AP Class 30,Health & Safety Assignment 1,
In this assignment I intend to define and discuss workplace incivility. My aim is to give an overview on how day to day incivility can have a negative impact on an organisations culture; how this can lead to unwanted consequences in the workplace and the impact it can have on safety. Finally, I will look at methods that can possibly be implemented to further tackle incivility in the workplace.
As my workplace is the Defence Forces (DF) I will also give an in-depth analysis of how incivility, harassment and bullying became such a serious and widespread issue that the Department of Defence (DOD) and Military Management was ordered by the Government to conduct a DF wide review. This resulted in sweeping reforms with regards to the training of personnel but also had a profound impact on everyday life for Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen at home and overseas. The Chief of Staff (COS) at the time was Lieutenant General Colm Mangan and he issued instructions on what was deemed unacceptable behaviour, these instructions became known as DF admin instruction A7. This effectively ended how military personnel were treated for almost 80 years and resulted in a huge number of changes into the organisation’s culture.
I intend to use material from both the DF and other civilian organisations to help present my argument. However, I will also give an insight into my own personal experiences having served in the Army before the A7 instruction was implemented. Life in the Military is very different today than when I first joined. I have witnessed the cultural change and as a result, the DF has a more civilised working environment. In this assignment, I will show how that was achieved.
Define what is meant by the term Workplace Incivility?
Incivility, defined as negative interpersonal acts that violate norms for social interactions, includes acts that can range from simple breaches of etiquette to outright harassment and rudeness, (Cash et al, 2019, p347). This gives us a wide-ranging definition of incivility and can be applied to many situations either at work with colleagues, patients or the general public. The word incivility is defined as, the quality or state of being uncivil, or, a rude or discourteous act, (Merriam-Webster, 2018). While this kind of behaviour could be passed off as banter in years gone by, studies are now showing that it does have an effect on staff morale and can lead to more serious forms of harassment. Many people would have a different perception of what incivility is in the working environment. For me it can be simply not speaking to a colleague, perhaps speaking in a derogative tone which might be on the lower scale of incivility. However, if not addressed this can become more severe and manifest into harassment or bullying. The problem, in my opinion, is what one person finds uncivil behaviour, another person might just put it down to banter or as we say in this country having the craic.
In her study of Emergency Medical Services (EMS) professionals in the USA, Dr Rebecca E. Cash and her colleagues argue that incivility among healthcare workers can have such an affect that they leave work more stressful and emotional because of it, Frequent exposure to incivility has been linked to negative consequences such as stress, emotional exhaustion, and decreased job satisfaction, (Cash et al, 2019, P347). If we look at the sample subjects used in this study, EMS workers are in an extremely stressful job as it stands. The everyday activities and demands of the job would attract the kind of people who have higher than normal stress tolerance.
It is not acceptable for frontline and emergency services staff to have to deal with extra unnecessary tension and anxiety caused by co-workers and employers. In fact the World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that a worker not only has a right to work in a safe environment free from physical harm but also one free from mental and psychological harm, A healthy workplace is a place where everyone works together to achieve an agreed vision for the health and well-being of workers and the surrounding community. It provides all members of the workforce with physical, psychological, social and organizational conditions that protect and promote health and safety, (WHO, 2010 p23).
My personal experience during my paramedic training with the National Ambulance Service (NAS) showed just how hard the job can be; indeed some of the scenes I attended were extremely challenging. Often a coping mechanism to help deal with such stressful events is to make light of them and use a kind of black humour. This has developed amongst the Emergency Services including the DF to help people deal with demanding situations. It is never to make fun of a patient or of anyones suffering but maybe just to lighten the mood after the event. A sort of back and forth banter that might not happen in an office or corporate setting. However, when it goes beyond light banter and starts becoming offensive or intimidating it starts to add to stress levels rather than reduce them. It is a fine line between the two and sometimes organisations do not clearly define what is acceptable and what is not.
When uncivil events happen sporadically people tend not to take much notice but when it is a regular occurrence and often the same people end up as the source of the jokes or jibes, then it can make those persons work-life horrendously difficult. Of a total of 2,117 EMS professionals surveyed in Dr Cashs study approximately 50% of them regularly experienced incivility, We found that about half of respondents in this study were exposed to incivility from supervisors, co-workers or both, once a week or more in their workplace,(Cash et al, 2019, P354).
