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Workplace Civility: The Policy You Don’t Need … Until You Really Need It

Use your words. Say “please” and “thank you.” Clean up after yourself.

The simplest rules – the ones you teach your kids, or the ones you remember from elementary school – often aren’t posted in any workplace. Usually, nobody needs the reminder.

Unfortunately, all it takes is one horror story to demonstrate the importance of making every expectation clear.

It’s not just about trusting that your lunch is safe in the community fridge. In fact, Google found that teams with high psychological safety, which is one marker of a respectful work environment, had better ideas, generated more revenue and were rated as twice as effective. (Learn more about that study, and other positive effects of workplace civility, in episode 39 of the HR Break Room podcast.)

Workplace civility generally consists of respectful, courteous behavioral norms among co-workers. It includes consideration of others’ concerns, backgrounds and feelings, and must be expressed in all communications: verbal and nonverbal, one-on-one and in group settings.

Thanks to guidance from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), companies nationwide now have more freedom to clarify those expectations in their workplace civility policies.

Recent evolution of NLRB guidance

In December 2017, the NLRB ruled in The Boeing Co. that if a facially neutral personnel policy was in question, the agency would consider an employer’s business-related justification in determining the lawfulness of that policy. The decision also provided guidance on which policies would typically be lawful and which would typically be considered a violation of employee rights.

We saw a practical application of this decision in a memo released by the NLRB General Counsel in June of last year, stating that a “Commitment to My Co-Workers” policy, detailing practices that promoted workplace civility, was a lawful expectation for employees. The employer could reasonably require workers to sign the document, and fire those who refused to comply.

What this means for employers

If your company doesn’t have a workplace policy in place, or yours hasn’t been updated in a while, consider creating one that covers some of these common expectations:

  • timeliness
  • professionalism
  • accountability
  • respect for internal and external contacts
  • honesty
  • self-motivation
  • follow-through
  • healthy conflict resolution

For example, in your policy, you can outline expectations for respectful behavior in the workplace, and elaborate on what professionalism in your organization means. It’s also another opportunity to note what would be considered unacceptable workplace conduct, such as harassment, discrimination or intimidation.

In light of the NLRB’s guidance, if your workplace civility policy hasn’t been reviewed recently, you might want to make sure it covers everything you need it to. What better time than now?