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NEWS | March 27, 2018

Beyond Dignity and Respect – Creating a Culture of Civility

By Catherine Carroll

Dignity and respect are not simply the absence of discrimination and harassment. They are actions. That, when applied consciously and consistently, create a culture of civility within an organization.

Army Regulation 600-20, paragraph 5-13 states, “There is an indisputable link between how Soldiers are treated and how they perform their duties. Human relations training directly affects individual and unit readiness. Training commanders and Soldiers to treat one another with dignity and respect achieves better morale, greater commitment, increased trust and cohesion, and better performance.”

A well-informed, well-trained, proactive organization should ensure its Soldiers and Civilians understand not only how to show dignity and respect but why.

Matthew Burton, U.S. Army Reserve Command, senior Equal Employment Opportunity specialist at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, explained why individuals might not always know what right looks like.

“Education, training and awareness are important,” Burton said. “Sometimes, because of their socialization and the culture they came from prior to being in the military or working as a government civilian, people might not be aware of their inappropriate behaviors.  It’s important to be trained on what dignity and respect looks like,” Burton continued, “to be made aware of what right looks like. It’s also important to make people aware of why they should maintain dignity and respect in the workplace.”

Regulation and policy play a large role in determining how seemingly subjective lines are drawn in ways that are universally identifiable.


Army Regulation 600-12 governs behavior in the workplace as it relates to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and states, “Under the laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because of that person's race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity, sexual orientation, and pregnancy), national origin, age, disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.”

Additionally, The Army Command Policy, AR 600-20, covers the policies and responsibilities of command. This includes the well-being of the force, military discipline and conduct, the Army Equal Opportunity Program, and the Army Sexual Assault Victim Program.

Burton explained how Soldiers and Civilians have separate authorities for reporting violations of these protected activities.

“Equal Opportunity deals with military personnel,” Burton explained, “if Soldiers have an issue where they feel they have been discriminated against, they would go to the EO office and file a complaint with the military EO personnel. With EEO, it’s for Civilians only and they would come to our office to address their concerns as it pertains to any of the Title VII EEO protected activities.”

Burton went on to explain how some situations may not be categorized as discrimination, but can have negative impacts on individuals and organizations that ultimately can lead to claims of harassment.

“EEO deals with illegal discrimination,” Burton said, “but that doesn’t mean other discrimination doesn’t exist out there. Sports rivalry, for example, is not a protected activity according to Title VII. But, if the teasing results in creating an environment where the individual feels harassed and it begins to interfere with the terms, protections and benefits of employment, that’s when it becomes an issue.”

Title VII states, “Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people.”

“Army Regulation 690-12, Appendix D covers gray areas that are not covered by EEO illegal discrimination activities,” Burton went on to explain.  “The anti-harassment procedures give guidance to leaders, supervisors, and individuals on how they should respond to harassment.”


Workplace environments have evolved beyond the stereotypical office spaces of old where people smoked at their desk and yelling at one another was considered communicating. 


But, in today’s professional environment it is necessary to know how your behavior effects those around you. Civility requires the ability to recognize other people’s personal boundaries while maintaining boundaries of your own.

One of the main culprits of incivility in the workplace is gossip. Gossip is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. And it has no place in a culture of civility. 


Avoiding gossip takes awareness and often requires us to make a conscious choice to ask ourselves – is this any of my business? Do I need to know or am I just curious? Unwarranted curiosity can quickly become gossip.

Don’t be afraid to set and maintain personal boundaries at work. Being civil does not mean having to answer personal questions to satisfy the curiosity of others. Being civil can be saying, “Thank you for your concern, but that is a private matter and I don’t want to discuss it.”

Gossip left unchecked can create an environment of harassment.

“If an individual feels that he or she is being harassed,” Burton said, “they should first confront that individual directly if they feel comfortable doing that. If not, they can ask for someone to intervene on their behalf or they can go to their rater or senior rater, someone in the leadership management chain, to address the issue. It is best to try and resolve issues at the lowest level possible.

“And if they feel that they have not been able to resolve that issue,” Burton continued, “they can always contact their local EO or EEO office to file a complaint and it will be addressed according.”

Title VII goes on to state, “Prevention is the best tool to eliminate harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. They should clearly communicate to employees that unwelcome harassing conduct will not be tolerated.”

Burton went on to explain how leaders have the responsibility to squelch gossip and rumors.

“It’s important for them to do so in a timely manner to maintain good order and discipline, “Burton said. “They can, and should, take actions on the individuals who are spreading rumors and gossiping. This can be a form of bullying and leaders have to take the appropriate actions before it becomes harassment or leads to discrimination. 

“Maintaining civility in a work environment creates an environment of respect and trust,” Burton stated. “At the end of the day, when you have civility in the workplace, you have more engaged employees.”

Lieutenant Gen. Charles D. Luckey, chief of Army Reserve and commanding general, United States Army Reserve Command, recently released a video message emphasizing the importance of dignity and respect in America’s Army Reserve.

“This is about something we talked about on day one when I took command,” Luckey said. It's about treating each other with a sense of dignity, mutual respect, and inclusivity. We got a lot of policies across the board in America's Army.

“They're all good, they're all important, and they all pertain to all of us,” Luckey continued. “We have policies about sexual harassment, sexual assault, we have procedures we follow. The same thing applies to bullying, hazing, abusing people, touching people who don't want to be touched, treating people in a way that is completely inappropriate, and violates the Soldier's Creed. Some of these pertain to equal opportunity, some of them pertain to equal employment opportunity. They all focus ultimately on one basic theme. It's essentially the golden rule, which is treat other people the way you'd want to be treated.”

Civility becomes increasingly imperative in the combined, joint, interagency, multi-national environments of today’s Army Reserve workplaces and on the battlefields as well. Civility is not left behind when we deploy in support of combat operations. Civility and lethality are not mutually exclusive.

“No matter what, it goes back to dignity and respect,” Burton stated. “We have to create that environment and leaders have to model those behaviors of civility in the workplace.

“Because at the end of the day,” Burton said, “civility is necessary for the effectiveness of the organization.”