Envision a work environment where all exchanges and interactions were conducted in a civil, respectful manner. Not only would there be no place for harassment, discrimination, and bullying, but the expectation would be one of accountability. Accountability for one’s own actions, as well as group accountability to a clearly defined, safe, healthy work climate.

Creating and sustaining the work environment mentioned above is the responsibility of both employers and employees. The benefits are seen on both sides. Fostering a positive work environment motivates everyone to do their very best. It creates a high-performance culture that promotes employee engagement, encourages innovation and creativity, and ensures employee success. The bottom line, it makes good business sense.

The truth is that perceptions, attitudes, and experiences play a large role in determining the reality people face when they arrive at work every day. In the past ten years, there has been an increased need for stiffer workplace laws in the area of harassment and discrimination. Their enforcement, mainly through private lawsuits, has also been beefed up. And although the number of lawsuits, according to the EEOC, has decreased slightly- the monetary cost to companies has more than doubled!

Moving an organization toward a sustainable culture of inclusion and respect, takes more than naming “respect” as one of the organizational core values.  Take a close look, and one can see that “respect”, and differing versions of the golden rule, are often seen in the blueprint and foundation of many companies and nonprofit organizations worldwide. It has become one of the most common core values, along with “quality” and “integrity”. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to define what that looks like, and how it can be lived. This would need to involve clear mandates and expectations from the HR perspective, discouraging disrespectful and potentially illegal behaviors. But, more importantly, it would also involve a living, breathing policy that is understood, articulated, internalized, and acted upon by people at all levels of the organization. This will take buy-in from all employees to create a welcoming, favorable environment that ensures the workplace is safe for everyone. Rest assured, focusing on the latter- striving for awareness, understanding, and engagement at all levels- will minimize the dependence on the formal policies and laws.