How to cultivate civility in the workplace

5 Tips for Cultivating Civility in the Workplace

A workplace is only as good as its culture, and a culture can’t thrive without civility. Civility in healthcare organizations fosters teamwork, reduces conflicts, and can enhance productivity. What’s more, civility is an ethical obligation for nurses.

The ANA’s Code of Ethics for Nurses with Interpretive Statements states that nurses are obligated to create an “environment and culture of civility and kindness, treating colleagues, coworkers, employees, students, and others with dignity and respect.” Not only should nurses cultivate that environment, but they should also experience that same level of dignity and respect.

In fact, in a recent webinar entitled “Mindful Communication:  Leadership and Staff Perspectives,” Melissa A. Fitzpatrick, MSN, RN, FAAN, president of Kirby Bates Associates, led a panel discussion of leaders and staff from UNC Rex and UnityPoint Health.  In addition to sharing leading edge practices on evolving models of care and contemporary communication techniques, the panel shared thoughts on the importance of cultivating a culture of civility.

Building a culture of civility and respect challenges organizations of all sizes. However, its impact on staff experience, retention, and recruitment makes it an imperative for all healthcare organizations.

Here are five tips for fostering a culture of civility, respect, and safety in your organization.

Lead by Example

While civility is the responsibility of every clinician, staff member, and executive, that culture begins with the CNO. When CNOs demonstrate civility, their positive attitude percolates throughout the organization.

At UNC Rex Healthcare, the executive team took a zero-tolerance policy toward aggressive behavior and communication.

“These efforts were clearly visible across the campus,” said UNC Rex clinical staff nurse McKenzie Duttman, MSN, RN, CMSRN, CPHQ. “[The messaging] was visible on signage at nurse stations and elevator bays, helping keep it at the forefront of everyone’s mind.”

When leaders take pressing matters such as civility seriously, it earns buy-in from frontline clinicians and can significantly improve staff experience, collaboration, and retention.

Establish Clear Expectations

Healthcare organizations should be explicitly clear about the expected behavior of their staff.

At UNC Rex, Duttman said staff follow the maxim, ‘what we permit, we promote.’ That offers clinicians a simple framework for how they should conduct themselves. 

Take the time to develop a comprehensive code of conduct that outlines expectations for acceptable behavior and communication. A resource like this removes any doubt regarding what’s expected of staff and helps teams hold their colleagues responsible when their actions aren’t aligned with those expectations.

Encourage Open Communication

Cultivating civility requires effort from everyone, and effective communication is what enables that to happen. In high-pressure environments, tensions can rise quickly. Establishing effective communication channels reinforces how imperative civility is to an organization and helps staff communicate their concerns.

Enterprise Chief Nurse Executive and Vice President of UnityPoint Health D’Andre (Dre) Carpenter, DNP, RN, said that he and his staff have been focusing on streamlining the communication vehicles that reinforce the organization’s values like civility. To do so, UnityPoint has diversified its communication channels to meet nurses where they are. They use email newsletters, private Facebook groups, and a weekly video series called “What Matters Most” to build a culture of civility. 

By making communication easier, tough conversations can be more productive, giving staff room to grow. Healthcare organizations can get better at conversations about incivility, just like they do with safety issues. CNO and Vice President of Patient Care Services at UNC Rex Healthcare Lorie Rhine, MSN, RN, NE-BC, said, “We need to take the steps to figure out how we can support staff in a better way, how we identify workplace violence at all levels, and how we communicate it up to the executives.”

Train Teams to Address and Navigate Incivility

Healthcare organizations should provide training programs that teach employees to navigate difficult situations. Training that focuses on interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, and emotional intelligence equips staff with actionable skills and addresses the real challenges staff face.

“We have to acknowledge that incivility happens,” Rhine said. “We can’t ignore it. We have to face it head-on, and we have to deal with it. It may mean that we have to use our HR policies if it’s necessary, or we may need to take the moment to coach staff whose actions aren’t civil or respectful.”

Training is as vital for the staff experience as it is for recruitment and retention in a fierce labor market. Rhine went on to say, “We’re not going to be able to keep younger nurses if we can’t figure out how to treat each other in a respectful manner.”

Ultimately, communication channels that efficiently and effectively address conflicts play a key role in fostering a welcoming environment for leadership, staff, and patients.

Recognize and Reward Civility

Nurses and clinicians are obligated to create civil and welcoming environments. Despite that, it challenges even the most experienced clinicians. Given every unit’s stressors, civility takes courage, intelligence, and grace.

CNOs and organizations as a whole should take the time to recognize individuals who promote civility, be it through their words or actions. By highlighting their commitment to creating a welcoming environment, leaders can once again reinforce how vital civility is.

Workplace Civility Benefits Staff, Patients, and the Bottom Line

Civility is a crucial element of a productive, positive workplace. As a part of an organization’s culture, civility is an ongoing process demanding continuous effort and commitment from every level. While it takes time and energy, an organization renowned for mutual respect can experience greater productivity, higher morale, and less difficulty retaining and recruiting staff.

With 30 years of proven leadership solutions exclusively in healthcare, Kirby Bates Associates is prepared to support your organization’s leadership with our comprehensive portfolio of proven leadership services, from healthcare executive search to interim leadership and executive advisory services. As successful healthcare executive recruiters, our effective and inclusive approaches deliver sustainable solutions for our clients’ greatest leadership challenges, from civility in the workplace to recruitment and retention. 

Get in touch today to learn more about how Kirby Bates Associates can support your organization.