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Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The Workplace Civility Toolkit

More than once today I witnessed an interpersonal exchange between two people and wondered, "Whatever happened to extending basic courtesies?" I’m finding myself thinking about this question more and more these days. I’m also finding my clients are suffering from this growing epidemic – disrespectful behaviors in the workplace. Issues are surfacing in the form of:
  • Low morale and disengagement
  • Negative impact of conflicts on productivity and efficiencies
  • Lost management hours spent counseling and re-counseling co-workers
  • Declining customer satisfaction based on encountering ‘rude’ employee behaviors
  • Lost revenues as a result of customers taking their business where they are treated with respect
  • Increase in financial penalties resulting from EEOC and harassment claims.
So what’s fueling this increase in disrespectful behaviors? There probably are a lot of things. Let’s face it, life has become more stressful. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about doing more with less at work, or looking for a job, or trying to keep up with technology or protecting ourselves from the uncertainty of global financial issues. Plus, as more components of our society are accepting and promoting rude behaviors as ‘cool,’ it reinforces that it’s ok. But don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t give anyone a license to be rude.

I think we’re at a critical point where organizations, families, and communities need to reintroduce the idea of ‘civility’ into personal and professional engagements. When I think about civility, I’m envisioning more than just polite courtesies. The word ‘civility’ is derived from the Old French and Latin term for ‘good citizen,’ and translates to living respectfully in a community. Civility is an essential component of human sustainability, enabling people not only to survive, but to thrive. So beyond focusing on stress and anger management training and counseling, what can we do to return our workplaces to a more civil environment?

Best Practices

It’s important for organizations not only to ‘talk the talk’ of civility, but also to demonstrate it. Along with the leadership’s demonstrated commitment to respectful living, they also need to hold workers accountable for the same standards of civil engagement. Here are a few ‘tools’ or best practices that can help employees do their part to improve workplace relationships and ultimately retention and productivity, while reducing the risk of lawsuits:

  1. Make a habit of practicing kindness, generosity and gratitude. Not only does this make a positive impact on morale and productivity, but research has shown that people who approach life from this perspective live longer, are healthier and are happier.
  2. Create spaces for employees to nurture social relationships in order to know each other as people as well as co-workers. Make sure employees understand the importance of balancing ‘on line’ relationships with face-to-face conversations. Email and text messaging is not always a reliable form of communication and often results in misunderstanding.
  3. Offer training and coaching to leaders, managers and employees to help them build and strengthen their communication skills with options for respectfully approaching difficult conversations, dealing with different work styles, and resolving workplace conflicts.
  4. Offer assistance to managers and co-workers who are struggling with resolving a conflict on their own. The longer the conflict lingers, the harder it will be for the employees to resolve, and the more negative an impact it will have on the office environment as a whole.
  5. Commit to a zero tolerance for workplace vulgarity, as well as harassing and bullying behaviors. I realize that identifying harassing and bullying behaviors can be subjective, but if an employee perceives behaviors as disrespectful, that should be enough of a reason to ask the co-worker to stop the behavior.
So What’s Next?

Creating working communities that practice civility isn’t hard. Employees just need to be reminded of the simple guidelines and performance expectations for monitoring their own behaviors. As employees realize management is serious about improving the workplace culture, they’ll also see the benefits of everyone doing their part. Ignoring this disturbing trend by doing nothing to improve the level of respect shared between co-workers and stakeholders is not a viable strategy. The choice to take no action will only result in a workplace filled with more troubled relationships and give competitors an advantage.

As always, I welcome your comments to my posting; please share your thoughts below. I appreciate your sharing a copy of this article with others you believe will find it interesting. Have a great week.

This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR, CEO and Sr. Organization Effectiveness Consultant with Evolution Management, Inc. Debbie and her team are ready to assist with organizational assessments, team development, training and the integration of a message of civility into human resource policies, practices and workplace culture.

If you’re interested in learning more about our services, please contact us at www.evolutionmgt.com or 770.587.9032.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Is Your Workplace Harassment Free?

Is your organization "aware enough" to sustain a harassment-free workplace without periodic reminders? If your answer is yes, you might want to reconsider as it appears that even in 2012 it’s still necessary to advocate for dialogues and training about respecting others.

To be honest, this topic continues to be important because there are people among us that:
  1. don’t know how to properly handle the power of their authority.
  2. aren’t comfortable with people that are different from them.
  3. don’t have the benefit of years of work experience and development of collegial relationships with people who have different traditions, customs, languages, and beliefs from the ones they were brought up with.
  4. aren’t knowledgeable about improving interpersonal skills by increasing their Emotional Intelligence.
  5. have problems with anger management and may not realize its potential impact on co-workers.
  6. aren’t properly managing their stress, anxiety, depression, or even addiction.

Do you have any people in your workplace with these types of issues? Judging by the news reports, EEOC claims and increasing employment lawsuits each year, it’s very likely you do.

