Compliments of JDevaun via Flickr

Compliments of JDevaun via Flickr

Always treat your employees exactly as you want them to treat your best customers.” Covey

Last week Deutsche Bank announced a turnabout in cultural expectations. Specifically, workers were warned of serious outcomes for behaviors that smacked of boastfulness, indiscretion, or vulgarity.

This strict mandate could be the offshoot of a major judgment (£800,000) to someone who was regularly abused by her City coworkers. Employment lawyer Potbury suggests that clearly communicated, unequivocal policies are ways to promote civil and cooperative working environments.

DB’s initial response was a fix the victim agenda (including stress management and assertiveness training for the target), that didn’t address the root problem – recurrent perpetrator inappropriateness. As a result, the secretary in question suffered a nervous breakdown.

Cases like this force companies to take a serious look at reward systems. In the U.S. culture (in which unabashed individualism infuses every interaction), companies have leaned toward lavishing recognition on workers for being stand out stars. The thought process is that their celebrity status will generate more of the same from those aspiring to succeed.

What organizations don’t realize is that this same emphasis attracts a shadow side. Accolades absent recognition of the process can spawn mean spirited cultures, ones in which exploitation of those lower ranking, annihilation of possible rivals, and an array of unruly, backhanded behaviors that represent the teeming underside of our darker intentions is present.

Parading other peoples’ achievements to their peers creates self-centeredness, and an “I’ve got mine, you get yours any way you can” mentality. Such atmospheres are incubators for incivility unleashed – for attack thoughts, and ultra-competition in which the majority are losers. Organizations of dueling employees will not evolve. Interestingly, the National Security Agency (NSA) has attempted a cultural shift through visibly rewarding the opposite – e.g., by displaying employee names on a civilitree, and through awarding plaques for kind behavior.

To be truly civil a culture needs redefinition. Are empathy, helping junior colleagues, listening to all voices, and paying kindness forward values that your company wishes to promote? If so, a radical departure from unitary focus on production (and surpassing one’s peers) must prevail.

A top down approach in which proactive benevolence is modeled sets the tone. Due to the “price of incivility” in terms of lost productivity, employee departure, damaged corporate reputation (and future potential law suits), a dual focus will necessarily improve both the human and technical aspects of your firm.

As a constituency, your employees are your first ministry. Keep in mind that they can take their business elsewhere.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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