Describe the impact of Workplace Incivility on Organisational Culture
When an organisation wants to promote its culture they use positive words like teamwork, respect, loyalty, selflessness, courage, and integrity. Never would any organisation that wants to attract the best and the brightest to its ranks use words like incivility or harassment to describe its culture. Once an organisation gets a reputation for bullying or mistreatment it will be shunned by potential employees and will be less attractive as a career. If we take the culture in the DF before 2001 when incivility and bullying were significant, it was so bad that it lead the government to intervene and order an independent review, The Chief of Staff has established a special military steering group to examine these issues. I invited Dr Eileen Doyle, who chaired the Government’s task force on the Prevention of Workplace Bullying, to join the group as an expert civilian chairperson, (D?il ?ireann, 2001). From this review, the DF through the authority of the COS issued the Admin Instruction A7. The aim of this instruction is to set down policy and procedures regarding interpersonal relationships in the Defence Forces in order to deter unacceptable behaviour and promote a service environment based on mutual respect and professionalism, (IKON, 2015).
Incivility in the Defences Forces
In order to explain this issue properly, I will briefly examine the background of life in the DF prior to the introduction of Admin Instruction A7. Incivility, harassment, bullying and intimidation happened consistently and were encouraged under the guise of discipline. To be effective on operations, the Defence Forces must act as a disciplined force. Commanders must be certain that their orders will be carried out in full and to the letter, (IKON, 2019). Where the DF might differ to the other uniform services if done correctly and by well-trained instructors with self-control, incivility and intimidation in a robust training environment is a very effective training method. Prior to 2001 this was not always the case.
As part of every recruits 6 months basic training it was common for name-calling, intimidation, invasion of personal space, roaring, shouting and of course a variety of punishments to take place. This kind of treatment was the gold standard of training when I joined. A recruit can never answer back and must stand to the position of attention and take whatever comes their way. Before A7 there was effectively no rules and anything went. This is how the military instilled discipline and was a way to weed out the weak.
Also remembering that pre-2000 it was a dangerous time to be a soldier in Ireland, with the Troubles still very active in Northern Ireland (NI). Also the Irish Army sent almost 800 troops a year to Lebanon, an extremely dangerous mission and 47 of my comrades were killed while serving in that country. This was the first port of call for most recruits once fully trained and I found myself in South Lebanon almost straight out of training. The thinking at the time was to put the trainee soldier out of their comfort zone to see how they would react. As I touched on earlier, when done correctly this is an excellent training method. However, for some soldiers, this kind of treatment was constant whether in a training setting or not. This kind of environment is a haven for bullies and not the right type of culture the DF wanted to install. Morale was low and the organisation was finding it difficult to recruit.
Even when people joined a lot of the time they did not stay long and the treatment received was often a factor in them leaving. After A7 was published things began to change. For the first time, we had a document that clearly listed what was acceptable and what was not. People who at one time could say anything to a subordinate or colleague and in any tone they wanted, now had to tread very carefully. If an A7 case was brought against you it could mean the end of your chances for promotion or even your job. The A7 document, chapter 1 Section 7, sets out procedures for making and dealing with complaints of unacceptable behaviour. Section 7 of the paper provides guidance notes for employers, employees and their representatives as well as effective procedures for addressing allegations of workplace mistreatment.
Before the A7 instructions were released the DF implemented the Dignity Charter. At first it was nothing more than posters of the charter displayed around the barracks but soon to follow were lectures and training for all ranks on what was now deemed acceptable and what was not, We the Defence Forces of Ireland commit ourselves to working together to maintain a service environment, whether within the state or when deployed overseas, that encourages and supports the right to dignity at work, (Defence Forces, 2016).
This instigated a complete cultural change in the organisation and had an immediate impact on morale. The robust training was still there for the most part. However, now a superior had to address you and speak to you in a respectful, civil manner. Bad language and derogatory comments on a persons appearance, gender, accent or even where they came from were not allowed. All staff in a training environment had to attend a train the trainer course and had to follow a new training directive (Training Instruction 06/2004 defines the code of practice between instructors and students in the training environment).
Outline the potential consequences of Workplace Incivility on Safety
When we talk about workplace safety some people might just think about physical safety, slipping on a wet floor, falling from a ladder. As I’ve referenced earlier WHO maintains that people have a right to feel psychologically safe while at work. If we look at psychological safety with regards to incivility I would argue that when you come to work you should expect to be spoken to in a non-intimidating, civil manner. How you are treated by your work colleagues can have an impact on your mental health and increase stress levels, which in turn may increase chances of stress-related medical conditions. A survey of Health Care Workers in the UK in 2016 showed that stress-related illness was the top cause of absenteeism, in 2015/16 stress accounted for 37% of all work-related ill health cases and 45% of all working days lost due to ill health the total number of cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety in 2015/16 was 488,000 cases (HSE, 2016). While other factors such as workload and unachievable deadlines can also contribute to stress at work, I would argue incivility, harassment and bullying would contribute as well.