We see it everywhere: the world has become smaller, more integrated, and workplaces are global. That means a greater workplace mix of customs, accents, holidays, skin color, work and life traditions, religion, belief systems, cooking, music, sexual orientations, physical challenges… I could go on and on. The point is, everyone in the organization, from the CEO down, has a responsibility to RESPECT the person they are dealing with, internally or externally. And, because we are all human, sometimes we need a little reminding of what that really means.

Leadership Actions

HR and business leaders can best serve their organizations by assessing and building a strategy to address specific cultural needs. However, here are a few general guidelines every organization can benefit from. Consider including these in your strategy to promote civility, respect and engagement in the workplace:

Offer mandatory, updated training each year – the issues involved with respect in the workplace continue to expand. There are compliance requirements for training topics such as sexual harassment. However, a topic like workplace bullying is just as important, but not yet required. Make sure your training is inclusive of all the issues of diversity being experienced today.

Incorporate an interpersonal skills competency standard into the hiring model. Not many of us are filling jobs that are successfully performed in isolation of co-workers, vendors, agencies, customers, or distributors. Ensure your hiring model includes a component for assessing communication and interpersonal skills, and include questions regarding interpersonal relationships when completing references. Hiring the "right" skills sets can help to reduce and eliminate problems down the road.

Coach new managers on the proper use of new authorities. Businesses often assume individuals know how to be a supervisor or a leader once they receive the title, and you know what they say about assuming. Establish a coaching program based on specific leadership competencies and values and help new managers build the right foundation for respecting differences from the start of their new careers. A program like this could also be offered to existing managers struggling to adjust to the range of workplace differences they may be encountering.

Offer coaching to managers, leaders and employees struggling with workplace change or conflict – change isn’t natural. Humans are creatures of habit. Be aware of conflicts between co-workers or employees struggling to implement healthy changes to support updated business strategies. Offer coaching assistance to help them work through the changes before their frustrations become drivers for unhealthy, disrespectful behaviors.

Promote the benefits of assistance offered by healthcare and Employee Assistance Programs. Employees usually read through their healthcare benefits at enrollment time, and perhaps when they need a physical, dental, or vision procedure. But they may not remember, or be too embarrassed to ask, about assistance with stress, anger, or depression.

Continuously promote the organization’s core values. Tie the core values to everything the organization is doing through hiring models, performance goals, position descriptions, mentoring opportunities, and performance recognition. Aligning with these values should be an easy way to ensure respectful dealings with others.

Ensure job designs and performance goals are realistic. Do not unintentionally impose impractical expectations that cannot be achieved by ethical, respectful, and reasonable practices. We’re all operating in a mindset of "leaner and meaner" and sometimes we don’t realize that cliché may be delivering more than we intended. If the goal is to treat each other with respect, start by making sure the organization is demonstrating respectful practices with each of its employees, so they can pass it along.

Help workers with workplace etiquette expectations and standards. Just by virtue of the explosion of social media, instant messaging, texting, and smart phones, individuals are becoming more comfortable typing out a message rather than verbalizing it. Most workplace environments need an appropriate mix of both. Provide training and coaching to help employees be successful in both types of communication.

What’s Next?

April, I just learned, is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Sexual assault is a very disturbing and real problem, an issue we should all be aware of and committed to eliminating. Thinking about this brought up considerations of other issues that are just as important, such as workplace bullying, and sexual harassment. Analyzing these types of workplace problems, it becomes clear that they all involve a common message – RESPECT.

The work world will continue to get smaller, meaning that we will become more and more aware of things and people who are different from us. Building a business case for zero tolerance of any act of disrespect is imperative to sustaining best business practices in areas such as recruitment, retention or sales strategies.

According to a recently updated article by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), "Employers today must have programs that focus on prevention and correction for acts that involve harassment, bullying, violence, etc. While not expressly mandated by any federal law, courts, the EEOC and many state and local laws have made anti-harassment policies, complaint procedures and workforce training a necessity for employees to successfully minimize and defend against liability arising from workplace harassment." Organizations do not have the option to wait until the government mandates training for each type of harassment. The time to ensure a sustainable zero-tolerance strategy is now.

Build a strong zero-tolerance platform that is sustainable through future refinements and updates. Consider the various types of media available for distribution of your training and zero-tolerance messages. Be clear with performance expectations, as they relate to zero-tolerance from candidates, employees, vendors and customers. If everyone is aware and is doing their part, the negative impact to your organization should be minimal to none. The "none" is our target.

As always, I welcome your comments to my posting; please share your thoughts below. I appreciate your sharing a copy of this article with others you believe will find it interesting. Have a great week.

This article was written by Deborah A. King, SPHR, CEO and Sr. Organization Effectiveness Consultant with Evolution Management, Inc. Debbie and her team are ready to assist with organizational assessments, design, development and facilitation of zero-tolerance policies, procedures, and training, and the integration of a zero-tolerance message into existing human resource practices and workplace culture.

If you’re interested in learning more about our services, please contact us at www.evolutionmgt.com or 770.587.9032.