August 15, 2023

It seems like incivility is rearing its rude head everywhere — in politics, on social media, in cars, on airplanes and at live concerts. The workplace isn’t immune either.

One in four employees have experienced rude, disrespectful or aggressive behavior at work, according to a recent survey. Ethisphere’s 2023 ethical culture report saw a similar trend: during the past few years, reports of workplace bullying jumped from 20.1% to 33%. 

During National Civility Month, which occurs every August, organizations have an opportunity to engage employees in conversations, training and other tools and resources to address toxic behaviors and promote workplace civility, a core element of a respectful, inclusive and ethical work culture.  

What is workplace civility?

Workplace civility is not about agreeing with someone or pretending to. Civility is about making people feel valued, respected and heard. It’s the ability to respectfully disagree, listen to others and consider different views and perspectives. Conversely, a pattern of incivility and rudeness can have serious consequences, negatively affecting stress levels and mental wellbeing, absenteeism, turnover, engagement, job satisfaction and productivity.  

And if left unchecked, rude, toxic behaviors may lead to allegations of harassment, discrimination and bias. Former EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum put it this way: “We know that workplace incivility often acts as a ‘gateway drug’ to workplace harassment.’ 

What can organizations do to get out in front of workplace incivility and potential problems that may follow? Here are 5 best practices. 

  1. Communicate early and often – Take every opportunity to clearly communicate the organization’s expectations for respectful, civil behavior from all employees, at every level. When interviewing candidates, include a discussion about your organization’s culture and values. During the onboarding process, reinforce what respectful, civil conduct looks like in how individuals and teams interact in their day-to-day work. And make sure that everyone understands that policies and laws pertaining to discrimination and harassment and bullying apply in the remote workplace.
  2. Help managers improve communication and leadership skills – Managers’ words and actions can mean the difference between a respectful, psychologically safe work environment, in which employees feel supported and valued and one where employees (if they stay) are disengaged, unmotivated and afraid to speak up. Training managers on how to communicate effectively and ask for honest feedback creates deeper connections and transparency that can translate into better teamwork and morale.  
  3. Build trust and collaboration with bystander intervention training – Employees who know how to safely use bystander intervention techniques when they see inappropriate behavior can make a big impact in stopping harassing and discriminatory behavior, preventing future incidents and supporting coworkers who are targets of misconduct. Along with bystander intervention training, providing supervisors with training on managing difficult employees can help them more effectively identify and address disruptive conduct and reduce the potential risks and impact of negative behaviors.
  4. Implement reporting procedures for misconduct – A main reason why misconduct is underreported and often unaddressed is that employees may not know how to respond to offensive behavior or may fear retaliation if they do. Encourage employees to report misconduct by implementing a formal complaint process, explaining how the process works and providing different reporting options. Another best practice: train managers and supervisors on how to handle complaints of discrimination and harassment and avoid retaliation.
  5. Embed civility and respect in workplace policies and handbooks – As part of your written code of conduct, employee handbook and other workplace policies and practices, outline in simple terms and real-world examples the behaviors you expect from all employees— regardless of title or seniority — and the values, standards, rules and best practices to follow.  

Traliant Training 

Employees and managers who understand how to effectively address and prevent toxic behaviors and promote workplace respect and civility can lead to better business outcomes and better experiences for your workforce, customers and partners. Get A Free Trial of Traliant’s interactive training solutions for Preventing Discrimination and Harassment and Building a Positive Workplace



Maggie Smith