Civility and respect are essential aspects of every work environment. Learn more about developing a culture of civility and respect within your workplace. 

Civility and respect are not only important in the workplace but in most, if not all, aspects of our day-to-day lives. But how many of us actually know how to define these words? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. These are challenging words to define. But it is important to know what each of these words mean before we talk about their importance in the workplace. 

Civility is defined by Merriam Webster as “civilized conduct (especially: courtesy or politeness) or a polite act or expression”. Researcher and author Lars Andersson defines workplace civility as “behaviours that help to preserve the norms for mutual respect in the workplace; civility reflects concern for others.” While respect is defined as a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements; or due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others. You can show respect by being polite and kind.

Civility and Respect in the Workplace

Civility and respect is present in a work environment where workers are respectful and considerate in their interactions with one another, as well as with customers, clients, and the public. Respect and civility are based on showing esteem, care, and consideration for others, and acknowledging their dignity. 

Why is Civility & Respect Important?

A civil and respectful workplace is related to greater job satisfaction, feelings of fairness, and an overall positive environment. It is also linked to improved morale and teamwork, and better supervisor-staff relationships. Additionally, workers tend to be more invested in personal development and actively participate in problem-solving. A civil and respectful workplace has lower levels of sick leave and turnover. Organizations characterized by civility and respect have a positive atmosphere marked by high spirits and work satisfaction, and enhanced positive client and customer interactions.

What happens when civility and respect are missing from the workplace?

When a workplace lacks civility and respect, the outcome can be harmful to the organization and its workers. Emotional exhaustion, health problems, job withdrawal, and increased conflict can all result. There are also increased grievances and legal risks. One of the most extreme examples of disrespectful behaviour is bullying. Workplace bullying is known to cause depression, burnout, anxiety and aggression, as well as increased physical complaints and musculoskeletal health concerns. Bullying not only affects those directly involved, but also affects those who observe or are around it. Many jurisdictions currently have, or are considering, legislation to address such behaviours and so unaddressed bullying can lead to greater consequences for organizations if not addressed.

An organization with good civility and respect would be able to state that:

  • people treat each other with respect and consideration in the workplace; 
  • the organization effectively handles conflicts between stakeholders (workers, customers, clients, public, suppliers, etc); 
  • workers from all backgrounds are treated fairly in our workplace; and 
  • the organization has effective ways of addressing inappropriate behaviour by customers or clients. 

How to Civility and Respect can be Improved in the Workplace

It’s important to create a culture of civility and respect in an organization. This means modelling and enforcing appropriate communication and conduct within the organization. When problems arise, such disrespectful or uncivil behaviour, these should be addressed in an effective and timely fashion. When it comes to communication, it’s important that all written and verbal communication is civil and respectful, includes non-discriminatory and inclusive language, and respects confidentiality and personal information. 

Training in effectively managing interpersonal conflict, including mood and even anger management is an important part of maintaining civility and respect in the workplace. Specific training should be provided for those who are most likely to experience difficult behaviours during the course of their work – such as from disgruntled customers. It’s also important to provide diversity and inclusion training. 

Workplace Policies 

Civility and respect can be integrated into workplace policies. All workplace policies should be written in non-discriminatory and inclusive language. There should be guidelines on expectations of appropriate behaviour, and clarity on the consequences for inappropriate behaviour. All employees should be oriented to organizational policies upon hire, and key messaging should be reinforced through the organization. There should be a specific procedure to follow when incidents do occur. 

Putting These Principles Into Action

Even if there is a positive culture of civility and respect within your organization, conflicts will arise. When people are upset, they’re more likely to speak thoughtlessly – and when people are on the receiving end of someone’s anger, it’s more likely they will act defensively. It’s important to have policies in place to manage conflicts before they arise so people leaders and/or human resources are prepared. It’s also important for people leaders, as well as workers, to be trained on conflict management so that they have they skills and strategies to navigate difficult situations. This enhances the likelihood that issues, when they do arise, can be settled in a timely fashion. 

It’s also important to address diversity and inclusion in the workplace, in terms of both training and policies to ensure all workers are treated with fairness and integrity. Take the time to think about which groups are the most likely to experience discrimination at work and provide specific support to those workers. For example; it’s important to include diversity and inclusion training surrounding employee groups who are from marginalized or vulnerable groups – such as members of visible ethnic or cultural minorities, as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Final Thoughts on Civility & Respect – Ongoing Improvement

Remember that it’s important to continually improve when it comes to civility and respect in the workplace. So, it’s important to engage in ongoing training for people leaders, get feedback from workers on their perceptions of trust, honesty and fairness in the workplace and continue to engage with the process of resolving any issues that arise. 

Civility and Respect is psychosocial factor 4 from the National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety (PH&S) in the Workplace (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 – Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace). For more information, see also Guarding Minds at Work (Samra et al.).