Implementing the Workplace Civility Policy

Implementing the Workplace Civility Policy
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You’ve recognized the great value that civility can bring to your company. You’ve crafted a well-written Civility Policy. You have a core group that is enthusiastic and raring to go when it comes to spreading the advocacy. What next? Implementing the policy, of course!

This article discusses how companies and individual employees can go about putting all the positive valuing, planning, and policy-making around civility to action. The initial steps in implementing a civility policy, tips on training employees and managing complaints, as well ways on how to deal with violators will be presented.

The First Steps

Every company policy, the policy on civility included, are only as good as the efforts toward its consistent implementation. After all, you can come up with a civility policy that looks good on paper, but if your core group is not even motivated to spread the word around, then all your hard work remains words on a manual. You need to strategically plan how you can go about making sure that civility policies translate to a culture of civil behavior.

So what to do first? Consider the following:

Launch an awareness campaign. The first step in any campaign is to increase the awareness of persons concerned regarding the existence of a program. After all, you can’t develop a positive attitude towards what you do not, much less put it into action. You have to spread the word around. There are many possible ways you can raise awareness about civility within your company:

You can schedule a presentation of the new company policy — set a date for the “launch” of the policy and make sure everyone is in attendance.

You can put up posters, distribute flyers, and create a website or an e-learning course.

You can spread the information via word-of-mouth; for instance, task your core group to make sure that at least one new person every day from their social circle gets to know about the policy, or you can designate a spokesperson/champion for civility.

It would also be helpful if, as soon as possible, civility policy gets included in the training and continuous education program of new and old employees alike.

Change people’s attitudes about civility. Many experts in personal and organizational development believe that the next critical pre-requisite for change after knowledge is a change of attitude. People may already know what civility is and what it can do, but unless they have a positive attitude towards its practice, the knowledge will remain mere knowledge.

Companies are recommended to campaign towards a positive attitude towards civility. This campaign can include highlighting the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) factor of civility, and even create rewards to those who actively practice civility. Companies must also surface what are the common causes of resistance towards civil behavior and find ways to meet these causes head on.

Set systems in place. Civility is not just a function of people voluntarily practicing civility; it can also be from having the right systems in place. It’s therefore important to look at the company’s ways of doing things and see if there is anything in its practices that provide breeding ground for incivility. Improving systems is actually an effective way of significantly lessening violations of any regulation in the workplace.

For instance, given that anonymity is one of the main causes of incivility, management must eliminate a procedure that encourages acting without any sort of accountability. A grievance desk must also be set up for employee complaints, to make that there is a venue to report violations, and that the reporting process is a non-threatening experience.


As mentioned in a previous module, continuous education and training is critical if you want to see concrete changes within a system like a company.

There are many reasons why training is important:

For one, awareness and attitude change needs to be supported by ability. You can wholeheartedly believe the idea that offering greetings is important in developing great working relationships, but if you have no skills on how to greet properly, you will not be able to live out your attitudes.

Second, there are skills that need to be built upon the successful practice of other skills, making training on these pre-requisites imperative. For example, a seminar-workshop on effective communication is recommended to go hand-in-hand with sensitivity training if the issue being addressed is communicating effectively with members ethnic minorities.

The section on needs analysis has a list of training topics that can help in building civility in the workplace.

Addressing Complaints

So far, what we have discussed are tips on implementing a civility policy that is preventative in nature. But what must be done when an actual incident of incivility has already taken place, and particular organization members have a complaint?

Consider the following tips on how to address complaints about incivility in the workplace.

Actively create a culture where there is a healthy respect for the process of filing a complaint. Staff members must not be made to fear filing a complaint — after all, protecting yourself, your reputation and your ability to work is your right. Neither should company members be put through much song and dance before getting their complaint entertained. Complaining is already a stressful exercise on its own; you don’t have to add to an employee’s trauma.  Communicate clearly that all complaints will be given the attention that it deserves.

But at the same time, ensure that all staff members understand that complaints are serious accusations, and that a person must not file a complaint on a whim. A person’s good name or even his or her work and freedom can be at risk — file a complaint only when certain that you are in the right.

Unless the subject of the complaint is on the more serious spectrum of incivility (e.g. harassment, bullying), opt to encourage workers to settle their dispute on their own.  Settling a dispute without involving company administration can come in the form of a dialogue or even through counseling or mediation by, say, someone from Employee Relations.

Complaints can be an opportunity to teach employees what they can do to settle disputes peacefully without infecting the work environment. And if there is significant hesitation for parties in disagreement to settle the matter, at least provide a referral to a list coping resources or personal/professional counselor/coach who can help the complainant navigate his or her issues effectively.

If the issue has reached the point when company administration has to interfere, then encourage the complainant to put his or her grievance on paper. A formal complaint in writing ensures that due process can be followed when handling complaints. This due process includes an investigation as to the accuracy of the complaint, an analysis of possible mitigating factors (e.g. there are, for example, intentional and unintentional violations) and an opportunity for the other party to air his or her side of the story. Only after the prescribed process is followed can decisions be made.

Take the appropriate action based on the results of the investigation. Consistently follow the consequences laid down on the company’s written civility policy, e.g. first offense for a minor act of incivility may deserve a memo and a written warning, while a reported case of harassment may mean mandatory participation in arbitration.

Lastly, regularly review the systems for managing the complaints. No system is perfect, and a system that is already working at its optimum condition needs to respond to changes within the company and outside it. In order to be able to fine-tune the complaint process and serve the employees’ interest better, make sure that you evaluate the system after every case managed.

Enforcing Violators

The way violators of company policy are dealt with differs from company to company. The following, however, are some ways you can handle violations in your company:

Instead of punishing a violator, you provide coaching and modeling of acceptable behavior. Supervision is the best resort when the violation is mostly due to ignorance of policies or lack of skills training.

Implementation of Pre-determined Consequence. If investigation has proven that a complaint does have merit, it’s important to implement the pre-determined consequence to a particular behavior. It is in the consistency of the implementation of consequences, as well as in the swift delivery of the consequences once judgment is made, that a rule gains credibility and therefore becomes effecting in managing behavior.

Systemic Change. If the incident reveals problems in procedures, communication, power hierarchies, and other systemic factors, then the incident must be taken as opportunity to improve the system.


More About Civility in The Workplace

Introduction to Workplace Civility
Effective Work Etiquette
Costs and Rewards of Workplace Civility
Conflict Resolution at The Workplace
Getting to the Cause of Incivility
Negotiation and Workplace Incivility
Writing a Workplace Civility Policy