The transition to working from home some 18+ months ago was tough. If you are heading back to the office this fall, you may be finding that transition is even harder.

While behavior expectations at work haven’t changed, there may be different assumptions as to what is now acceptable.

According to supervisors interviewed by SHRM*, many workers returning to an office setting are bringing with them inappropriate and disrespectful behavior. This includes an increase in insults, invasive questions, and a lack of respect for others.

Some of the comments reported included insensitive comments such as I’m surprised your marriage survived last year, or I liked you better on Zoom, where I could mute you.

And, after an 18-month drought, there is a lot of catching up to do around the water cooler in regards to gossip. Other behaviors reported include inappropriate dress, failing to follow regulations regarding work hours, break length, and tardiness.

Inappropriate behavior that is tolerated will eventually wreak havoc on sustaining a good office culture. It will bring morale down and increase tension which leads to stress, illness, and lack of productivity.

How You Can Respond

So what is the best way to deal with inappropriate behavior you may experience?

Most important – respond, don’t tolerate.

When you witness inappropriate behavior or are part of an unprofessional conversation, you need to speak up – whether you are the supervisor or not,

The sooner you address the situation the better – failure to respond in a timely manner can escalate the situation and alienate others.

Here are some ways you can address it in your workplace.

  1. Say how the specific behavior makes you feel, and why you are offended or hurt. For example: When I hear (or see) this behavior, I feel disrespected. — or — It is hurtful to me when you…
  2. Follow guidelines for dealing with difficult people, including being respectful, specific and descriptive. You should always start by addressing the behavior as soon as it happens (or as soon as possible) and respectfully ask for the behavior to stop.
  3. Use good conflict management skills, by addressing the the issue or behavior and not the person.
  4. Ask for help when you need it. It’s always best to address the issue directly, but if you are unsuccessful or the situation escelates, talk to your supervisor, or HR staff.

Make Expectations Clear

Most communication problems can be avoided or resolved by making sure that all assumptions are clear, and that everyone knows what is expected.

When expectations are made early and clear, people are more likely to follow them. Therefore, taking the time to make expectations clear is the most important step in changing behavior.

Discuss in team meetings that incivility, rudeness, and disrespect won’t be tolerated. Then, follow through by holding everyone accountable. Encourage everyone to address inappropriate behavior when it happens, and to report to a supervisor or HR any behavior that isn’t immediately resolved at your level.

Restart with Onboarding

If you are a supervisor or team leader, you may want to conduct some formal re-entry onboarding. This will allow everyone to review policies and expectations together.

Most important, whether through an official process or team meeting, clearly state what the expectations are (and include any that have changed). Then, follow-up when expectations are not met — sooner rather than later.

Stay Connected

If you have any questions, feel free to schedule a free 30-minute consultation with me. I’m more than happy to chat with you about your own communication struggles and celebrate your victories.

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Betty Lochner is a human resources consultant, business coach, and expert in workplace communications. She is the author of two books on communication, and a newly published journal, Intentional Gratitude.

*Source: Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)