Whatever the organisation, business sector or market; the workplace is changing and with it, the required levels of workplace behaviour. With people of all genders and creeds mixing for long periods of time in workplace environments, it is essential that acceptable levels of behaviour between people are established in writing more than at any previous time. Old habits die hard and there may be many people in an organisation who believe that behaving in a certain way remains acceptable when really it is not.

For the #metoo era, things are hopefully starting to change naturally in part due to peer pressure, the media and a plethora of social media influences. However one of the key strands of behavioural change has to come from the organisation itself and through its published Workplace Behaviour Policy. Whilst it is absolutely natural for human beings to interact on a personal level during working hours and indeed socially after work, expected levels of workplace behaviour need to be re-enforced and re-iterated to support a fundamental shift for the better.

Not only do acceptable standards of behaviour need be explained and enforced in writing to all employees, but periodic updates help drive a culture of respect. As this does not happen overnight so a proactive process of reinforcing the importance of high standards of workplace behaviour needs to be established. In the first instance, this means writing an Acceptable Workplace Behaviour Policy that covers the law and its requirements but also establishes company ethos and values as a great place to work.

Through a published policy it is important to establish what is acceptable behaviour and what is not. For example unacceptable behaviour such as bullying, harassment and victimisation, may involve actions, words or physical gestures that could reasonably be perceived to be the cause of another person’s distress or discomfort. Bullying or harassment behaviour may occur by an individual against an individual or involve groups of people. Unacceptable behaviour does not have to take place in person and may take many forms such as written, telephone or e-mail communications or through social media.

On the other hand, acceptable workplace behaviour may be summarised as tolerance, helpfulness, respectful and courteous behaviour, establishing good working relationships, sharing of ideas and information or indeed working co-operatively with others in order to achieve organisational objectives.

Whatever the detail, an acceptable behaviour policy is for every member of staff from the Chief Executive through to the new starter. The culture of acceptable workplace behaviour pervades all levels of employment from the most senior to the most junior. An angry manager shouting at staff is guilty of poor behaviour as is someone who is harassing a colleague via email.

With an acceptable workplace behaviour policy written down, it is a very good idea to think about a new way of proactive dissemination where you can prove that everyone has not only received a copy but they have to confirm they have taken part in training, read the policy and will comply with the policy itself. Preparing a short video on acceptable behaviour that must be viewed by each employee is highly likely to have a positive effect, even with the workplace stalwarts. However asking an employee to then digitally sign a policy of acceptable behaviour has a far greater effect, particularly if this is kept on file afterwards. This is because the actual act of signing (even after many years of employment) reinforces that this is a serious matter and the individual has agreed to the new standards expected of them.

Furthermore, down the line, should an unwanted incident occur, the organisation can demonstrate that the employee proactively committed to comply with the behaviour policy and then chose not to meet acceptable behaviour standards. Whilst this does not mitigate corporate risk entirely, it is an important step in ensuring that an accountable culture is in place in the workplace and that the compliance of individuals is both monitored and provable.

One of the key reasons why workplace behaviour has sadly remained poor in some organisations for so long is because it has been tolerated. However it is also because acceptable behaviour policies have either not been written or iterated regularly to employees. In the new era of transparency and accountability, read and comply technology is really starting to play a key role in behavioural change. If you haven’t tackled acceptable workplace behaviour, there is no time like the present.

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