Staff shortages often mean that the workload is spread amongst the remaining staff. With extra tasks and responsibilities people under increased pressure may start taking risks and safety standards may slip. If we look at our own Health Services, often nursing staff are spread thinly among crowded wards. Longer working hours and incorrect nurse/patient ratios certainly do not provide a safe environment for staff or patients. Also when people are under pressure they make mistakes, a hostile work environment is a breeding ground for mistakes. When you are making life and death decisions with medications at the scene of a serious car accident, a hostile workplace or fear of harassment from your colleagues can negatively affect your performance.
I will also give a DF example of the affect incivility can have on safety. One of the most important skills for any soldier is marksmanship with their weapon. Range safety is taken very seriously and often when young recruits are learning how to shoot with live ammunition the instructing staff adopt a very calm tone, absolutely no roaring or shouting. Instead a very civil and relaxed environment that is deliberately trying to keep the young soldier calm. A day on the range during recruit training is noticeably different. This method is taught to instructors on the train the trainer course I referred to earlier. The rationale behind this is simple; a calm civil atmosphere leads the recruits to making fewer mistakes with the weapons. Before this approach was used as a training technique incidents of weapons discharges were common. The recruits at one time were nervous, afraid to ask questions, afraid to make mistakes and the atmosphere would have been one of tension. An uncivil or hostile working environment can and will lead to mistakes and when you work with the Emergency Services, that can have deadly consequences.
Discuss 3 methods that can be used to tackle Workplace incivility
After initial training regarding interpersonal relationships and how to treat colleagues, superiors and subordinates, there can be a lapse in refresher training and upskilling. In the DF we have to complete Manual Handling training every 3 years. As of yet, there is no enforced time scale in which a soldier must undergo any continuous training regarding A7. After all the good work and cultural change the A7 document brought about in the DF, it should be a requirement for all members to upskill and update every few years. There is a requirement for certain members to undergo refresher training i.e. before deployment overseas. However, I believe it would be beneficial to members if continuous training was required. The core values and guidelines promoted by A7 can sometimes be forgotten over time. The organisation already has the material prepared and the staff trained to deliver this training. It would not involve a lot to implement and the benefits regarding promoting a culture without incivility and harassment would be great.
Often the reporting system is enough to prevent people from reporting uncivil or unwanted acts. Fear of the perpetrator finding out you have reported them and then having to work alongside them in the future can pose a problem. When you work in an organisation with a distinct rank structure it may be difficult to report a superior to another superior. A close friendship and comradeship develops amongst soldiers. How do you complain to one about the other? Do you want to be labelled soft, by the rest of your unit?
At times the person making unwanted remarks and creating an uncivil atmosphere may need nothing more than a quiet word in their ear. Is it worth the hassle of going through the A7 reporting procedure? Or do you just live with it?
Perhaps if a confidential and anonymous reporting system was put in place it might tackle this issue. Where a designated member of each unit would receive the report and without naming names, just have an unofficial word with the perpetrator. This may not be enough to stop serious harassment but could be enough to address uncivil behaviour.
A working group to update on what is now deemed uncivil behaviour
Ireland has changed since 2001 we now have many different cultures and religions living amongst us. These people are joining our organisations and may be offended at remarks perhaps we find acceptable. I am not suggesting that as a host nation we conform to other cultures but perhaps if people knew a little more about what is not acceptable among other cultures/religions it could prevent a situation developing. As well as other cultures we also have people who live a more open alternative lifestyle now than what was the norm in the 2000s.
If we take the DF, I would suggest that maybe a working group be set up to update the A7 document so that it is more sensitive to the society we live in today. Things change, Ireland has changed more in the past 20 years than since independence. What was not considered uncivil 20 years ago may now be considered by some as offensive and people might become stressed at work as a result.
In this assignment, I have defined what is meant by workplace incivility. I give an overview of how day to day incivility can have a negative impact on an originations culture. I also showed how this can lead to unwanted workplace consequences, and the impact it can have on safety. Finally, I looked at methods that could be implemented to further tackle incivility in the workplace.
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