2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenges for everyone, including employers. Aside from the worst pandemic in a century and an inordinate number of natural disasters, social and political tensions seem to be at all-time high.

These tensions flooded the workplace like a tsunami and employers are trying to figure out how to return civility and respect to the workplace. No “secret sauce” or “magic pill” exists for creating and promoting a civil and respectful workplace, so the purpose of this article is to outline a few action items for helping employers get on the right track toward a more civil workplace as soon as possible.

1. Hire People Who Conduct Themselves in a Civil Manner

One of the tried and true rules of human resources is that if you hire the best candidates, you will have more successful employees and fewer employment-related problems. This rule could not be more true when it comes to creating and promoting a civil and respectful workplace.

Seek out and select candidates who manifest civility and respect. Some things to look for might so simple as showing up on time for screening calls or interviews; being respectful to everyone in the screening process; being neat and organized, using polite language; having good manners and being deferential and humble.

2. Model and Expect Civil Behavior

In the same way you expect candidates to behave in a civil and respectful manner, your leaders and managers should model civil and respectful behaviors and expect their subordinates to do the same. The saying goes: “a fish rots from the head!” So, if leaders do not model and expect civility and respect, their subordinates will certainly not show it in their words and actions.

3. Encourage Tolerance, Perspective and Empathy

Some of the specific skills you can teach employees to foster civility in the workplace is to encourage them to be tolerant of others; to appreciate the value of different people and their perspectives; and to learn how to be empathetic of others.

4. Promote Diversity of Thought and Inclusiveness Through Training

Diversity and inclusiveness training has evolved over the years. Among other things, it involves learning to appreciate ALL of the diversity among us, including diversity of background and thought, irrespective of the legal categories that define us.

Formal diversity programs may not be the full answer, but they are an important foundation on the way toward a more civil and respectful workplace. Employers that want to create a civil and respectful workplace will invest in diversity and inclusion programs and activities as part of their overall program to create and build civility.

5. Adopt Policies That Require Civil Conduct

Many formal policies are necessary to create a work environment that is civil and respectful. For example, essential polices should prohibit harassment, bullying, workplace violence, fraud and conflicts of interest and require respect and civility.

6. Adopt Complaint Procedures and Teach Conflict Resolution Processes

In addition to the policies prohibiting uncivil conduct, employees need to know the specific procedures for surfacing complaints. They need to know they will not be retaliated against for reporting their concerns.

Beyond the usual complaint procedures, managers and employees need to be taught conflict resolution skills. By handling complaints and conflicts in the proper way, employers can demonstrate to employees their respect for them. In other words, fair and just procedures deliver justice for all.

7. Hold Managers and Employees Accountable for Creating a Civil Workplace

It is important to hold managers and employees accountable for the standards expressed in formal policies and procedures. One way to hold employees and managers to standards of respect and civility is to include measures of or references to their contributions to civility in their performance evaluations. Or, include civil (or uncivil) conduct as a consideration in transfers, promotions or pay increases and require managers and employees to complete an annual self-review (checklist) of the specific actions they did to build civility in the workplace.

Of course, another effective way to build civility is to discipline or even to discharge employees or managers who engage in uncivil conduct.

8. Conduct Effective Exit Interviews

Employees are typically more forthcoming about negative aspects of the workplace when they are exiting employment. Conducting effective exit interviews is one way to get unfiltered feedback about possible disrespectful or uncivil behaviors in the workplace. Or, better yet, conducting “stay interviews” which are essentially exit interviews of current employees or employee surveys are two additional ways to identify and “head off” feelings of disrespect before an employee tenders his or her resignation!

9. Be Informed About the World Outside Your Workplace

The workplace is not detached from the outside world. Trends or social/political movements in the outside world almost always work their way into the workplace over time. Think about the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter Movements, among other. By staying “up to speed” on what is going on outside the workplace, employers can gain a better understanding of the issues that may ultimately surface in their workplace.

So, rather than putting their head in the sand, employers should monitor and be sensitive to the outside world; reflect on the issues and problems there; get educated; and develop proactive strategies to learn from those trends or movements. This awareness of the outside world will help you to be more empathetic and to have a broader perspective. In the end, it should result in a more civil and respectful workplace.


Fostering a civil workplace in these challenging times may not be easy. It will require work and constant attention and some basic actions, as outlined in this article. But, going into the New Year, perhaps there is no better resolution than to aspire to a more civil workplace.