February 22nd marks Pink Shirt Day, a day aimed at raising awareness and ending bullying. There’s been a spotlight on bullying in the workplace since the introduction of Bill 14, and Pink Shirt Day presents another opportune moment to focus on preventing bullying and building stronger, more respectful workplace cultures.
By the time leaders hear about bullying, the behaviour has often been going on for quite a while. Instances of bullying rarely happen in isolation; bullying allegations are often just one symptom of a general lack of respect in the workplace.
The lack of respect can start small, and gain momentum over time. Little things add up, until suddenly, you’re sitting in a meeting about bullying, wondering how things progressed to this point. Brusque remarks, minor complaints, unresolved disagreements, breakroom whispers, a negative tone, and snide comments can devolve into a more serious issue requiring a formal bullying and harassment investigation if not recognized and addressed in time.
So, what are some ways you can nurture a culture of respect in your organization, and prevent a lack of respect from snowballing out of control?
Define the example. People have differing definitions of what respectful behaviour in the workplace means. This is where defining and teaching what respectful (and disrespectful) behaviour looks like can help remove the margin for error that comes with a subjective interpretation of respect, while articulating and highlighting the culture you want.
Encourage others’ opinions and ideas. Especially when those opinions differ from ours, this one is hard for most of us, but it’s an important way to show respect. Considering multiple perspectives also has its merits—even if you don’t agree with an idea, it can often be used to change or improve work outcomes.
Demonstrate patience and professionalism at all times. Fact: There are people out there whose personalities aren’t going to be your cup of tea. Also a fact: At some point, you will still have to work with one of those people. So find personal coping mechanisms—take a yoga class, repeat a mantra, bite your tongue, master deep breathing, and figure out how you can co-exist respectfully and safeguard your own mental health, even if you’re not eager to become their best buddy.
Put it in writing. Include a bullying and harassment policy and procedure in your employee handbook (it’s the law!), and have employees help draft a code of respectful workplace expectations – if they’ve helped create it, they’ll be much more likely to abide by it.
Make note of where you could improve. Take the time to reflect on how messages and actions could be perceived. Review your daily interactions with your team. Look at your emails – how do you begin messages, and how do you sign off? Opening with a “Hi” and signing off with “Thanks” isn’t exactly onerous, and conveys a much more positive tone, yet it’s something many of us neglect when we’re busy. Do you take the time to greet your team in the morning, or ask after a coworker’s weekend? Communicating in more positive ways is an easy habit to get into and perpetuates a culture of respect. These friendly touches are an investment in stronger teams and a more positive work environment.
Recognize the positive. Be a champion for respect. When positive stuff happens, notice it, acknowledge it, and perpetuate it. It’s like a snowball. Once you’ve got it rolling, it will build upon itself until you’ve created something great.
Your Engaged HR Assignment: On February 22nd, get everyone in your workplace on board with Pink Shirt Day. Get involved by wearing pink, using the hashtag #PinkShirtPromise on social media (CKNW will donate $1 to anti-bullying each time you do) and adopting the pointers listed above to become a champion for respect in your organization!