Next-Generation Civility

By Shelby Scarbrough
civility

“If I tried to talk to new employees about civility, they’d laugh—or post a complaint on social media.”

I’ve heard a version of this statement from countless business leaders. There’s a common misconception that civility is an archaic form of behavior, one rooted in outdated ways of thinking and responding to social interactions. But nothing could be further from the truth. Civility, at its core, is reflected in thoughtful, empathetic acts that ensure the comfort and well-being of others. This awareness of the diverse perspectives and needs of other people—and the willingness to tailor your words and actions to reflect your awareness—is a very modern approach to business and to life.

Building civility in your workplace means that you are taking action to create better, more productive relationships and interactions. Focusing on the core principles of courtesy, humility, trust, honor, and respect, civility creates a foundation that supports cooperation, generosity, and the kind of environment that facilitates creativity and innovation. These are precisely the principles that will make your workplace one that appeals to the next generation of contributors.

A recent Gallup survey, recognizing that Gen Z and millennials now make up nearly half (46%) of the full-time workforce in the U.S., considered the critical question all leaders should be asking: What do younger workers want in their workplace? The survey polled Gen Z and young millennials (born 1989-2001) and asked them what they most look for in an employer. Their responses are significant and worth paying attention to, especially for organizations that are struggling to fill vacant positions.

Three things matter most to these younger workers:

  1. The organization must care about its employees’ well-being.
  2. The organization’s leadership must be ethical.
  3. The organization must demonstrate that it is diverse and inclusive of all people.

This is a stirring response to executives who say that civility is outdated. A commitment to civility—a demonstration of a determination to create a corporate culture rooted in generosity, respect, and thoughtful interactions—is precisely what younger workers are seeking in their employers!

There was another fascinating fact revealed in the Gallup survey: younger workers expect to be coached and developed in their workplace. They are looking for employers who will care about them as an individual and be actively engaged in supporting their career growth.

There is opportunity in these results for today’s leaders. Civility should be integrated into your corporate culture, and it should be highlighted and promoted in your onboarding training for new hires.

Please understand: I’m not asking you to completely transform your existing corporate culture. Instead, I’m encouraging you to assess how civility can enhance it, becoming a strategic asset. The “best practices” you choose to institute will vary, depending on whether your organization is informal and team-based, or has a more hierarchical management style. Onboarding is a great place to start because civility enables people to coexist productively. Leaders want their employees to understand what’s needed and valued, to be able to contribute in an environment informed by trust and respect. These values should be clearly stated during the hiring process and reinforced on the very first day of employment.

One clear and helpful starting point is communication. Employee training should clarify how and when to communicate with managers and other team members. Is email preferred or is texting acceptable? How should customers and clients be addressed? How should disagreements or conflicts be handled in a way that is respectful?

There’s nothing outdated in creating a culture of inclusivity, respect, and empathy. In fact, civility is more relevant than ever.