What Is Civility Training, and How Can It Help Your Organization?

Human Resources
by Guest Columnist

By Bridget Miller

We have reported on civility training in a previous issue of the Advisor, but what really is civility training, and how can it be used to benefit your company? We have some thoughts on the matter from guest columnist Bridget Miller.

Of all the types of training you may consider offering to employees, have you considered adding civility training to the list? Some people may be thinking that it sounds ludicrous that something as simple as being civil to one another should need training—or that it should even be something within the purview of an employer. But the recently issued Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance on harassment would beg to differ.

While civility training is not the primary focus of the latest harassment guidance, it is nonetheless mentioned as a potential intervention that could reduce harassing behaviors in the workplace.

What Is Civility Training?

Civility training, as the name implies, is a set of training aimed at stemming the ever-increasing levels of incivility seen in today’s workplaces. It tackles the issue by focusing on giving employees skills to better communicate and interact with one another. Often, this type of training includes information about proper workplace etiquette, as well as information on what it means to be sensitive to the needs of others and civil in interactions.

How Could Civility Training Help Employers?

If you’re looking to reduce the potential for harassment between employees, you have a lot of options, and civility training might be a good one to consider. Here are a few of the benefits employers may get:

  • Improved morale when general employee behaviors improve;
  • Less chance for harassing behavior to gain a foothold and spread within the organization;
  • Decreased turnover due to improved conditions and increased employee satisfaction;
  • Interruption of bad behaviors before they escalate to harassment;
  • Cultural shifts in which bad behaviors toward other employees are not tolerated;
  • Communication between employees can be improved; and
  • Employees will have more tools to utilize if they witness or are subject to inappropriate or uncivil behaviors—thus potentially reducing the need for HR involvement.

One Caveat: NRLA Compliance

For employers considering implementing this type of training, take care to not infringe on employee rights. Employers cannot prohibit activities that are actually protected under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA protects an employee’s right to concerted activities—which may, in some cases, include saying things about an employer or employee that are negative.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) cautions employers when implementing policies related to civility. For example, an employer shouldn’t have a broad policy that completely prohibits employees from ever saying anything negative about the employer, as doing so could present a situation in which the employer may be construed as trying to keep employees from discussing working conditions or other employment aspects—something they’re specifically guaranteed the right to do.

As such, if implementing any type of civility training, be careful not to issue guidance that is too broad. By making policies too general, an employer runs the risk of appearing to prohibit concerted activity. Be sure to understand employee rights under the NLRA, and if you’re implementing a policy related to civility, don’t overstep. Instead, be specific about the types of behaviors that are welcome and unwelcome. Instead of saying that employees should always maintain positive attitudes, for example, the employer could give guidance that employees should refrain from acting in ways that are intimidating or threatening to others.

Has your organization considered implementing civility training? Is this something you would find useful?

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