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?
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.