Respect in your mentally healthy medium or large business

How to set clear expectations and promote respectful behaviour in your workplace.



How this helps your business

It's important to increase staff awareness and understanding of what is and is not acceptable behaviour. When rudeness and disrespect are tolerated in the workplace, there is increased risk of harassment, bullying and many other serious problems.

By creating a workplace culture that is considerate and respectful, workplaces can see many benefits, this includes:

  • job satisfaction
  • positive attitudes and teams that work well together
  • high employee morale
  • good relationships between management and staff
  • less sick leave and staff turnover

Key stats and facts


of employees treated rudely said their performance got worse as a result.

Harvard Business Review, 2013, The Price of Incivility


of employees who have been treated rudely said they felt less committed to the organisation.

Harvard Business Review, 2013, The Price of Incivility


of employees who have been treated rudely admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

Harvard Business Review, 2013, The Price of Incivility

Step 1

Learn more on this topic

Most people know harassment and bullying are serious hazards. Low-level rudeness, such as sarcasm, interrupting people, and giving someone the cold shoulder, can also make workplaces unpleasant to be in. As a result, employees performance may decline, teamwork and relationships suffer, and the risk of psychological injury goes up.

The video below shows what this kind of low level disrespect looks like. As you watch it, try to notice which behaviours are inappropriate. The video uses the term ‘‘incivility’’ to describe these low-level inappropriate behaviours.

Step 2

Talk with your staff

Now that you have a better understanding of what workplace rudeness can look like, think about the way your employees act. Starting conversations about disrespect at work is the first step in calling out poor behaviour and setting boundaries about how people can work together respectfully. You should have these discussions in a non-judgemental way to help build trust within your team. You could also use the list below and note each behaviour that you've seen in your workplace.

Use this checklist or form your own survey for staff by using this checklist as a guide. This will help identify the priority areas and may highlight some behaviours that your employees see and those they may not.

Step 3

Identify opportunities

Take a look at this list of sample strategies and choose 2 or 3 that you think will make a difference in your workplace. Again, your employees might have some valuable suggestions here.

To help you decide, look at the priority areas you identified from the checklist above.

Tip: choose a strategy that is simple enough that you can do in the next 2 months. This will show everyone in the workplace that courtesy and respect is important.

Write these in the 'focus area and action plan' section of your checklist. Now start doing them.

Sample strategies

  • Hold a workshop-type exercise with teams to talk about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. The aim is to share understanding about what respect looks like, so that employees can have their say and by doing so, are more likely to commit to it.
  • Write a charter about your commitment to creating and maintaining a civil, respectful workplace. Share this with your employees through email and display posters.
  • Respond to any unacceptable behaviour quickly – this is your responsibility as a leader. Ensure your process for handling unacceptable behaviour is clearly stated for all staff to see (for example, in a code of conduct or procedures).
  • Display acceptable and unacceptable behaviour on posters across the organisation.
  • Demonstrate a 'zero tolerance' attitude to rude and unacceptable behaviour. That doesn’t mean automatically firing someone who’s rude, just ensure it is called out and addressed.
  • List acceptable behaviours on meeting agendas and acknowledge and recognise individuals who model respectful behaviour. Team members could nominate each other.
  • Have ongoing and regular conversations with employees about their behaviour – this can be in team meetings, one-on-one meetings and performance reviews. Talk about instances in the workplace that you believe demonstrates your organisation's values.
  • Managers must role model good behaviour. Consider training your leaders in genuine and respectful actions, and appropriate responses to rudeness.
  • Include rudeness in your anti-bulling and harassment policy and procedure – provide clear definitions and give examples of rude and polite behaviour.
  • Review your code of conduct and your organisation’s values and consider how employee behaviour is aligned with it.
  • Encourage employees to bring up concerns when they notice unacceptable behaviours.
  • Make sure the language you use isn’t discriminatory or rude – use Dave's tips on communicating via email from the video above.
  • Always keep matters confidential when asked to – otherwise there will be no trust in the workplace.
  • Highlight the importance of common courtesy and respect when recruiting (e.g. in the job advert), hiring (e.g. in job interviews) and when on-boarding new employees (e.g. show code of conduct, values).
  • Consider using informal third parties or formal mediation to handle dispute resolutions – they will be independent and objective, and employees will feel they have been treated fairly.

WorkSafe Vic, 2017 and Australian Public Service Commission, 2013

Step 4

Make a plan

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Working through the simple action planning worksheet at the end of this step will set the direction you want to take, give you milestones to hit, and help you figure out what resources you might need.

You could also consider engaging your Health and Safety Representatives, OHS team or Human Resources team to help you pick one of the strategies in Step 3.

If you work in the Education industry, you could access support from a Workplace Contact Officer. A Workplace Contact Officer is part of a broader officer network run by the Victorian Department of Education and Training. The network provides valuable support across the department and schools, contributing to a safe and productive workplace where staff are treated fairly and with respect.

Step 5

Review and keep improving

It's important to ask your employees their opinion when developing and implementing new strategies. It also motivates your workplace to become involved and invested, passes on a sense of personal responsibility and collaboration, and allows for continued improvement.

  • Ask employees the right questions: are we doing things right, or are there better ways it can be done?
  • Have regular conversations with all employees and keep them engaged. If something didn't work, tell them and encourage them to assist in making improvements. You could also have a schedule of surveys to obtain this information from employees
  • Review strategies regularly – set a date to review them and stick to it
  • Consider if your goal has been achieved. If not, why? Was it a lack of understanding?
  • Make a specific person responsible for monitoring and evaluating so they can keep track of how things are changing over time.

More resources

Discover the Toolkit and subscribe to WorkWell

WorkWell supports leaders to create safe and mentally healthy workplaces. Access the WorkWell Toolkit for step-by-step tools tailored to your business size, or subscribe to the WorkWell newsletter to stay up to date and receive support direct to your inbox!

The WorkWell Toolkit Subscribe

The WorkWell Toolkit is proudly developed by WorkWell.

Disclaimer: The WorkWell Toolkit provides general information only. Please consider your specific circumstances, needs and seek appropriate professional advice.