The Golden Rule in the Workplace

    Paula Fulghum

    As children, we learn to treat others how we want to be treated. This is a valuable lesson that we need to use from kindergarten through retirement when we’re interacting with others. When co-workers start being uncivil to one another, it can lead to effects on the well-being of individuals as well as detriments to the organization as a whole. Research is emerging on the concept of workplace incivility and is showing that it can be very harmful. As an organization, it is important to embrace proper civil relations as part of the workplace culture so individuals can thrive in performance in an environment where they don’t feel harassed, belittled, or bullied.

    When it comes to workplace incivility, there is an issue of how far is too far? When does a playful remark turn into a comment perceived as hurtful? What makes a supervisor tough yet encouraging as compared to abusive? Should behaviors like cursing or spreading rumors be formally reprimanded? Organizations need to work to define what will and will not be tolerated to create a comfortable working environment. It is important to enforce expectations of how to interact equally to all employees regardless of their status in the company. If a company frowns on gossip, it needs to be addressed when the offense is made by a manager or a sales clerk. Supervisors or other authorities should also address any concerning behaviors immediately. By waiting to see if a situation occurs again or seeing if the severity increases, it allows opportunity for a more serious situation that could have been prevented. Employers need to have precautionary plans of how to discourage disrespectful or flat-out hostile interactions among co-workers. This could be a great time to include components of the ideal organizational culture in an employee handbook so employees can understand and be held accountable to expected conduct.

    Determining what issues should be discussed with employees is important. There are obvious examples of physical aggression or direct hostility that are easily qualified as unacceptable. But what about more subtle incivilities like inappropriate jokes, lack of respect, or free-riding? Should these milder forms of uncivil behavior matter to the organization? These small instances could seem fairly insignificant as sole incidents; however, if these incidents are frequent and continuous, hostility in the workplace could escalate to serious forms. If an organization overlooks one employee spreading a rumor, it could potentially lead to revenge bad-mouthing, and even a final verbal or physical argument among employees. While full-out violent or aggressive displays may not be incredibly common, taking precautionary measures to avoid any situations will help a company.

    To address concerns about incivility in the workplace, a company could have a meeting with employees to talk about what is appropriate or inappropriate. If incivility is a persistent problem, the company could bring in an expert to conduct training on civil workplace interactions. Employers could discuss useful strategies such as how to reframe situations to not seem threatening, to discuss concerns with a supervisor about interpersonal relationships, or how to avoid offensive body language or negative comments. Organizations can also benefit from working to create a culture that is positive and encouraging of friendly interactions. Simply encouraging employees to voice concerns can make employees feel like more than a “number” and valued as a person. Giving the employees a human resources confident or other representative available to discuss any issues can help to resolve any interpersonal issues before they escalate to extremely problematic levels. Something as simple as incorporating some fun into the workday can also make employees feel more engaged and positive at work. Simple acts like having a little party on special occasions, having casual dress days, or employee-bonding events outside of work time can help employees to feel more bonded to one another and can aid in positive interactions in the workplace. Simple measures to create a positive workplace culture can help employees to feel comfortable at work and give their best effort without the distracting and psychologically distressing factors of uncivil interactions.

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