By Carol Nibley

Do your employees understand how they can contribute to a respectful workplace? Many employees wrongfully assume they are free to say almost anything to or about a co-worker without consequence.

I recently heard of an employee who felt intimated by team members because of insensitive comments related to her age. Several young co-workers were huddled together and discussing how “Linda” should not be allowed to do certain tasks because she would just “mess things up.” 

On another team, an employee was frustrated by a co-worker who talked too much. Instead of addressing the annoying co-worker directly, the employee spoke with other members of the team to see if they, too, were feeling frustration. By the time the talkative co-worker got the message, she felt everyone was ganging up on her. She was humiliated.

These two situations may seem minor, but both created pain and shame. At best, these types of situations create costly distractions. If distraction is at one end of the continuum, the other end will be illegal harassment.

How can you create an environment of respect and tolerance? Following are a few suggestions:

  1. Lead by example. Employees at all levels of the company must be held to the same standards of civility.
  2. Communicate expectations clearly and frequently.
  3. Hold managers accountable for respectful team interactions.
  4. Enact consequences immediately for violations.
  5. Terminate offenders who are unwilling to treat co-workers with respect.

Vigilance in protecting a respectful workplace culture will be rewarded with greater productivity, lower turnover and absenteeism, and minimized legal risks. It’s definitely worth the effort.


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