Makarios Consulting Blog

Is your workplace civil?

Is your workplace civil?

I am pretty sure that you are nodding your head to that question. After all, you are civil – polite, cooperative, a team player. Willing to share your expertise. Friendly to coworkers. You hold the door for people entering behind you. You clean up after yourself in the company kitchen. And you assume that everyone else in the company does the same.

But do you really know? There are so many things vying for your attention – and they all take priority over wandering around your workplace looking for signs of civility among your teams. And typically, your interactions with employees and colleagues focus on business issues. Not to mention that newer employees, younger employees, junior-level employees, may not feel free to bring up issues related to incivility in the workplace, particularly when the incivility is because of behavior by more senior level colleagues.

Perhaps you are not sure what defines civil behavior, or its’ absence. It can take many forms, from speaking loudly in a cubicle-filled space, to cell phone ring tones in the office, to stealing food from the common refrigerator, to playing the radio in a shared office space. One example follows:

A senior manager, who reports directly to the CEO, has a large department of employees who track massive amounts of data. Most of his team sit silently in their cubicles all day long crunching numbers. But the manager, a friendly man with a loud, boisterous style, sits in his office with the door open and spends much of each day on conference calls. He uses a speakerphone, and the result is that most of his meetings and calls can be heard by almost everyone within at least 30 feet. When he does desire a private conversation, he gets up and quickly slams the door, which is always startling, and futile, as his loud voice carries through the door. While it is clear that he is completely unaware of how distracting and rude this behavior is, it is nevertheless behavior that is inappropriate for the workplace and should be stopped. But no one has the nerve to discuss it with him directly, nor to bring it up to the CEO. In this case, one solution is for a peer to approach the offending manager and tell him what he sounds like from the cubicles, perhaps even quote a conversation he overheard. Alternatively, top leadership, working with the Human Resources department, could implement a campaign for a civil work environment, posting notices, providing training, and enabling an environment where employees feel safe to discuss when the workplace behavior of others is a problem.

Incivility is detrimental to your employees and your company in many ways. Employees feel powerless to change their environment or to escape the offending behavior. They may feel intimidated. They may feel that management is not paying sufficient attention to the workplace environment. Or worse – that management knows about the offending behavior but just doesn’t care. Not to mention the distraction that results in lost productivity. Think about it – how productive would you be if you had to listen to almost every conversation your boss has during the day, including some that he surely means to be confidential? Or to endure a constant stream of inflammatory talk from someone’s radio playing talk radio all day on the desk next to yours? The stress and tension of working in such environments is enormous.

Promoting a more civil workplace can have a major positive impact for your employees at little or no cost to you. All you really need to do is pay attention to what is going on in your offices, promote an environment where all employees feel safe discussing workplace behavior that negatively impacts them, be willing to take corrective steps as necessary, and set a good example yourself. The likely result will be happier and more engaged employees who will be truly appreciative of the improved environment.