What Contributes to a Civil & Respectful Workplace? Why is Doing all you can to Achieve Civility Important?
In the past several years, we have seen significant societal changes that have increased awareness of offensiveness and incivility in the workplace. From the #MeToo movement’s focus on sexual harassment and assault in the workplace to increased attention on marginalized races and ethnic groups via horrifying interactions between minorities and the police, there is an increased focus on raising concerns. Add the fact that changes have occurred amidst remote work during a global pandemic, and it is easy to see why employee tolerance for offensiveness, bullying, and incivility is at an all-time low. Given the increased sensitivity in the workplace, leaders must focus their organizational culture on eliminating disrespect and expanding an understanding of bias and how we can minimize its impact on day-to-day interpersonal relationships throughout organizations of all sizes.
What is a Civil and Respectful Workplace?
A civil and respectful workplace is at its core a positive work culture. Where a culture of civility is the norm, people treat one another positively and embrace different ideas. Courtesy is at the root of many essential HR issues such as harassment, discrimination, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Beyond the legal problems, however, is the importance that a workforce performs its duties in an environment where they are comfortable and feel supported by their peers. Additionally, employees are not afraid to voice concerns in a civil and respectful workplace. They know there will be no negative consequences if they report an issue to their leaders.
The essential element of a respectful workplace is leadership’s promotion of (and management style via) a mantra of treating others the way you would feel comfortable being treated, thereby promoting the community aspect of work. This sounds overly simplistic, but it is the best way to convey the message to your workforce. Each member of society has identifiable characteristics that make them unique. When differences are celebrated and incorporated into the organization’s culture, there is an inherent drive toward civility. Therefore, promoting an inclusive culture is essential to creating a civil and respectful workplace.
Bias and the Civil and Respectful Workplace
When working towards workplace civility, it is critical to understand the role of bias in incivility. We all have conscious and unconscious biases and naturally gravitate toward those with similar beliefs, interests, or backgrounds. All too often, there is a focus on eliminating discrimination in the workplace to improve culture. Bias elimination is a misguided theory, given that many of our preferences are unconscious and, therefore, not at the forefront of our self-awareness. Instead of eliminating bias, to promote a civil and respectful workplace, we should be mindful of our preferences so as not to allow them to get in the way of tolerance and inclusion of beliefs. When we acknowledge that we have predispositions yet are willing to learn from others whose ideas, experiences, and backgrounds might differ, our minds can open, increasing respect and civility toward others.
How to Move Forward
A civil and respectful workplace begins at the top. Executives, managers, and all organizational leaders must first buy into why a polite and respectful workplace is essential. A recent US EEOC study revealed that 38% of respondents in an uncivil environment decreased their commitment to the organization, 80% spent time worrying about the incident(s) of bullying or incivility, and 44% intentionally decreased civility, and 47% intentionally decreased time spent at work. Research has revealed that as high as 98% of employees report witnessing incivility at work, and it is clear that the risks to productivity are incredibly high. Accordingly, organizations and their leadership must treat the civil and respectful workplace as something that must be achieved rather than aspirational. But how?
In addition to buying into the concept, leadership must be willing to make the workforce understand that they are not just preaching civility but also practicing it. Education programs must go far beyond statutorily required training and into concepts that will get the workforce interacting and believing differently. But training is just one aspect. Organizations must ensure that employees are comfortable stepping in when they feel something is wrong and report incivility to leadership without fear of retaliation. Employees are proven to relax when comments and concerns are embraced not just by my management but also by coworkers. Organizations must be willing to provide appropriate resources to get to this point. The bottom line is failing to do so is failing the workforce.
We all make many decisions during a typical day on the job. While most of these decisions are black and white, there are times when we must determine whether an action we’re contemplating crosses an ethical line. For example, should you accept ballgame tickets from a supplier, even though you think it might be against company policy to do so? Or, you discover that some of the information you’ve included in a proposal isn’t true, but if you tell the client, you know it will ruin the deal.
In many cases, choosing the crooked path may result in a short-term gain, but it can have severe consequences for you or your organization in the long run. If your employer finds out that you accepted the tickets to the sporting event, you could lose your job. And when the client realizes you fudged the figures on your proposal, he will likely take his business elsewhere – and steer others away from the organization.
The Benefits of Integrating Ethics into Decision Making
It isn’t always easy to do the right thing. There can be pressure from colleagues, customers, and in some cases, supervisors to cut corners or break the rules, and it’s easy to fall into the “everyone else is doing it” trap. But taking the time to weigh the ethical pros and cons of your decisions will benefit you and the organization in a variety of ways:
- Earning respect and trust of your coworkers and customers
- Avoiding dilemmas that could have significant legal, financial, or reputational repercussions for you and the organization
- Helping the organization maintain a favorable status within the industry
- Making a positive contribution to the development of a healthier, more productive workplace culture
- Having the peace of mind that comes from knowing you did what you believe to be the right thing
A Model for Ethical Decision-Making in the Workplace
Since making ethical decisions poses a challenge for many employees, it helps to have a framework that will lead you through the process. The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University offers the following five-step methodology to guide you in the right direction:
1. Recognize an ethical issue: The first step entails having the ability to identify a potential ethical dilemma when it presents itself. You’ll need to determine whether the decision or situation could cause harm to another employee, a workgroup, or the entire organization. You’ll also have to gauge whether you must select a good and a bad option, two good or two bad options. Furthermore, you’ll have to determine if the issue is more about what is legal or most efficient.
2. Gather the facts: The more facts you can obtain about a situation, the greater the likelihood you will make an ethical decision. Take the time to gather all the relevant facts – including those that have yet to come to light. Consult with others to who the outcome of your action may impact. Don’t move forward until you feel confident that you have enough information to make the best decision.
3. Evaluate the alternatives: There are several approaches you can take to assessing all available decision-making options at your disposal:
- Deciding which alternative will deliver the most good and do the least harm
- Deciding which option best protects the rights of everyone involved in the outcome
- Deciding which alternative is the fairest to all parties
- Determining which option best promotes the common good
- Decide which option is most aligned with your values and “moral compass.”
4. Make and test a decision: Review all the approaches listed above and determine which one is most applicable to your situation – and then make your decision. Rather than putting it out there and hoping for the best, try taking it for a “test drive” to see how you feel about it. Consider this question before acting: “If I told someone I respect what I’m about to do, how would he or she react?” If you’re unhappy with the answer, reevaluate and repeat the first three steps.
5. Act and reflect: When you’re finally satisfied with your decision, it’s time to act. Implement your action in a way that best addresses the concerns of everyone who has a stake in the outcome. Assess the results and look for opportunities to improve your ethical decision-making process as you move forward.