A Simple New Trend for Workplace Respect

Amongst Emtrain clients, there’s a fan club for the Workplace Color Spectrum®. 

In my first meeting with one learning & development leader, I asked if he was familiar with the Workplace Color Spectrum®. A second later he held up our infographic that he had printed and laminated. (You’re awesome, Matt!) We’re often told stories about how it’s recently been used: CEOs, VPs, associates, each calling out disrespectful or offensive behavior. 

The Workplace Color Spectrum®

The Workplace Color Spectrum® is a behavior rating scale that enables employees to provide instant feedback in a non-confrontational way. Behaviors are rated on a color scale:

  • Green: Respectful, Positive, Productive
  • Yellow: Frustrating, Irritating, Demotivating
  • Orange: Disrespectful, Alienating, Demoralizing and referencing protected characteristics
  • Red: Toxic, Destructive, Unlawful

We teach the Workplace Color Spectrum® in every Emtrain Preventing Workplace Harassment course, and learners use it to rate the behaviors they see in several workplace video scenes (these are situational judgment tests) in our online training.

How to Use It

The Workplace Color Spectrum® is a great tool for your workplace, too. Once employees are familiar with it, they can apply it to any comment, joke, or conversation that might be inappropriate. For a quick intervention, co-workers simply say the name of the color – alerting their co-workers that their words are offensive or disrespectful and that they must stop. Calling out the color helps employees have an immediate response, and stop the behavior before it gets worse. 

When a co-worker says or does something that makes them uncomfortable, they now have a choice. Instead of saying nothing (which happens far too often) – or saying  “hey that’s offensive” (which feels loaded and emotional)- you can say “hey that’s orange!”

To support diversity initiatives, we each need greater awareness and respect for people of races, genders, ages, sexual orientations, religions, or family status than our own. But we often don’t have all the background information we need to know if we say or do something that might offend someone. With the Workplace Color Spectrum®, we can receive that feedback: “Did you know that comment is really orange for me?” It’s especially important to call out Orange and Red behaviors because they harm employee engagement, collaboration, and productivity. 

For some of our clients, especially those in retail, healthcare, and hospitality, social, Racial, and Political strife stoked in our broader society has come into their workplace. Employees (and customers) are emboldened to say and do things they may not have before. So organizations are looking for concrete ways to eliminate disrespectful behavior in the workplace and create a behavioral norm of respect.

Rolling out the Workplace Color Spectrum® (WCS) Tool

We recently launched new microlessons and documentation to support Emtrain clients who want to implement the Workplace Color Spectrum® as a top-down corporate initiative, to build a behavioral norm of positive and respectful behavior, create a system that de-escalates tensions between and amongst employees, and guide manager support of respectful interactions. 

The Workplace Color Spectrum® kit includes:

  • A sample Policy for respectful behavior, including using the Workplace Color Spectrum® (WCS) 
  • The Workplace Color Spectrum® infographic poster 
  • A sample email to provide background on the WCS to executives and managers 
  • A series of 5-minute microlessons that train employees on using the WCS to provide instant feedback to their co-workers to stop problematic words and actions:
    • About the Workplace Color Spectrum® Introduces the Workplace Color Spectrum as a tool–for shared language and behavior rating–that helps diverse organizations create a highly respectful workplace. 
    • Creating More Respectful Interactions models how managers can intervene when they observe suboptimal “yellow” behavior between co-workers. When managers are proactive, it helps create greater respect in the workplace.
    • Managing our Frustrations models two co-workers de-escalating their own tense “yellow” conversation, with tips on how to de-escalate your own behavior in addition to your co-worker’s.
    • Blindspots and Inappropriate Behavior models a co-worker stopping offensive “orange” comments in a conversation between co-workers, showing how to give feedback, and how to receive it.
  • A suggested deployment order and calendar
  • Insights reporting on employee sentiment

Why it Works

The Workplace Color Spectrum® enables employees to provide instant feedback to one another in a non-confrontational way. The shared language helps instill organizational norms of positive behavior, quickly. While it may take some getting used to, we anticipate fewer miscommunications, offensive interactions, escalations, and claims as employees are able to communicate and resolve their own problems. 

Learn more about how the Workplace Color Spectrum® works and get a personalized demo of our platform by contacting us!

respectworkplace color spectrum
Laraine McKinnon
Talent and Culture Strategist Women's Advocate Former Managing Director at BlackRock
View bio

Stay up to date with our blog posts!