Civility in the workplace is no less important to manage than harassment. A hostile work environment is a hostile work environment regardless of the cause. And it doesn’t take much for anyone of your employees to make a case and bleed your business dry with legal fees.
If you have ever watched “A Christmas Story” or “Mean Girls” you immediately think of two people you don’t want to be around. Scott Farkel harassed Ralphie and his brother. Regina George bullied an entire school. Unfortunately, you can find a Scott or Regina anywhere—even at work.
As a small business owner, there’s a good chance you are completely unaware that bullies are trolling your workplace. Why? Because even a bully knows you don’t bully the boss! Regardless of whether you are aware or unaware, as the business owner, you should take steps to promote and manage civility.
Today we went live discussing how civil behavior will help reduce harassment complaints that can quickly blow up into a legal mess. Click here to watch: Practical Legal Insights with Dana Ball-24 Is it possible to bring civility back to our workplaces?
What Is Civility?
Civility is treating others the way you would want to be treated. The act of showing politeness, courtesy, and respect reminds us of the Golden Rule we all learned in Kindergarten. But civility is about more than just being polite. Civility means we are able to find common ground and respect for those with whom we associate in spite of our differences—a concept that is quickly being lost in the world. Here’s a Press Release where you can read more about civility: Why Should You Care About Workplace Civility?
Why Is Civility Important In The Workplace?
Civility is paramount in the workplace as it cultivates the behaviors that promote mutual respect between coworkers. As 2019 came to a close there were 157 million Americans in the workforce, with many of those sitting next to each other in neat little rows of cubicles or working together as teams. Not everyone is going to like the coworker in the next cubicle or all of their team members.
Why Is It So Hard To Be Nice?
Political, social-economic, religious, ethnic, and personality differences can create conflicts. Inadvertent remarks, off-hand comments, fashion, food, cologne or perfume, hygiene habits, and even cheering one team over another can create tension and negative feelings between co-workers. The bottom line: It is inevitable that your employees will have to stretch to maintain a professional relationship with a co-worker.
And then there is the classic bully, who trolls the workplace looking for a victim in order to build up their own self-worth. The battlefield, then, has two fronts: You must look out for the bully on one front and intolerance on the other.
Incivility Is The Incubator For Harassment and other Lawsuits
“Incivility and conflict go hand in hand, almost on a continuum, starting with incivility on one end, conflict more toward the middle, and more problematic behaviors at the other end (think harassment),” says Matthew Steinkamp, a licensed clinical social worker for the State of Colorado. “Those organizations that don’t strive to create a civil culture at work and those supervisors and co-workers who are unwilling, or feel unable, to confront incivility when they see or experience it within their teams, are breeding a culture of disrespect. As a supervisor, in particular, ignoring uncivil behavior basically condones it among your workgroup. And typically, incivility breeds more incivility and conflict among the team.”
Incivility Will Take Its Toll On Employees and Possibly Your Customers
Meeting the demands of productivity and deadlines due to work creates enough stress. A perfect storm is created if you have supervisors or employees who are demeaning, yelling at, and insulting each other. “Workplace incivility creates a wide range of negative effects including lower employee engagement, reduced work effort, increased worry or anxiety, withdrawal, lower individual satisfaction, and reduced organizational commitment,” writes Audrey Murrell, a professor and Director of the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership, in Forbes magazine. “Affected employees leave the organization and customers who witness incivility take their business elsewhere. The long-term impact of workplace incivility can create a toxic culture that is challenging to correct. It can also be financially costly in terms of time spent managing conflict at work and in accounting for increased employee turnover, expensive litigation, and the negative impact on the customers’ experience and the overall company reputation.” Incivility at work decreases production which decreases a business owner’s bottom line, making it very difficult to grow and run a successful business.
Start By Paying Attention To Your Own Behavior
No one wants to show up for work knowing they are facing another day of hostile feelings and tension. As uncomfortable as it may feel, business owners and managers need to look inside themselves first to see if their behavior could be fostering an environment of incivility. Paying attention to civility is paying attention to our own behavior. Have you ever been guilty of the following?
Have you ever sat in a meeting while spending more time on your computer sending emails or checking social media then listening to the meeting?
Have you ever kept someone waiting for long periods of time?
Do you fail to acknowledge other people? Do you smile and say hello to each person you meet? Do you fail to introduce people?
Do you respond to email invitations or return voicemail messages?
Do you show up late for meetings or leave before they are finished without an explanation?
Do you get back to employees who have asked for help or input on a project they are responsible for or do you forget about them?
The leaders of the company set the tone for the workplace environment and will have the biggest influence on everyone else. You decide by your actions what you will and will not accept when it comes to civility at work.
Civility Is Good For Business!
Employers need to assume that not everyone has been taught the Golden Rule and basic etiquette. If your employee handbook doesn’t have an etiquette or civility section, add one. Reviving the lost rules of etiquette would go a long way in reducing claims of a hostile work environment and sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, workplace violence, and rudeness. Be an example of civility and then encourage your team to be mindful of their own behavior:
Remind customers and employees of your expectation of civil, common courtesy conduct
Train employees to recognize, discourage, and report inappropriate conduct
Take complaints seriously. Listen and investigate if appropriate
Reward employees for positive behaviors that result in acts of kindness among employees
Make sure employees feel safe when asking questions or discussing problems
Practice Civil Behavior Starting Right Now
Keep in mind that we can only control ourselves. You cannot control other people. This means you have a choice with every single interaction, do you want to lift people up or hold them down? When we are attentive, smiling, and not interrupting others then that behavior will likely be reciprocated. Just like negativity can spread like wildfire, so can positive behavior. When Disneyland reopens then plan a business trip and see for yourself.
Here’s a Press Release where you can read more about civility: Why Should You Care About Workplace Civility?
Dana Ball is an experienced attorney who has experience protecting small business owners from being ruined by the Scott Farkels and Regina Georges that could be trolling your business.