This article first appeared in the July, 2018 issue of Spirited Magazine

America’s workplace is in the middle of a paradigm shift, and that paradigm has made itself known in a very public way through the #MeToo movement. Harassment in the workplace has been taking place behind closed office doors much more frequently than we’d like to think—or even dared to believe. Add an alcoholic beverage or two (or more) to a workplace culture that’s tolerant of inappropriate behavior, and the incidents of harassment will increase significantly.

At the end of 2017, executive coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas conducted an analysis of recent news reports on sexual harassment. The results showed that 71 percent of alleged sexual harassment abuse occurred in the workplace, yet only 25.7 percent of alleged sexual misconduct was reported. That’s a very bigdiscrepancy, most likely fueled by fear of job loss or retaliation.

Empirical evidence shows those organizations that proactively educate their workforce and take a preventive approach are likely to have fewer problems with harassment in their workplace. Equally important, if not more so, is an organization’s culture. A workplace culture that ignores or tolerates inappropriate and unlawful behavior, including disrespect, will likely have higher incidences of harassment and bullying. A culture that fosters respect and civility equates to a healthier work environment.


Set the tone

Effecting change and preventing harassment in the workplace starts at the top. Leadership must model the way for others to unify and align its vision for fostering respect. Leaders that recognize harassment as a health and safety issue, and that stay mindful of their employees, will foster a culture where employees feel comfortable coming to them with issues.

There are many actions a company can take to prevent harassment, including:

  • Re-examine your company’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy and update it as necessary to conform with federal and state laws, as well as with internal company protocols.
  • Set the tone at the very beginning of an employee’s employment by including a harassment discussion during the new hire orientation.
  • Regularly provide training and education to all employees on what constitutes unlawful harassment.
  • Periodically review the company’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy in staff meetings.
  • Create a Responsible Consumption Policy that outlines a company’s expectations and behavioral standards, such as the industry practice of “swirl, sniff, and spit” when consuming or sampling alcoholic beverages and during company-sponsored social events.
  • Evaluate the sales component of the business for acceptable norms for customer entertainment.
  • Administer a company-wide climate survey that ensures anonymity, and then pay attention to the feedback.
  • Create a confidential HR Hotline for employees to report misconduct.
  • Implement catch-up meetings with your employees to provide opportunities to talk about any issues they might have experienced.


Model respect

Of course, none of these steps guarantee the absolute elimination of inappropriate behavior in the workplace. Leaders must set standards for respect and civility within all levels of an organization to create a healthy culture where employees feel valued and safe. These same leaders must coach those in their sphere of influence to model the way and hold each other accountable.

There a number of ways to demonstrate respectful and civil behavior in the workplace, including:

  • Forget yourself in the moment to focus on the needs of others;
  • Consider how your words and actions will impact others before you speak or act;
  • Approach each interaction with respect, regardless of whether you believe that person’s behaviors “earn” or even elicit that respect;
  • Listen to the other person without interruption and practice effective listening skills;
  • Become a bridge builder and act in a manner that creates an inclusive work environment;
  • Take time to analyze relevant facts and to reconsider your assumptions; and
  • Pay attention to how respectful you are in your communications and other actions on an ongoing basis.

Simply put, civility is a collection of positive behaviors that produce feelings of respect, dignity, and trust. By holding others accountable to these standards of behavior, leaders demonstrate a commitment to a healthy work environment. Even if it’s only within each leader’s sphere of influence, they can take steps to eliminate behaviors not in alignment with those of a healthy workplace and celebrate civility within their team’s policies and programs.

As a leader, be mindful of the following quote by Ruth Anne Crouse, “What Peter tells me about Paul tells me more about Peter than it tells me about Paul.” Recognize that your actions will influence how others perceive you. Remember you can make decisions now that will embed civility into the workplace of the future.