Creating a Culture Of Civility in the Workplace

Civility in the workplace

Whatever happened to civility? Incivility can run rampant through workplaces, impacting employee health and wellness, threatening corporate liability, and yes, damaging a company’s profitability. On this episode of ProjectHR, Vanessa G. Nelson explains how we can improve civility in our workplaces. Here, you'll learn:

  • How incivility may present itself in the workplace;
  • The "contagiousness" of incivility, and whether positive behavior can be contagious as well;
  • How to hire civil people; and
  • The seven ways leaders can improve civility in the workplace.
civility in the workplace

Vanessa G. Nelson

   Human Resources

"Positive attitudes can be contagious - change the dynamics of your workplace with just a little extra effort!" 

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What Ever Happened to Civility?

  • Weber Shandwick’s most recent Civility in America survey, “Americans have a deep concern about the state of civility in our nation.” 

93% of Americans believe our lack of civility is a problem, and 68% say it as a “major” problem.


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What is Civility?

  • In one word: “Respect.” 
  • Civility encompasses respect, consideration, courtesy, politeness, good manners, and the age-old maxim, treating others the way you want to be treated. 
  • When you are being civil, you are inherently treating others with respect. 

What Does Workplace Incivility Look Like?

  • Incivility can be the result of lack of respect for others or one’s self, but it can also come from impatience, apathy, jealousy, frustration, anxiety, racism, or financial issues, among other things. 
  • Uncivil acts can also be considered as microaggressions, as they can come from places of bias and discrimination. 
  • Technology has amplified incivility in our lives. In the workplace, incivility can manifest itself in rude emails. People are often more comfortable saying rude things over email than they would be in person. 
  • It can even include leaders insulting their employees, calling them names, and harassment. 

Incivility is Contagious

  • People follow their leaders behaviors and the example they set. 
  • If a leader is uncivil, their bad behaviors can rub off on the rest of the organization. 
  • Eventually, everyone in management learns to accept, tolerate, and repeat those same uncivil actions. They will spread throughout the entire company and affect every aspect of work. 

Dangers of Incivility to a Company and/or Employees

  • High employee turnover, as employees leave companies that don’t treat them well.
  • Stress on employees.
  • Absenteeism. Employees may take days off or call in sick to avoid these unhealthy work environments.
  • Productivity decreases, because employees can’t do quality work.
  • Morale goes down.
  • All of this can negatively impact a company’s bottom line.
  • A company can even have litigation brought against them. 

Can Good Behavior and Positive Attitudes be Contagious?

  • Even though incivility can be contagious, there is good news: civility, good behavior, and positive attitudes are also contagious in a workplace.
  • Congratulating and thanking employees for their hard work can create a great shift in the workplace.
  • A boss doing something as simple as looking their employees in the eyes and telling them good morning can set a great tone for the whole day.

7 Ways Leaders Can Improve Civility in the Workplace

  • Civility starts at the top. An organization’s leaders and managers have to be civil to set the standard for the whole company.
  • Your company values should reflect civility and respect. Posting your values around the organization in places such as the break room can inspire your employees. 
  • Develop civility and respect policies, and communicate them to your employees. 
  • Hold uncivil and disrespectful people accountable. Whether it’s via email or a verbal warning, it’s important to act on instances of incivility.
  • Hire civil and respectful people.
  • Reward good behavior in the workplace. 
  • Conduct exit interviews when people leave the organization. This will give you data and ideas for future improvements. You can also conduct job satisfaction surveys with your employees, so you can identify problems to prevent them from leaving.

Training Employees in Civility

  • In addition to training employers and leaders, there should also be training of employees in civility.
  • Orientation and onboarding of new employees is the perfect time to inform them of company values and mission statements. 
  • But civility training should also be an ongoing thing for all employees.

How to Hire Civil People

  • It’s important to evaluate people’s civility and respectfulness during job interviews. If someone is rude during an interview, they will likely be rude after you hire them.
  • Not every type of employee necessarily has to have people skills. If an employee is going to be working alone in an office or alone at home without interacting with anyone else, they can get by on their skills alone. But civility is necessary for any employee who will be interacting with other employees or customers. 

What Can An Individual Leader do if They Realize that They Aren’t Civil?

  • It’s hard for people to change. 
  • Bad leaders can often blame others, instead of themselves. 
  • They can try to seek outside help through management coaching or a training program. 

Expert Human Resources

  • Vanessa’s company offers civility and respect training, as well as diversity and inclusion, harassment, discrimination, and bullying training.
  • This training involves presenting real-world scenarios in ways that encourage participation. This can include trivia questions, role playing, and even games. 
  • She is usually brought in to deal with issues such as turnover, harassment, productivity and employee complaints.
  • The company’s specialty is HR audits, where they examine an organization’s HR policies, procedures, mission values, and strategies in an effort to help them better run their organization. 

101 Costly HR Mistakes: And How to Fix Them Before It's too Late!

  • Vanessa’s book shows how an organization can be hurt by bad HR mistakes and policies, and how they can turn those mistakes around and become successful.
  • Everything in the book is based off of her real life experiences. 
  • The book is also being used to teach university students studying HR. 

Vanessa G. Nelson Backstory

  • M.S. in Administration/Human Resources from Central Michigan University
  • B.B.A. in Management from Northwood University
  • Associates in Computer Occupations Technology with a Computer Science Certificate from Mott Community College
  • Senior Professional in Human Resources credential from the Human Resources Certification Institute 
  • Senior Certified Professional from Society of Human Resources Management
  • Certified Labor Relations Leader from Michigan State University

  • Ms. Nelson is the president of Expert Human Resources, an HR consultancy that focuses on improving organizations’ operational performance and bottom lines.
  • Her clients include organizations such as McDonalds, Henry Ford College, Genesee County 911, Mass Transportation Authority, and Bedford Public Schools.
  • She’s also the author of 101 Costly HR Mistakes: And How to Fix Them Before It's too Late!


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