Civility and Corporate Culture

We live in a challenging time — yes, another profound grasp of the obvious. From my narrow perspective, there are two significant trends occurring at the same time — people are angry and more willing to express their anger and frustration in situations, while others appear to be embracing empathy, kindness and increased concern for others.  I know this sounds circular but hear me out.

Yes, our political dialogue has deteriorated to a low and dangerous level.  in the past, an honest dialogue, sharing of ideas, and a calm and spirited discussion could lead to increased understanding of political views and perspectives.  The didactic process for evolution in ideas has always been an important part of our human and social experience.  That process, however, is breaking down.  Civility has been replaced by anger, hostility and aggression without regard for any consideration of another’s ideas or even perspective.  We can spend days discussing why this happened, who began the cynical retreat, and how this phenomena may end.

At the same time, we have all witnessed extraordinary acts of kindness, sharing of concerns for each other, care in the charitable motivation of people to each other — indeed, a greater sense of empathy.  While the internet has exacerbated the isolation of individuals, at the same time it may have increased community responses to specific tragedies or personal need for help by increasing interaction among individuals who may not normally know each other or have an opportunity to meet each other in person.

With these two conflicting ideas, which are often present within one organization, ethics and compliance professionals have to recognize the challenges they face when seeking to increase employee unity, bonding in a community and ultimately the company’s culture.  After all, employees often come together in sharing the company’s mission, in valuing the company’s performance and ensuring sustainable growth and financial performance.

In recognition of these important trends, senior management has to act to demonstrate commitment to corporate culture with the basic idea of treating others as they themselves want to be treated — a simple idea with a powerful impact.  Human resources and ethics and compliance need to reinforce these principles throughout the organization.  To this end, an important message has to be communicated from the board and senior management — our organization’s success depends on civility, a basic requirement among all individuals, no matter what position — we all treat each other with respect and in a civil manner.  Basic rules have to be communicated, defined and enforced. 

In the absence of such an initiative, a company’s culture can break down quickly as a result of interpersonal interactions that are hostile, negative or consistent with outside social and political forces.  A company’s success depends on its ability to create an environment in which employees feel safe, not just physically, but in personal interactions and communications tone. A civil environment is a basic standard that must be satisfied.

Employee engagement depends on trust, respect and civility.  Senior management plays a critical role – if a CEO or other senior managers are abusive, employee engagement will deteriorate.  In a negative work culture, employee misconduct rates increase and overall productivity will decline. 

A basic expectation of civility is a first step in building trust and employee engagement.  Companies that act in this way have accomplished an important first step on their way to a positive culture.  Given the difficult political and social time in which we live, companies have to build effective protections against a deteriorating culture that stems from lack of basic civility and respect for each other.

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