Experienced educators often advise first year teachers not to crack a smile until after Christmas vacation. Obviously, the intent is to give students the impression that these teachers are tough, strong disciplinarians as opposed to being nice which could be interpreted as being a pushover.
The extent to which this advice works varies widely depending on individual personalities and circumstances. However, smiles or not, the teachers who consistently get great results are those who establish a classroom atmosphere of mutual respect and collaboration rather than one of intimidation which leads to conflicts and behavior problems. When students feel valued they learn better, are more engaged, more productive and acts of incivility targeted at classmates or their teachers are dramatically reduced.
The same holds true for adult employees.
A workplace that is dominated by leaders who use intimidation and abusive behavior results in employees who treat each other, and customers, the same way. These employees also spend work time planning their retaliation against the organization and their supervisors rather than remaining on task.
These workplace conflicts are real productivity killers. However, when leaders make a conscious decision to establish a culture of civility, and follow up that decision with a specific plan of action, the results are dramatic improvements in the organization’s bottom line.
It’s important enough to repeat!
The first step in establishing a culture of civility in the workplace is to make a commitment to establish one. Once that commitment has been made, and all the leaders in the organization are on board with that decision, it’s time to establish a plan of action.
Very simply, the action plan boils down to taking 3 steps which any organization should be able to do if it is serious about reducing conflict to improve its productivity:
- Establish and enforce clear policies regarding civil behavior in the organization
- Train employees so they can be successful at, and fulfilled by, their jobs
- Train leaders to set good examples of civil behavior for everyone to follow.
Implementing the action plan:
A. Establish and enforce clear policies regarding civil behavior in the organization:
Civility in the workplace begins with an organization setting and enforcing policies that show its commitment to civil behavior. Besides formally establishing the company culture regarding how it expects its employees to behave toward each other, clear written company policies are needed to defend it should anyone file a law suit around an incivility issue. Courts have shown little mercy toward companies that do not have definitive written policies regarding how they expect their employees to behave.
There are a number of specific things that need to be in these policies. A partial list includes:
- The company’s stance on discrimination and harassment along with any other expectations regarding the behavior of employees.
- Clear statements that the company has a zero tolerance policy, a complaint procedure and a statement that employees need to promptly file a complaint if an incident occurs.
- A clear description of how things such as how promotions, discipline and performance reviews are handled.
It is important to have a lawyer ensure that all formal policies comply with federal, state and local laws.
One caveat: Leaders cannot assume that employees will read and understand the organization’s policy statement just because it has been handed to them. Annually reviewing the policies with employees will go a long way in seeing to it that they understand what is expected of them and in avoiding ugly situations.
B. Train employees so they can be successful at, and fulfilled by, their jobs
Employees need to be taught what is expected of them and how to do their jobs effectively. One of the major complaints we hear from employees is that their leaders do not clearly communicate expectations and that they do not receive enough training. An employee who feels this way will perceive that he or she is treated unfairly and harbor resentment as a result of it. Surveys indicate that about 25% of employees feel that they have not been properly trained for their jobs so organizations need to do a better job in this area.
Another area in which employees need to be trained is in what behaviors are acceptable, which are not, and the consequences of inappropriate behaviors. Leaders cannot assume that all of their employees already know this. As stated previously, this should be in the organization’s policy statement and reviewed annually with everyone in the organization.
Train leaders to set good examples of civil behavior for everyone to follow
Leaders need to understand that the examples they set will filter down through the organization. For example, if a leader’s management style includes yelling and insulting, that behavior will trickle down through the organization resulting in employees yelling and insulting each other as well as customers.
They also need to be trained in things such as how to spot signs of incivility and what to do about it. In addition, leaders need to be taught communication skills and how to foster mutual respect.
They need to look in a mirror and ask for feedback on how their words and actions are being perceived. Some examples of behaviors that need to be monitored are:
- Do they speak in a respectful manner rather than yelling and barking out orders?
- Do they say “thank you” and “please” regularly?
- Do they show empathy when appropriate?
- Do they trust their employees to do a good job?
- Do they avoid micromanaging?
- Do they show a sincere interest in their employee’s professional development?
Taking the steps to establish a workplace culture of civility is good business practice. Civility is not about being nice or soft, it’s about working with mutual respect. When mutual respect is prevalent in the workplace, high employee engagement, retention and collaboration are the result. Establishing such a culture is well worth the investment.
Copyright TIGERS Success Series by Tony Lacertosa
Tony Lacertosa is an internationally certified master facilitator of the TIGERS© Success Series program. His consulting company focuses on helping leaders in organizations dramatically improve employee engagement, retention and collaboration by addressing interpersonal relationships in the workplace. To download his special report on respect and teamwork visit his website www.PeerlessLeadership.com He can be contacted at Tony@PeerlessLeadership.com
TIGERS Success Series is a team development consultancy based on 6 core principles that anchor through effective group norms high performance team dynamics. These principles are trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk and success. TIGERS offers licensing and certification to team building trainers and consultants interested in expanding their practice to serve organizational leaders from the break room to the boardroom. Learn more.