Let’s face it. No one wants to work in a workplace that filled with conflict and anger. No one wants to be the target of verbal assaults, passive aggression or rude behavior. Workplaces that are marred with this kind of behavior as an acceptable part of their work culture today just won’t make it. Why? Because people have enough stress on a day to day basis especially now when we are living through concurrent economic, health and social crises.
Now, more than ever it is important that leaders in every organization be in touch with their work culture, listen to employees and look at ways to create harmonious and just workplaces. So much of the work I have performed over the last few decades is helping organizations identify the perpetrators of inappropriate behavior and see if some sort of intervention can salvage the employee or work environment. In some instances, these initial efforts turn into full-fledged investigations with claims that these behaviors, gone unchecked, have created hostile workplaces with unlawful practices that violate employer policy or the law.
Inappropriate behaviors cause a loss of productivity, “work arounds”, employee retention problems, cost the workplaces reputational harm and hefty legal fees with protracted lawsuits.
So, what can leaders do?
First, leaders must “walk the talk” and emulate the behavior they want to see in their workplaces. The assumption here is that the leader is one who already leads with integrity, fairness, values and respects employees, is open to different perspectives and practices and values inclusion rather than exclusion. Leaders should engage employees and encourage civility in the workplace by recognizing and reinforcing it. Leaders must hold their employees and themselves accountable for their behavior. If the leader steps out of line and exhibits inappropriate behavior, then he or she should “own it”, by acknowledging the wrongdoing and apologizing to subjected employees.
I have seen all of these behaviors I’m writing about here. The list of poor behaviors include profanity laced rants, yelling and screaming, name calling and other bullying behaviors in person or electronically, hostile emails, offensive touching, making objectionable symbols, drawing or displaying offensive images and more. Leaders who are willing to go the extra mile by acknowledging their own errors and missteps can win over their employees for being honest. No one is perfect and some employees may have bad days, but they will see that they can set things right by acknowledging where they may have gone wrong. What we do not want to see, however, are repeated missteps or disrespectful treatment of co-workers or subordinates.
Leaders need to know what their policies are with respect to fairness in the workplace. This can include everything from workplace values statements, behavioral expectations, to the performance appraisal process and unlawful behaviors.
We know that organizations are not democracies but like my mom taught me and often said, ‘you can catch more bees with honey than you can with vinegar.’