Initiative Makes Changes to Encourage a Respectful Workplace

February 18, 2013

In 2010, University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan launched a task force that looked at the policies, procedures and resources that would support a culture of civility and respectful behavior at U.Va.

Today, faculty and staff members interested in learning more about what makes a respectful workplace can take a workshop online or through an on-site trainer; employees have a way to recognize people or groups who have displayed the ideals of a caring community; and any employee who might be the object of workplace bullying can make a report, and Human Resources will follow up to determine an appropriate redress.

The elements are part of U.Va.’s Respectful Workplace initiative, which Human Resources began a year ago.

Based on the work of the task force – which was headed by Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer – a Respect@UVa website went online a year ago, offering respectful-workplace guidelines, resources to help teach and reinforce respectful behaviors and an incident-reporting system that employees can use to report violations.

At the same time, Sullivan made “a commitment to a caring community of dignity and respect.” She continues to speak about it regularly, most recently on Friday at St. Paul’s Memorial Church and at a U.Va. public discussion on gender violence Feb. 7.

Michael Schwartz, a Human Resources staffer who works on the Respect@UVa program, said that no other college or university in Virginia has such a program in place, beyond basic mechanisms, such as equal opportunity programs. When he gave a presentation about Respect@UVa at a recent conference, the attendees were eager to hear about it and impressed with Sullivan’s commitment, he said.

Since instituting the complaint reporting system, Human Resources has responded to 40 cases, said Schwartz, who also directs Human Resources’ compliance and immigration services. The reporting system is available to all employees, including Health System staff.

The complaints and responses have each been slightly different, he said, and he is in the middle of surveying the complainants to see if they found the process satisfactory. Human Resources plans to publish statistics by vice presidential area on the number of Respect@ complaints received and their character generally in the near future.

When a complaint comes in, a designated Human Resources staff member is assigned to contact the employee within 48 hours and will continue to be the contact person. The Human Resources contact will refer the complaint to the appropriate office for investigation. Only those individuals with a “need to know” will be contacted and provided with sensitive information only to the extent necessary to resolve the complaint adequately.

“Primarily, we want to change the culture and raise awareness, more than being disciplinary or punishing,” Schwartz said. “People get to air the issues and get an apology, at least. Some individuals and groups received respectful-workplace training as a result.”

An important message spelled out explicitly is that retaliation against someone who has made a complaint will not be tolerated. Schwartz said he hasn’t seen any evidence of that problem.

“Anecdotally, people have told me they’ve noticed a difference – a change in expectations,” he said.

Part of that is seeing that Sullivan is involved, he said. A letter from her appears on the front page of the Respect@UVa website, including an update on the year’s activities. 

The training program seeks to prevent the need for complaints and encourage employees to look out for their coworkers and not be bystanders. It covers what respectful and disrespectful behaviors look like in the workplace, and outlines what guidelines and procedures are available to assist employees who are a target of bullying, a witness to an incident or the accused party.

In the past year, more than 400 people received training either online or through an instructor-led workshop. Human Resources has held 16 large-scale sessions with groups including Employee Communications Councils, the Faculty Senate and the facilitators for this semester’s Dialogue Across UVA sessions.

Faculty and staff also have the opportunity to highlight “Respectful Workplace Champions.” Employees are encouraged to identify role models and to share their stories and experiences of exceptional respectful behavior by emailing

The first “champions” honored were Brent Beringer, director of U.Va. Dining Services, Cindy Fredrick and Mary Blair Zakaib in the Office of Engagement, and the entire Darden School of Business.

Dean Robert F. Bruner and the Darden community made it a priority to foster a culture in which integrity, trust, collegiality, fairness, transparency, respect and a commitment to excellence co-exist, said the nominator. The school conducted a climate survey of faculty and staff in the summer of 2010 to assess the climate, as well as identify areas that need attention or improvement. The Darden community has now adopted a clear set of norms and statements about how people in the Darden community are expected to treat each other, according to the Respect@UVa website.

Fredrick and Zakaib were praised for creating a collaborative and egalitarian culture, sensitive to the personal dynamics in the workplace, where all voices are heard and all viewpoints are listened to. They also established the Engagement Community online to increase support for U.Va. by strengthening relationships with alumni, parents and friends of the University.

Beringer serves as a facilitator for Dialogue Across UVA, and one of the group members lauded his involvement in that role, as well as in his capacity as a manager. “In my experience as a U.Va. undergraduate student, an alumna and as a U.Va. staff member, I have rarely encountered someone so committed to every single individual who makes up the University community,” the nominator wrote. “The fact that Brent, in his role as director of U.Va. Dining Services, is in a position to set a tone of respect for a large segment of U.Va. staff members is crucial and gives me great hope for a future in which U.Va. is the epitome of a respectful workplace.”

Sullivan echoed those words about commitment in her remarks at St. Paul’s last week. “If we want to live in a community characterized by caring, respect and civility toward our colleagues and our fellow human beings, then each one of us must make the choice to live by those qualities,” she said. “I’m committed to doing that, and I hope you’ll join me in the effort.”

Media Contact

Anne E. Bromley

University News Associate Office of University Communications