Civility in the Workplace

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Remember when the airlines used to invite people to “fly the friendly skies?” Today, airline employees, who are just doing their jobs, are being verbally and physically assaulted by passengers. This same aggressive, sometimes violent, behavior has also invaded our workplaces.

What happened to being “professional,” not to mention “nice,” to the people you work with? Incivility is rampant in the workplace today, leading to rudeness, name-calling, verbal abuse, increased tension and discord, even physical violence. This unprofessional behavior results in higher employee turnover, more absenteeism, lower productivity and profitability.

Employees bring their personal beliefs on divisive topics (politics, immigration, COVID masks and vaccines, gender identification, abortion, global warming, etc.) into the workplace and believe that they have a First Amendment right to share those views with co-workers, disagreeing vehemently with anyone who doesn’t support the same viewpoint.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides only limited freedom of speech in the private sector. Employers have a right, as well as a business need, to implement and enforce policies that support workplace civility. Incivility also increases the likelihood of harassment complaints and lawsuits which can be damaging to a company’s reputation and bottom line.

Social media and electronic communication have made it possible for people to express themselves without considering the impact of their words and behavior on others. When you can’t see the other person, you miss out on facial expressions and body language that indicate how your message was received.

Recently, in response to a legitimate business-related question, I received a scathing message that attacked both my personal and professional reputation. I chose not to lower myself to the discourteous level of the person who sent this message; I also chose to believe that this person would not have attacked me the same way in a face-to-face conversation.

How do we restore civility to the workplace?

First, we lead by example. Check your own behavior, like I did in the situation above. I had nothing to gain by replying to this message, there was nothing that I could say that would change this person’s mind.

Second, include written policies in your company handbook that outline expectations for civil behavior and hold all employees (at all levels of the organization) accountable. Jonathan A. Segal, an attorney with Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia and New York City, advises using phrases such as “Each employee is expected to work in a cooperative manner with management/supervisors, co-workers, customers and vendors.”

Third, adopt other policies that provide guidelines for acceptable behavior in the workplace:

  • Prohibitions of political speech and/or controversial topics, including nonverbal speech (displays of political propaganda, flags, buttons, T-shirts, stickers, etc.)
  • Dress Code including prohibition of clothing with pictures/words that may be offensive to others, clothing that is too tight or revealing, requiring tattoos “offensive by community standards” to be covered
  • Code of Conduct including prohibition of gossiping or spreading rumors, profanity, threatening violence, insubordination or other disrespectful conduct, bullying or harassment, unauthorized disclosure of any confidential company information, etc.
  • Social Media policy that includes reminders that employees should not represent themselves as a company spokesperson when expressing their own views and that company policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment apply to personal social media posts

Fourth, ensure that company policies prohibiting discrimination and harassment include all legally protected characteristics, provide training on these policies, and respond promptly to complaints.


An HR professional can help business owners navigate these and other workplace changes.

From hiring the right employees, running background checks, creating employee handbooks that include anti-harassment policies and procedures, and so much more, Next Level Solutions can work with you to provide the services that you need to run your business.

For more information about our accounting and human resource services, contact Next Level Solutions at info@nextlevelsol.net or (225) 330-8347.