One of the most serious legal challenges any organization can face is how to respond to employee complaints without violating scores of laws prohibiting retaliation. In an environment where concerns are invited, the response to a complaint will not be a reflexive and negative – “let’s shoot the messenger” – reaction that spawns many complaints.
It will be more along the lines of “let’s encourage and thank the person for coming forward.” In companies that have worked to create an environment where concerns are welcomed, there’s a climate where retaliation is actually taboo rather than an unspoken but accepted norm.
Further, when a welcoming environment is in place, many issues that are often minimized or ignored—meaning legal-but-uncivil forms of conduct—will be brought to fore where they can be dealt with and eventually minimized.
Also, when the concerns you are welcoming include minor issues associated with daily interactions, then you have a formula for sustained civil treatment. People will speak up about issues major and minor because they know that their supervisor, manager, or peer will listen to them, that action will be taken, and that speaking up will be rewarded. In other words, listening, action, and support replace dismissal, rejection, inaction, or even retaliation. “Concerns” become a matter for curiosity and investigation rather than fear.
That’s why, of all the elements that go into creating a workplace that is more inclusive, diverse, productive, and legal, building an environment that truly welcomes concerns of all shapes and sizes is the most critical. In doing so, you will prevent crises and the everyday drag of incivility, and you’ll be able to take action before a crisis erupts and suddenly everyone is saying they knew all along something like that would happen!
The importance of welcoming concerns
The best indicator of whether an organization will succeed in creating a civil treatment environment is whether people feel free to speak up about issues small and large, minor and serious, uncivil and illegal. To have that kind of environment, you have to be doing a lot of things right. People have to know that you take matters of civility seriously. They have to know that behavior consistent with your values is acknowledged and rewarded and that behavior that is bad for the organization will not be tolerated. They have to trust that their managers will listen and that action will be taken (even if the outcome is not what they wanted). They have to trust that if they raise a concern they will not be retaliated against, ostracized, or singled out in any way.
While there are many aspects to an organization where civil treatment is taking root, the reality is that if you don’t have an environment that truly welcomes concerns of all sorts, you can never claim to have a fully civil organization; and vice versa, without a focus on civil treatment, you will never have an environment that welcomes concerns.