'R-E-S-P-E-C-T': Find Out What It Means in the U.Va. Workplace

February 15, 2012 — For the University of Virginia community, what "respect" means is outlined in a new "Commitment to a Caring Community of Dignity and Respect," which charges employees to "treat everyone else with kindness, dignity and respect, regardless of position or status."

Shortly after she took office in August 2010, U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan appointed a task force made up of faculty and staff from the Academic Division and the Health System "that would look at the policies, structures and resources necessary to support a culture of civility and respectful behavior at U.Va.," she wrote in an email announcing the initiative.

Susan Carkeek, vice president and chief human resources officer, chaired the 26-member task force, which designed the commitment and procedures and will continue to monitor progress and collect data on whether the methods are proving effective.

A new website, Respect@UVa, spells out guidelines for respectful behavior and outlines responsibilities of employees, supervisors, deans, vice presidents and unit heads and Human Resources staff in both the Medical Center and the Academic Division. It also offers resources, defines terms, recognizes "Respectful Workplace Champions" and hosts a new incident reporting system.

In addition to providing resources online, the task force has begun holding training workshops for managers and for faculty and employee councils. There, participants have the opportunity to ask questions and discuss past experiences to be aware of what they could do differently.

Teresa Culbertson, an administrative specialist for the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program and member of the task force, said, "The Respectful Workplace initiative will be beneficial in that it will not only provide resources to employees and managers, but it will also provide an avenue for employees at any level to submit complaints or concerns."

Culbertson, who is on the Medical Center Employee Communications Council, said she wanted to be part of the effort to promote a caring and respectful work environment because it will "allow employees to fully utilize their talents and provide the best service possible," she said.

The guidelines suggest ways that concerned employees can get help if they see or experience disrespectful behavior. Talking about the problem is the first step; a person can talk with a supervisor (unless that person is the problem), a local human resources representative, a consultant in the central Human Resources office, another department manager, the University Ombudsman or a consultant from the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program.

Supervisors and managers have a key role to play. They are expected to be role models of respectful behavior, to "set the tone" in their workplaces, and to take allegations or complaints about disrespectful behavior seriously.

The bottom line: Employees "need to feel safe in the knowledge that they are respected for their knowledge and skills, regardless of the type of work they perform," said task force member Robert Dailey, a respiratory therapist supervisor at the Health System's Heart and Vascular Center.

To that end, the new incident reporting system enables employees to report offensive behavior and have the formal complaint investigated, similar to the online bias-reporting system for students, "Just Report It."

The system ensures that employees making a complaint will get a response within two business days of their initial contact. The commitment reiterates the University’s protections against retaliation for employees who report any incidents.

"Individuals who may feel they are being treated unfairly by another will have the tools to protect themselves" by using this system, Dailey said.

To reinforce positive behaviors, the University will be recognizing "workplace champions" – individuals, programs and offices that exemplify the ideals of a caring community. University community members can email AskHR@virginia.edu to submit nominations.

The respectful workplace initiative is just one component of the University's focus on building a caring community and improving communication, appreciation of differences and safety. About two years ago, after several deaths in the University community, several steps were taken to encourage community members to more actively look out for one another. One of Sullivan's first activities after taking office to call for a "Day of Dialogue." Held in September 2010, the event comprised a series of discussions addressing the emotional aspects of mourning, defining the characteristics of a caring community and highlighting practical resources for safety and personal responsibility.

A desire on the part of many students, faculty and staff to continue the tone and theme of those discussions led to Dialogue Across UVA, said Pemberton Heath, a fourth-year student in the College of Arts & Sciences who helped organize that effort. Dialogue Across UVA is a collaboration between students, faculty and staff designed to foster and support a caring University community. More than 200 people have participated in small, biweekly lunch meetings, and new groups will continue this semester.

Other activities are described here.

In a similar spirit, the "Respectful Workplace" task force considered broad questions, as well as practical remedies. The group discussed questions like "What moral obligations do we have toward each other?" and "What makes a great institution beyond buildings and programs?"

"The president has expectations for everyone to be committed to a place where people are valued, regardless of status. We want every employee to expect to be respected," said Joni Louque, a foreign national tax specialist in Human Resources and another task force member.

"In last year's staff survey, 92 percent of employees said they felt respected in the workplace. But we can do better."

— by Anne Bromley

Media Contact

Alexandra Rebhorn

University Human Resources