Reclaiming civility in the workplace

Let’s not just hope for a better and more civil 2018 but actively work toward making it happen


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As I pen this piece, my mind reflects over the tumultuous year just passed. In my judgment, it has not been a good one. A dominant reason has to do with what I see as stark evidence of the deterioration of civil behavior.

This year exhibited degradation of civility on two fronts. One is the startling revelations in recent months of sexual impropriety in the workplace, and beyond that is historic and pervasive. The second, which is relatively new to the scene, is the detestable leadership style being practiced and modeled by the president.

The civility downturn issue I raise here elevates to a cultural level, but in keeping with the career and employment theme of the regular pieces I write for NH Business Review, I’ll confine my thoughts to the effect declining civil discourse and offensive interactions are having and could continue to have in the places where we work.

To begin, let’s contemplate the monumental disclosures and resulting tolerance shift commonly known as the #MeToo movement.

Since women increased the pace of sharing professional employment roles in far greater numbers than ever approximately 50 years ago, true workforce equity has been elusive. The combination of rigid gender stereotypes, the inherent inequality of hierarchical structures and the sexual tension palpable among some co-workers establishes an environment in which predatory behavior occurs.

Women who forcefully reject such treatment and men who understand its fundamental unfairness are now letting those in power know enough is enough.

This social shift is long overdue and compels management across all industries, still mostly occupied by men, to participate and collaborate with female colleagues on equal footing and to dissolve outdated norms. It is hard to imagine that the clock will ever turn back.

Managers and co-workers alike are on notice that behavior that violates basic decency against others in a sexual manner could well result with career-ending consequences.

The other and more recent challenge to our declining pattern of civil engagement with potential impact to the workplace is embodied by President Trump. To be clear, I’m not interested in scoring political points, and my claim here is not intended to be partisan, but Donald Trump’s model for success and leadership is debased, contrary to decency and a disgraceful example of how those in powerful positions should act.

The serial lying, bullying provocations, juvenile name-calling, lack of intellectual engrossment and pathetic narcissism represent leadership at its worst. Is there really a political ideology or set of guiding principles so valuable that it justifies these leadership behaviors?

Having such a role model speaking on behalf of our nation, occupying a position that influences our youth and demonstrating that this is what American success now looks like is an embarrassment and affront to our values as a country.

It is imperative that Americans of moral character and basic virtue rise above the example set by our president and to show the true spirit of civility in the workplace and elsewhere. It can reasonably be argued that as a people over time we have abandoned shared responsibility in a move toward a selfish and self-centered style of economic individualism.

Perhaps President Trump’s mannerisms reflect how far this has gone.

The year 2017 has given us a wake-up call. We can rally and repair by first admitting some deep-seated flaws exist in the way we interact in the areas of mutual respect and collective caring. The forces against us are formidable. Our positive tendencies are for the time sidelined. Let us not just hope for a better and more civil 2018, let us actively work toward making it happen. We are better than this.

Bill Ryan of Concord regularly writes about employment and workplace topics for NH Business Review.

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