Business Perspectives

Ray Hull: The art and impact of civility and respect in the workplace

Lately there has been a flurry of conversation and news reporting on the topic of civility and respect in the workplace. It’s a topic that is long overdue in regard to the recognition of its importance. If we could define the term civility, it would include the following:

▪ It shows respect toward others;

▪ It causes others in the workplace to feel valued;

▪ It contributes to mutual respect for others and effective communication with those with whom we associate daily.

So, what is incivility? According to Jean Prather of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Techology, it is defined as:

▪ Social behavior lacking in good manners, including rudeness or behavior that would be interpreted as threatening to another;

▪ Condescending language or vocal intonation that degrades another person;

▪ Reprimanding or criticizing someone in front of others;

▪ Insulting the intelligence of a co-worker;

▪ Comments or jokes related to gender or sexual issues no matter how innocent they may be to the one making the comments or telling the joke;

▪ Inappropriately touching someone;

▪ Pictures or cartoons posted in the workplace that degrade the opposite sex or are sexually suggestive;

▪ Promoting cultural or gender bias in the workplace.

A lack of respect and civil behavior toward others in the close confines of a work environment – particularly if those behaviors originate from the employer or a manager – generally results in employees who are fearful and stressed on the job. Therefore, they don’t perform their responsibilities to the potential they would otherwise demonstrate.

In a survey of 1100 workers published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 781 had experienced workplace incivility. According to a 2017 post by E. Chris Edmonds in Forbes Community Voice, 62 percent of employees had been treated rudely at work at least once a month in 2016. The rudeness had come from co-workers or their superiors.

Again, in that type of work environment, employees do not perform to their best ability. They feel degraded. They will simply do their job and leave as a less-productive employee at the end of the day. The cost in reduced commitment to their place of employment can be extremely high.

So how can civility and respect grow in the workplace?

Here are some suggestions:

▪ We must be an important part of the atmosphere that promotes respect and civility. We can be the one who demonstrates respect and civility to others every day;

▪ If employees are subversively or overtly disrespectful of others in your workplace, they must be dealt with immediately rather than waiting to see if they will change their behaviors;

▪ All employees must meet as a group and discuss the nature of respect and civility in the workplace rather than waiting until bad behavior is obvious and then meet to stop it;

▪ We must emphasize to all employees, no matter what level they are within the organizational structure, that appropriateness in behavior is essential, and that inappropriate behavior will be dealt with severely. It should be emphasized that inappropriate behaviors include off-color jokes or remarks, no matter how innocent they appear to the person who uttered them.

In the end, people value respect and civility. Most people desire to treat others as they would like to be treated. However, incivility does occur in any workplace. The occasional outburst of frustration can be absorbed in a healthy work environment. It can be overlooked as a result of an overworked colleague. We realize that no one is perfect, and we continue to love and value our colleague in spite of the outburst.

But, it is best to remember, according to The Little Black Book of Billionaire Secrets (S. Chris Edmonds in Forbes, 2017), “When incivility is the driver of your organization, the direction that it is going is down. We produce exactly the level of civility that we cultivate.”

Ray H. Hull is a professor of communication sciences and disorders at Wichita State University. His new book with Jim Stovall is "The Art of Learning and Self-Development: Your Competitive Edge."

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