Work Life & Safety September 10, 2019

Civility in the Workplace: The Role of Human Resources

Zena L., Editor

Workplace stress doesn’t only arise from loads of work and tight deadlines. It can happen when you are being treated rudely or insensitively by a coworker or manager. This can involve a number of things including being sent demeaning notes, being yelled at, being called names or having your expertise questioned. This is incivility in the workplace. So, what is civility in the workplace?

Civility, generally, is about how we relate to others. Civil behaviors play an important role in building relationships. Civility in the workplace involves cour­tesy, politeness, consideration and respect.

Benefits of Civility in the Workplace

There are many benefits to practicing civility in the workplace for both employees and organizations as a whole:

  • Less absenteeism
  • Increased productivity
  • Better morale
  • Employee satisfaction and engagement
  • Organizational success
  • Enhancement of an organization’s reputation

On the other hand, incivility in the workplace leads to:

  • High employee turnover
  • Low motivation
  • Poor productivity and frequent absenteeism
  • Stress and frustration (at work and at home)
  • Health costs
  • A steady decline in an organization’s values and culture

The Role of Human Resources: Shifting the Culture

Human Resources (HR) is tasked with establishing hiring procedures and training and evaluating employees, and because of this, HR professionals play a big role in bringing incivility in the workplace to light. When employees are having job performance problems, it may not be that they lack education or skills, it could simply mean that they are feeling attacked or marginalized with no one to turn to; this is an opportunity for HR to help. Incivility or negative behavior isn’t just an individual problem, it’s an organizational culture problem. To create a civil environ­ment, the focus must be on fostering a positive culture within the workplace. A positive, civil culture will elimi­nate incivility and negative behaviors. This can be achieved with civility training.

Civility Training

The goal of civility training is to help employees develop a sense of respect for others in the workplace. It teaches employees about self-awareness, integrity, ethics, communication and interpersonal skills. The components of an effective civility training program include many things, some of which are: developing self-awareness, demonstrating respect and giving constructive feedback.

It’s important to remember that conflict is inevitable in the workplace. How leaders and employees choose to handle it, however, makes all the difference in fostering a positive workplace culture.

The following are some examples of how to achieve civility in the workplace.

Leaders

  • Create, communicate and enforce policies regarding civil behavior in the workplace.
  • Provide continuous education and training on civility.
  • Practice regular self-assessments.
  • Increase accountability and transparency in the organization.
  • Examine the root cause and communicate a positive attitude about implementing changes.

Supervisors and Managers

  • Set clear expectations of employee behavior.
  • Lead by example and treat employees, peers and superiors with respect.
  • Never play favorites when dealing with employees.
  • Praise employees in public on a job well done.
  • Don’t point out an employee’s mistakes in front of others.

Employees

  • Become self-aware: Know what makes you angry so you can better manage your responses and avoid getting defensive.
  • Forgive: Understand that holding on to negative feelings isn’t healthy and find ways to rid yourself of anger and resentment.
  • Communicate: Before you act, think about the potential impact of what you want to say and how you want to say it, and never name-call or engage in personal attacks.

Every person (regardless of race, sex, age, etc.) deserves to be treated with respect. Civility in the workplace reinforces many of the positive values of society, including tolerance and mutual support. Civility creates a pleasant working environment as well as a stable and productive organization.

To learn more about civility and fostering a positive workplace culture, visit www.eeoc.gov.

For more information on civility in the workplace, browse the QuickSeries® library of guides, including Civility in the Workplace.

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