An Uncivil Workplace

by Employers Council Staff

Bulletin,  Organizational Development,  Training and Development

Incivility in the workplace is not new. In a 2016 study completed by Christine Porath, “Cycle to Civility, Georgetown University Working Paper,” Porath states that the number of employees who report being treated rudely by their coworkers at least once a month has increased from 49 percent in 1998 to 62 percent in 2016. This information is unsettling and should be of major concern to employers.

Researchers have published several studies on workplace incivility, and common findings show that several negative, costly outcomes result when employees are consistently exposed to rude, uncivil behavior by their coworkers and/or managers. Employees on the receiving end of incivility may experience extreme stress, which in turn damages their immune system and can contribute to diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and mental health issues, to name a few. Additionally, their personal relationships with family and friends suffer.

Employees are not the only ones who pay the cost–employers are also on the losing end of incivility. The following are just some of the costs employers pay for allowing incivility to run rampant in the workplace:

  • Decreased employee performance, as those who don’t feel respected perform worse than those who do;
  • Employees who observe others being uncivil are less likely to absorb information;
  • Employees who see or experience rude behavior experience impairment of their short-term memory and consequently, cognitive ability;
  • Increased use of sick leave and increased health-care costs;
  • Decreased loyalty of employees, which can increase turnover;
  • Increased issues between employees, which require managers to take the time to resolve;
  • Lost customers–frustrated employees tend to take their frustrations out on others, including customers;
  • Lost collaboration, innovation, contributions, and the sharing of knowledge;
  • Employees negatively impacted by incivility are less likely to help others in the workplace;
  • Damage to employer brand resulting in recruiting issues.

The more uncivil employees are, the higher the price an employer pays. Employees may feel inclined to retaliate (sabotage being highly favored as a form of retaliation) when they perceive injustice. So, one act of incivility can set off a ripple effect that impacts many people.

If you recognize incivility in your workplace, there are ways to address it. Consider the following:

  • Use structured interviews not only to find those who fit your organization, department, and job, but also to find the people who value civility and practice it in their professional lives. This means writing interview questions to seek the behaviors you want and to weed out the behaviors you don’t want in your workplace.
  • Complete thorough background and reference checks. Dig deeper than simply contacting the references listed by an applicant on their reference page. With the permission of a candidate, you can ask their references for the names of other people you can speak with to glean additional information about the applicant’s abilities and their behavior at previous jobs.
  • Construct a workplace culture that demands and does not tolerate incivility.
  • Provide regular workplace training on civility and coach employees as needed–this includes managers!
  • Walk the talk! Hold management accountable for demonstrating civility in their daily interactions with employees.
  • Continue to talk about civility and communicate its importance to employees.
  • Rate employees on civility in their performance reviews and reward employees for civility.
  • Give employees permission to hold their peers and superiors responsible for maintaining civil behavior in the workplace.
  • Consider current practices in the workplace that may cause incivility. For example, overworked staff and unreasonable deadlines.

It’s not enough to simply identify incivility in your workplace; you must address it! Studies show that most employees are not satisfied with how their employers handle incivility, and many employees don’t report rudeness out of fear. Issues can’t be addressed if they are not identified, so make it acceptable and safe for employees to discuss and report incivility. Take a strong stance against uncivil behavior. It’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also in the best interest of employees and your company. Reducing costs doesn’t hurt either!

About the author
Employers Council Staff