functionality of this website. Please consider upgrading to the latest version or using alternatives such as Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome or Microsoft Edge.

7.1 What is workplace culture and what are poor workplace behaviours?

Workplace culture and behaviour

Workplace culture is ‘the way we do things around here’. Positive workplace cultures are underpinned by kindness, civility and respect. They enable teams to thrive.

Poor workplace cultures may tolerate undesirable behaviours such as bullying, undermining and incivility which may become ‘the norm’ and are damaging to individuals, the organisation and patients.

  • Bullying is behaviour from a person or group that is unwanted and makes someone feel uncomfortable
  • Discrimination is when someone is treated unfairly because of a protected characteristic
  • Harassment is when bullying or unwanted behaviour is related to a protected characteristic
  • Incivility is rudeness through low-level behaviours which are not usually intended to cause harm

Positive workplace culture

Positive workplace culture results in an environment where members of the team feel supported, valued for their individual skills and attributes and feel they can safely ask for assistance and contribute to patient care without fear.

  • It reflects what is done to people and how they feel treated as well as how they are spoken to. 
  • It results in an environment where people feel able to speak up and be listened to and “call out with compassion” adverse behaviours should they arise.
  • It results in maximal benefit to shared learning, and open reflection on adverse incidents.
  • It is vital that this is modelled by senior leaders but all members of the team are fundamental to its success and should be working towards a common goal.

What makes a positive workplace?

  • Feeling able to ask for help
  • Feeling appreciated for your individual skills and attributes
  • Feeling like people know who you are
  • Feeling part of a common goal
  • Feeling able to raise issues and be heard


Tips on building a positive workplace culture

See Module 4, Question 4 "What can I do to address a problem with poor workplace behaviour in my department?" for tips on different topics including:

  • Set the tone and lead from the front
    What is your department’s stance on poor workplace behaviour and is it visible?  Do you lead by example and display compassionate leadership?
  • Staff wellbeing
    Happy and healthy staff are more likely to be kind and civil at work.
  • Team and multidisciplinary working
    Strengthening team relationships both within and between disciplines is invaluable.  Examples of strategies to enhance team working are included.
  • Breed kindness and positivity
    Kindness and gratitude have a positive effect on your team.  Could you promote “Learning from Excellence”?
  • Make it ok to ‘call it out’
    Misunderstandings will occur, but in the right environment these misunderstandings are addressed early, are less likely to escalate or to spread.
  • Build a team of advocates
    A diverse group of advocates for positive workplace culture can help deliver the departments agenda.

Negative behaviours: Bullying

ACAS states that:

‘Bullying is behaviour from a person or group that's unwanted and makes someone feel uncomfortable, including feeling:

  • frightened
  • less respected or put down
  • made fun of
  • upset

Sometimes bullying is classed as harassment, which is against the law.

The behaviours are thus identified by the effect they have, not the intention of the perpetrator.

As bullying is often unintended it can be difficult for those implicated to initially accept.  Common pitfalls are outburst when under stress and seniors forgetting how much authority they have or are perceived to have and how their behaviour can be interpreted by junior colleagues.  The influence of culture can also be key and we all have a responsibility to recognise that colleagues may also have different cultural backgrounds which may affect how their behaviour is perceived or how they interpret others’ behaviour.

Visit Question 2 "How do you recognise bullying and undermining?" to explore video examples of poor behaviours to expand your awareness and challenge your understanding.


Negative behaviours: Harassment

ACAS state that:

‘By law, harassment is when bullying or unwanted behaviour is related to any of the following (known as 'protected characteristics' under the Equality Act 2010):

  • Age, disability, gender reassignment
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

Pregnancy and maternity are different from the other protected characteristics, in how the law on harassment treats them. Harassment because of pregnancy or maternity is treated differently and could be direct discrimination.

As with bullying, the person being harassed might feel:

  • disrespected
  • frightened
  • humiliated
  • made fun of
  • offended
  • threatened

For it to count as harassment, the unwanted behaviour must have either:

  • violated the person's dignity, whether it was intended or not
  • created a hostile environment for the person, whether it was intended or not’

Harassment in illegal. See our overview of the law for more information.

Negative behaviours: Discrimination

ACAS state that:

By law, discrimination is when someone's treated unfairly because of any of the following:

  • age
  • disability
  • gender reassignment
  • marriage or civil partnership
  • pregnancy and maternity
  • race
  • religion or belief
  • sex
  • sexual orientation

These are known as 'protected characteristics'. It's against the law to treat someone unfairly because of any of them, except in very rare circumstances.’

See our introductory page on the law.


Negative behaviours: Incivility

Incivility is rudeness through low-level behaviours which are not usually intended to cause harm but they have a very significant impact on individuals, teams and patient care.

Infographic: Addressing negative behaviours – At a glance

See this and more infographics by Civility Saves Lives at


Other resources for understanding workplace incivility: