Disrupting workplace incivility

Disrupting workplace incivility

Disruption is a mixed bag. It can be for better or for worse. It can affect your personal or professional life. But if there’s one constant when it comes to disruption, it’s that it’s been around since the beginning of time. The Spring 2018 Dividends is the second issue in a series focusing on CPA Alberta’s strategic priorities. This issue, which should be arriving in your mailbox mid-April, will take a look at a variety of disruptive forces affecting CPAs.

The issue also includes a look at what you can do to prevent workplace incivility. As a sneak peek, read Wade King’s article on this topic below.

Disrupting workplace incivility

By Wade King – appearing in the Spring 2018 Dividends

Workplace incivility takes many forms and is labelled as many different things—bullying, harassment, discrimination, and rudeness are among the many forms that incivility takes. It’s hard to imagine that most people haven’t witnessed or experienced workplace incivility at some point in their careers, and most of us can agree that it’s not welcome in any workplace.

But how can we change it? How can we disrupt incivility and create work cultures that are welcoming and inclusive?

Setting the Stage

It’s important to put conscious effort into designing workplace policies that discourage incivility and create incentives for positive behaviours. Of equal importance is the measurement of these policies and the ability to adjust course as necessary.

The creation of respectful workplace policy is a good start, but to disrupt incivility, policies must be supported by effective employment systems. Practices like recruitment, performance management, workplace training, organizational design, compensation, and career advancement need to be reviewed to ensure they support the policy and create accountabilities that ensure the policy is “alive” and integral to the way a workplace functions.

Upstanding – Disruption in Action

While it’s of utmost importance that workplaces create systems and cultures that discourage incivility, it’s also true that individuals can address incivility as well. One of the ways to do that is called “upstanding.” Upstanding is the opposite of by-standing. Upstanding requires individuals to take action when they see others being subjected to uncivil behaviours. When there are witnesses present when negative behaviours occur and they don’t intervene (by-standing), this sends a message to both the “Perpetrator” and “Target.” The Perpetrator of negative behaviours sees by-standing as silent consent and is incented to continue, and perhaps even escalate, their uncivil behaviour. The Target sees the bystanders as complicit in the Perpetrator’s behaviour and interprets that as a lack of support from their colleagues, leaving the Target feeling isolated and trapped. In order to create welcoming environments, workplaces need to reward upstanding behaviours and be clear that everyone has the right to speak up.

Effectively addressing negative workplace behaviours is key to the success of any workplace. It can be complex work that takes time, but the rewards are many, including workplaces that are more productive, healthier, and successful. Let’s all do our part to disrupt incivility and create workplaces welcoming to all.


CPA Assist recently held an extremely well-attended workshop featuring diversity and inclusion expert Wade King to support CPAs and their colleagues in identifying and addressing workplace bullying, and help participants learn the skills and tools to create a bully-free work environment. Building on the success of the workshop, CPA Assist felt it would be invaluable for Wade to share some of his learnings through this article.

Wade King is the Director, Office of Safe Disclosure and Human Rights at the University of Alberta and a diversity and inclusion expert and consultant. He is currently on a one-year secondment from his role at the U of A as a consultant in the office of the city manager at the City of Edmonton.

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