Ensuring that employees treat each other with respect and stay well within the bounds of the law at work is a responsibility that all employees share. So, when it comes to civility training, government employers have many of the same concerns as private employers.
However, federal government employers have some unique responsibilities and opportunities that employers in the private sector don’t have.
For one, federal government agency employees play a vital role in public health and safety. Potential culture problems and toxicity at work can lead to mistakes, high turnover, or the failure to attract the best talent in the first place — all of which can go on to have significant repercussions on the public as a whole.
Government employers also have a different set of regulations and hurdles to deal with when it comes to reporting bad behavior. Plus, additional stress from administration changes, shrinking budgets, and the uncertainty brought on by the 2020 pandemic can pave the way for various kinds of bad behavior at work.
When choosing a civility training program for your employees, make sure to avoid these mistakes.
Approaching Civility From a Legal Angle
We all know how expensive, stressful and damaging lawsuits can be, so perhaps it’s understandable that employers tend to focus first on understanding the letter of the law when it comes to employee behavior.
However, the “compliance-first” approach ignores a few glaring realities.
First of all, claims that don’t have legal merit are still made often and can be almost as draining as a failed lawsuit.
As we wrote in our post Why Government Workers and Others File Claims, a vast majority of the claims of discrimination and other bad behavior filed in the federal sector are dismissed. But that doesn’t stop a growing number of people from filing them. Many file out of a feeling of desperation. They are being treated poorly at work, and they want someone to pay attention and help them stop the bad behavior. It’s not a stretch for employees to make a claim of a hostile work environment or harassment if any type of bad behavior continues over time, even if there’s technically no discriminatory behavior at play.
Besides the fact that these many “meritless” claims that send productivity plummeting, choosing training that focuses on the letter of the law is actually less likely to eliminate the lawsuit-triggering bad behaviors, too. That’s because compliance-focused training fails to address the root problems and subtle behaviors that pave the way for more egregious, headline-grabbing lawsuits later on.
Failing to Get Training Tailored for Government Workers
As we discussed in our post How #MeToo is Affecting the Public Workforce, public sector employees often have more hurdles to overcome than their private sector counterparts when it comes to reporting bad behavior and seeing results from those reports.
The best civility training programs for federal government agencies draw upon a deep knowledge of how these regulations differ from the private sector — and incorporate that knowledge into their training.
Another unique characteristic that most federal employees share is a special sense of purpose that comes from a career in public service. Public sector employees were often initially attracted to their jobs because they wanted to help their communities and contribute meaningfully to society.
Acknowledging this during civility training can help employees put problems into perspective and rally them around a common goal. After all, civil behavior at work lays the foundation required to get things done and make progress on the agency’s ultimate goals of public service. The emphasis on employees being a part of something bigger than themselves and the need to work efficiently as a team puts the need for civil behavior into clear focus.
Failing to Address Leaders’ Unique Role
It doesn’t matter how many hours of civility training the staff takes or how many posters listing organizational values are posted in the lunchroom if agency leaders don’t show that they’re on board with those values with their actions and their words.
As we wrote in our post 6 Leadership Priorities for Maintaining a Civil Federal Workplace, leaders of government agencies must go further than identifying values (such as “respect” or “inclusion”). They must also identify key behaviors that make those values and principles come alive. They must talk about your agency’s values and behaviors in plain language, and intervene, as necessary to keep standards alive.
They must not only exhibit those behaviors themselves, and they must ask those they lead to think about what they say and how they say it, too. Simple reminders can go a long way to keeping your agency’s core values alive and effective.
The best civility training for federal government agencies understands the importance of the role leaders play in civility and dedicates time especially for them to learn and practice these concepts.
Failing to Address Employee-to-Employee Behaviors
Leaders play a crucial role in setting expectations for behavior, but they can’t be everywhere at all times.
Most employee interactions happen between peers with no leader present, and in many cases, this is where the most damaging interactions can happen.
That’s why employees at all levels need behavioral tools to work out disagreements in a way that keeps everyone feeling safe and welcome.
The best training programs for federal government agencies specifically addresses the role of bystanders in responding to bad behavior at work, and gives employees a chance to practice active listening and apologizing so they’ll be ready to use those skills when it’s time for them to do so.
A Civility Training Program Designed for Government
If you’re looking for a civility training program that embraces all of the best practices we listed here, ELI offers a civility training program specifically for government employees.
We’ve partnered with our current federal clients and engaged the services of a federal workplace subject matter expert to create two learning solutions that best reflect your unique work environment.
Our training also incorporates EEOC guidance to accessibility in the workplace by using closed captions in all of our CTL and CTE government videos.
Thanks to modern technology, online civility training is better than ever. Features like digital polls, chat rooms, and video conferencing are making civility training engaging, effective, and convenient for everyone.
Are you ready to get started? Here are some resources to learn more: