Cultivating a Culture of Respect in the Workplace

Curbing disrespect in the office requires more training than policies to reinforce a company’s values.

Respect in the workplace | BCBusiness
Preventing disrespectful behaviours at work such as gossiping, yelling and rudeness requires more than just putting policies into place.

Curbing disrespect in the office requires more training than policies to reinforce a company’s values.

In my last blog, I discussed the changes effective July 1, 2012, which allow WorkSafeBC to accept disability claims for mental disorders arising from cumulative work-related stress, including bullying. If you don’t yet have a respectful workplace policy for your business, it’s time to consider implementing one. If you do have a policy, it’s time to consider whether it’s as effective. The bottom line is that while policies are necessary, they alone don’t guarantee a respectful workplace. 

Last year I attended a presentation where a consultant reported in a survey of 8,000 employees and mangers from the government sector in Canada and Australia, 69 per cent were aware of their organization’s respectful workplace policies, yet the same percentage were aware of one or more incidents of violations of respectful workplace policies.  Of those surveyed, 58 per cent of respondents said their organizations had not prepared them to respond appropriately when they encountered disrespectful behaviours. 

Employment policies on respectful workplaces often only deal with serious violations such as sexual harassment, discrimination, and racist or bigoted joking or teasing. Most employees understand such behaviours are unacceptable. What is not as readily understood, however, is that there are other forms of behaviour that are destructive to employee wellness and productivity. Gossip, rudeness, ridiculing, spreading rumours, yelling, and ignoring or withholding necessary information are all incompatible with a respectful workplace. These behaviours cause employees to feel isolated and disrespected, which in turn affects productivity, work quality and wellness. Further, workplace psychologists tell us that in addition to the harmful effects on the employees directly victimized by these behaviours, other employees who simply witness such behaviours are also negatively impacted. 

Just as employees get training on how to do the technical aspects of their job, they should also be trained on effective communication, and on how to solve day-to-day disagreements informally and with respect. Training should also deal with recognizing inappropriate or disruptive behaviours, and with the employer’s formal process to deal with such problems if they cannot be solved informally. Orientation for new hires, team meetings and annual performance reviews are additional opportunities to teach and reinforce these policies and values. 

Now employees have a new means of compensation under the Workers Compensation Act. However, by the time an employee makes a claim for disability and lost time at work due to mental disorder and repetitive workplace stress, it’s likely the problem has existed for a long time, and that there was no effective means of dealing with the problem.

If employers want to avoid issues related to bullying and harassment, respectful behaviour has to become ingrained in the organization’s culture from top to bottom. That means once policies are in place, respectful behaviour has to become part of your organization’s values, training and performance review criteria. Only then can you rest assured you can avoid all of the costs and claims arising from these issues.

This blog is written by Nicole Byres of Clark Wilson LLP and made available by BCBusiness to provide general information on employment law, and is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer licensed to practice in your jurisdiction. Neither the reading of this blog nor the sending of unsolicited comments or emails creates a lawyer-client relationship with the writer or Clark Wilson LLP.