Civility In The Workplace: Does It Exist?


April 11, 2011

“Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.”

– Benjamin Franklin


The word conjures up ideas of a time when people were more refined in their behavior.  A time when etiquette mattered.  A time when mothers taught their children the “proper” way to behave, how to act like a lady or gentleman.  In my mind’s eye, it is a simpler time.  A time when even in quarrels, duels, and battles, certain rules of appropriateness applied and were followed.

The topic of civility in the workplace, or what to do when it is lacking in specific employees, came up at the CHCA conference this week.  For several HR executives, being able to teach, no, demand that employees treat each other in a respectful way is on their radar.  Employees have become lax in many organizations.  They do not show respect to everyone they work with.  They roll their eyes, disregard instructions, and ignore job duties.  Then, managers are left to figure out how to discipline them.

This question is not unique to the healthcare industry.  I’d like to hear your thoughts:

  • Do we still have civility in the workplace?
  • If not, what does your organization do to promote mannerly behavior?
  • What advice do you give to managers who have a disrespectful employee to handle?

Let’s pull together and come up with some good ideas for our HR colleagues from CHCA and the pediatric hospitals across the country.  Thanks in advance for your comments.


  • Our organization has recommitted itself to driving a service (aka – civility) philosophy into our culture. We brought together 60 of our most customer-focused employees, along with 10 of our parents whose kids have been patients here, and they identified the top five service behaviors we should adopt. We’re about to launch the initiative, so I’ll have more to share down the road. Great post Trish.

  • I think civility in the workplace has always been a problem. All it takes is one bad apple, and the entire cart is spoiled. My first job in my profession was probably one of the most painful experiences and it was all due to burned-out, uncivil workers.

    I am of the philosophy that it starts with attitudes from the very top. Employees feel that they are just a number, which breeds malcontent. Then there’s the Negative Nelly, who tries to bring out the worst in everyone around them. Then we have Sh** disturber Shelly, who likes to cause trouble. In an environment of indifference, these personalities flourish.

    A service mission statement of civility should be posted in every part of the company campus. It should be observed by EVERY single employee from the janitor to the CEO. The message of “we’re all in this together, like it or not” should be shouted from the rooftops. Does it mean that everyone has to hug, kiss and sing “Kum Bay Yah”? No. But making positive attitudes a company goal could help turn Negative Nelly and Sh** Disturber Shelly into more positive workers.

  • Great post Trish.

    Civility in the workplace shouldn’t be an option, it should be intrinsic in all that we do…. CHROs highlight three key workforce areas as significant opportunities for improvement – one of which is “Rapidly developing workforce skills and capabilities”. If we are going to work beyond borders and strive to create Leaders of the future, work at speed and with flexibility civility needs to be evident throughout the organization and a core behaviour evidenced throughout the workforce. What do we really have without civility? #IBMHRSTUDY

    How about asking employees how as a team they want to behave and what team traits they want to see demonstrated. Print these on posters and stick them up around the office / in meetings rooms as a reminder.

  • I am sometimes astounded at the way people talk to each other via email, even worse than face to face. a good rule of thumb is to read out loud an email you might have written when angry and before you hit the send button, ask yourself “how would my mum feel if she heard me speaking to someone like that?” I actually think this is more of a social problem than a business one…

    • @Kate- That’s great advice about thinking how it would sound to your mum. I often struggle with email because of tone. Sometimes, even an email that is not meant to sound harsh can if you dash it off in just a moment and without a re-read. We should all consider tone and in person, body language, as we communicate. Those signals can destroy relationships. Thank you for joining the conversation!

  • Very interesting post, Trish. I think some workplaces are more civil than others. I also believe civility is an attitude that one can choose. Choosing to be civil to someone doesn’t mean you necessarily even like the person very much.

    If civility is a problem in the workplace, one method any employee — regardless of level or position — can use to begin to change that custom of incivility is to be appreciative to colleagues. Even if it’s just one person, taking a moment to notice someone’s efforts and thank them for it changes the attitude of both the person giving appreciation and recognition (forcing that person to look outside themselves to notice those around them) and the person receiving the praise (wow! Somebody does notice what I’m doing!)

    Such a simple act can have profound effects. And all it takes is making the choice to be appreciative — to be civil.

Comments are closed.

Screen Shot 2019-12-01 at 17.20.39

About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


Play Video


Play Video

Related posts

3 Reasons To Reveal Your Vulnerabilities

As I sat onstage at UNLEASH World 2022 in Paris last week, I had an epiphany. I need to be […]

Read More

I Cried in the Grocery Store: A Story of Soup and Loneliness

I cried in the grocery store. No, it wasn’t over the outrageously high prices that we’re facing post-pandemic. It wasn’t […]

Read More

Partner with me


Get in touch today to find out more about how I can help your organization leverage HR and HCM technology to attract, onboard, retain and manage top talent.