Evidence-based actions for civility and respect

These actions and responses can be implemented with a minimal investment of resources or cost to the organization.

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Description: In a work environment with civility and respect, all stakeholders are considerate and fair in their interactions with each other.

You can access our free workshop materials to engage your team in a discussion about civility and respect. 

Ensure everyone in the workplace recognizes that words and behaviours may have unintended consequences.

  • Beginning with leaders, ensure everyone has been taught a conflict resolution approach that maintains the dignity of all involved. Conflict response for leaders provides an example of this process. 
  • Saying “I didn’t mean it that way” isn’t enough to prevent harm to others. We also need to question the assumptions we make about the motives of others. If you feel someone’s “out to get you”, you may be mistaken. And we need a way to intervene respectfully when we witness inappropriate behaviours. Sitting in frozen silence or responding angrily isn’t likely to help the situation.

Provide specific support and training for employees who are most likely to experience difficult behaviour or complaints in their work.

  • Train all employees in effective and respectful conflict resolution. Conflict is inevitable in any workplace where people are allowed to voice their opinions. Being able to discuss differing opinions in a respectful way is a skillset that some employees will not have had the opportunity to learn. Resolving personal conflict has tips and techniques that could be helpful to review with all employees. 
  • Interacting with customers, patients or clients can be challenging. Training needs to be specific to these types of challenges. For example, call centre employees would benefit from different training than nurses or librarians. All can encounter difficult behaviour.
  • Ensure all employees know how to support or back up an employee who is being subjected to challenging behaviour from a customer, patient, client, etc. 
  • Ask employees with skills in conflict resolution to share their strategies with the rest of the team.

Train employees, especially those that may be vulnerable, to:

  • Communicate more effectively
  • Improve their emotional intelligence

Help employees voice concerns without offending others or compromising their own values.

  • You can do this through coaching, mentoring or training.
  • Allow employees to develop and practice these skills by leading meetings or presenting workshops.
  • Use information in Protecting ourselves against bullying to help those who are more vulnerable.

Teach team members to stay focused on the topic or idea – not on differing personal characteristics.

  • Ensure that you have discussed concepts such as Implicit bias, microaggressions and intersectionality with your team to avoid stigma or discrimination. 

Teach mindfulness practice.

  • When we’re less reactive to stressors in the workplace, we’re less likely to say or do something disrespectful. There are many free online resources that can help team members learn mindfulness as a group.

Work with your team to establish questions to guide both behaviour and language.

  • Examples:
    • “Is it true?”
    • “Is it kind?”
    • “Is it necessary?”
  • Develop any questions that will work for your team.
  • The team activity Choose your words helps individuals understand how their choice of words can make any conversation more difficult.  

Develop a customer, client or patient code of ethics and a process to inform, enforce and respond to violations.

  • For example: “We value your business. We value our employees. We expect our employees to always treat you with civility and respect. In turn, we expect you to do the same for our employees. Failure to comply with our policies can result in removal from our property and refusal of service.”

Engage your entire team in developing a code of ethics that takes into account how we may unintentionally impact each other at work.

Put processes in place to manage differences of opinion in a psychologically safe way.

  • Your process may address clear decision-making, agenda setting and protocols for meetings.

Be clear about behaviours that may be discriminatory or that may prevent inclusivity.

  • Strive for inclusivity to increase fairness for everyone. See Discrimination prevention and inclusivity for ways to increase inclusion and end discrimination. It can help you compare best practices against what exists now in your workplace.
  • Create an understanding of the potential needs and challenges of different employee groups. One example is Leader support for newcomers. This resource provides tips and strategies related to those who are new to this country. They’ll help improve inclusion of all employees.

Create healthy team dynamics where all members feel safe and respected.

Ask all employees to contribute to a psychologically safe workplace.

Other actions you can take that may need organizational authorization:

  • Ensure supervisors and managers have the time to be present and in contact with employees. This will help them recognize and resolve problems.
  • Use unbiased language in all employee communications and training.
  • Maintain employee confidentiality in all communications.
  • Provide civility and respect requirements when recruiting, hiring and orienting employees.
  • Ensure formal policy, investigation, documentation and resolution when inappropriate or disrespectful behaviour happens. This includes inappropriate client, patient or customer behavior.
  • Consider dispute resolution alternatives. These may include the ombudsperson, informal third-party intervention and formal mediation.
  • Review Psychological health and safety policy recommendations to see where you can improve psychological health and safety. 
  • Review policies related to Discrimination prevention and inclusivity, Harassment and bullying prevention, or Violence prevention
  • Review Evidence for psychological health and safety for a literature review of studies demonstrating how factors that impact psychological health and safety also have a positive impact on business goals and objectives. 

Putting civility and respect on the agenda provides you with materials to support a team discussion on approaches to civility and respect as well as materials to support policy review and development.

Adapted from Guarding Minds at Work™

© Samra, J., Gilbert, M., Shain, M., Bilsker, D. 2009-2020, with amendments by Stuart, H. 2022.  All rights reserved. Website development and data storage by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS).

Guarding Minds at Work was commissioned by Canada Life and additional resources are supported by Workplace Strategies for Mental Health.

Contributors include.articlesDan BilskerDavid K. MacDonaldDr. Heather StuartDr. Joti SamraDr. Martin ShainMary Ann BayntonMerv GilbertPhilip PerczakSarah JennerSusan JakobsonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021Workplace Strategies team 2022 to present

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