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4. Creating a respectful workplace

Managers play a key role in setting the culture of the workplace and the team through the behaviours they model, and those they expect of their employees. Positive workplaces are built by consistently respectful behaviour and clear expectations of employees.

Why it matters

In APS workplaces, core values and expected conduct at work are codified in the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct.1 The Values, Employment Principles and Code define the culture of the APS and codify the attitudes and behaviours that employees are expected to display in their work in order to achieve business outcomes and meet the expectations of government and the community. The Values, Employment Principles and Code influence performance and decisions in everyday work, and define 'the way we do business'.

The benefits of respectful workplaces include:

  • Improved employee morale and job satisfaction, improved teamwork, lower absenteeism and turnover, and increased productivity.
  • Employees are better equipped to manage conflict collaboratively and cope with workplace challenge and change.2
  • Employees are much less likely to perceive their workload as excessive or to submit workers' compensation claims.3
  • Teams and organisations that are seen as positive places to work will attract and retain highly skilled staff.4
  • Lack of respect and what is sometimes called 'incivility'—low level negative behaviours (such as rudeness, discourteousness, not acknowledging other staff)—can create a dysfunctional team environment, relationship breakdown, decline in productivity, and the risk of psychological injury.

Employers and employees have shared obligations for creating respectful and courteous workplaces.

Employers want a productive workforce that manages its performance and achieves results.

Employees want to work in a place where:

  • they know what is expected of them
  • the workplace is safe and they are treated fairly
  • their skills and contribution are recognised and valued
  • training and development support career progression
  • they can work harmoniously with others.

Respect: Promoting a culture free from harassment and bullying in the APS, Commonwealth of Australia, 2011 (4th ed.)

How it's done

Set clear expectations of behaviour.

Team discussions can highlight a set of agreed behaviours that embody the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct. These discussions are very effective with a new team or when a new manager is appointed. The exercise can also be used for existing teams as a way to reinforce the importance of fostering respect. It could even be included as a regular team meeting agenda item. The goal is to develop a shared understanding of appropriate conduct at work and what these expectations mean in a practical setting.

Be a positive role model.

If a manager is respectful, employees are more likely to follow. If a manager is abrasive and impolite, employees have an excuse for displaying the same behaviour. Be genuine in your actions and promote the kind of culture that inspires people to do their best.

Make it how you do business.

Include behavioural expectations in performance plans and give regular feedback to employees relating to performance and the APS Values, Employment Principles and Code of Conduct. Give practical examples of positive as well as negative behaviours to build a shared understanding of what is expected. Acknowledge how people achieve, as well as what they achieve. 5

Push back on disrespectful behaviours.

In cases where a person you are managing is displaying discourteous, unconstructive or abrasive behaviour, have a conversation with the employee to name the specific behaviour and the impact the behaviour is having on you, the team, or the agency. If you let it go, you may be seen to condone such unacceptable behaviour and set a norm for future behaviour.

Create a positive work environment.

As a manager you will influence the way the people in your team feel about your agency and the time they spend at work. Within the bounds of the workplace, people need to feel comfortable to be able to express who they are, bring and take away meaning from the work they perform, and build commitment through inclusion in decisions. Encourage your employees to enjoy themselves at work, and to feel part of a community that respects and supports them.

Maintain open communication.

Be open and transparent with employees. Share work fairly and set clear and realistic deadlines. Provide constructive and regular feedback to all employees and promote a balance between work and home life.

Manage workloads and priorities.

Prioritise tasks, set clear and realistic deadlines, and ensure employees have all the information they need to do their work. Manage the allocation of urgent work and help staff to re-prioritise workloads where necessary.

Example of how to have the conversation—naming behaviour:

Step 1: Pre-plan and script the conversation. Think about what you are going to say and what the most appropriate time and place is for the conversation to happen.

Step 2: Use 'I' messages.

Step 3: Explain the impact of the behaviour on yourself and/or other team members.

Example: "I have noticed…and I feel that…"

Your agency's Employee Assistance Program or Manager Assistance Program is also available to assist managers with scripting a conversation.

Useful tools

Other relevant information sheets:

1 Public Service Act 1999

2 Mental Health Commission of Canada 2012, Psychological Health and Safety: An action guide for employers, Mental Health Commission of Canada, Calgary and Ottawa, p. 17.

3 Comcare 2008, ;Working Well: An organisational approach to preventing psychological injury, 2nd edn, Comcare, Canberra, p. 11.

4 Australian Public Service Commission 2011, Respect: promoting a culture free from harassment and bullying in the APS, 4th edn, APSC, Canberra.

5 ibid.