Weber Shandwick’s recent Civility in America study with Powell Tate and KRC Research found 93 per cent of Americans think there is a ‘major’ problem with civility in their country. And the future looks bleak to them, too: More than half of those questioned expect social norms in America to deteriorate even further in coming years.

We Canadians can think ourselves insulated from the worst elements of incivility experienced by our neighbours. But we may not be so different. There are signs uncivil behaviour is on the rise in Canada—in social life and at work—and we can no longer be complacent. Business leaders can help stem this tide by making workplaces a beacon of the values Canadians hold dear. Stepping up for civility in the office is not only the right thing to do, it makes business sense, too. Here’s what you can do about it.

Is Incivility on the Rise in Canada too?

Whether it’s the sneers of MPs, the voices on social media seeking to exploit our anxieties about the future, the ‘fake news’ targeting us online, or a distressing rise in cyberbullying among youth, we continue to see a wearing down of social discourse at home.

Speaking earlier this year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought to reaffirm our status as a country “…that understands respecting someone else’s fundamental rights in no way takes away from your own…”, encouraging Canadians to come together and “have real conversations…in a respectful way that doesn’t shut down or shut off people.”

Many Canadians identify civility as an important national value, alongside multiculturalism, openness, compassion and equality. So how do we, as Canadian marketers and business operators help combat its breakdown?

The Workplace: Beacon of Civility  

One bright spot for civility is the workplace. Despite having a not-so-rosy outlook on social discourse across the country, nine in 10 Americans polled in the Civility in America survey nevertheless described their office as ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ civil.

As GM of Weber Shandwick’s Vancouver office, I’m responsible for growing and maintaining our culture and reputation. I firmly believe when our values are under attack, the work spaces we share become an important place to champion civil behaviour (we spend a third of our lives there, after all). Faced with declining social norms, Canadian leaders have a unique opportunity to help build and preserve a culture of civility in the office.

Here are four ways business and HR leaders can make that happen:

  1. Organizational Values

Making civility the foundation of a culture that prioritizes respectful collaboration with peers and clients will help people understand what’s expected of them. It will also encourage employees to take responsibility for the co-creation of an organizational culture that values and promotes civil discourse.

  1. Employee Code of Conduct

Almost all organizations communicate to their employees the type of positive workplace culture they want to create. To go one step further, onboarding sessions and materials can include clear and unequivocal guidance as to the level of civility expected at work. Consider including a measurable and time-sensitive contribution towards creating that culture in employee assessment goals. 

  1. Forums for Debate & Discussion

It’s crucial to create a positive and inclusive space for discussion of civility and workplace norms, and to make time for those discussions to happen. Set the meetings, invite experts and speakers from outside the organization if possible, and make this compulsory time to reflect on and discuss the importance of a civil workplace culture for all employees. 

  1. DEI Committee

Establishing a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) committee is another indispensable part of creating a positive and inclusive space and wider culture of civility. Doing so holds the organization accountable to its goals and engages the broader workplace community to participate in the key parts of DEI strategy that reflect their needs and expectations.

Civility and Reputation

Why make civility a priority? Here’s another important reason: Disregard for social norms in workplace culture can profoundly affect reputation. Simply put, your brand as an employer is your public brand. And research tells us that corporate reputation still drives market value by up to 60 per cent.

An organization can work for years to create its story, only to lose control of its narrative when bad behaviour tests a culture of professionalism. Heightened sensitivity to sliding social norms in the workplace has prompted organizations—and entire industries—to overhaul their cultures to ensure survival. And while metrics are set, and met, we would do well to remember that protection and maintenance of reputation is a long-term, and an ongoing, project. There’s no magic pill, no silver bullet. The most effective strategy remains proactive management of risk as a best practice, within a culture of civility and preparedness designed to anticipate, prevent and diffuse negative issues.

“Civility costs nothing, and buys us everything.” The poet Mary Wortley Montagu’s words, written more than 250 years ago, still ring true. Worsening incivility on either side of the border creates considerable challenges for our business and that of our clients. Let’s strive to make our workplaces better prepared to weather the storm, by building and growing cultures that cause our shared values and respect for each other to resonate throughout our workplaces and shine in our work.