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Civility in the Workplace (part 1 of 3) - What all businesses and organizations should know about and how the bottom line is affected

Written by: Lorraine Twombly
Published: July 2010

There are some extraordinary percentages of US employees in the workplace who think incivility is on the rise. When you combine all the categories of incivility (from taking credit of others’ ideas and accomplishments to being physically abusive to others), you can image in this day of tightening belts and growing expectations from superiors to get more done for less money, that stress can be a major factor when we experience it in the workplace. I’m not writing about those folks who have occasional stressful outburst or have momentary venting conversations. I’m writing about people who are focused on only getting “their” work done at the risk of alienating cooperation and participation from the rest of the organization or team or department. 

Here are some classic examples of incivility in the workplace:

  • Using someone else’s ideas or initiatives to gain a higher status in the company
  • Not admitting when mistakes are made or blaming others for his/her mistakes
  • Being physically “absent” at meetings by not participating or focusing on the agenda
  • Talking over the top of folks to get his/her idea across and keeping others from having their moment/s
  • Demanding others do their bidding without the niceties of “thank you” or “please”
  • Mass emailing to staff and employees in order to point out the mistakes of others in a disrespectful way, which in essence sets folks up to fail...
  • Keeping crucial and non-crucial information to him/herself in order to look better than everyone else
  • Avoiding issues that need to be addressed or letting others face the consequences on their own
  • Expecting others to pick up or clean after them and treat others as servants rather than respected employees
  • Always grabbing the best projects and going overboard to compete with other teams or departments
  • Not answering emails or phone calls and leaving folks stranded by not offering support or answering questions
  • Having temper tantrums or being physically abusive to others when under stress or when things do not go as planned
  • Purposely embarrassing folks in front of others and creating an atmosphere of fear and hostility

If you read the book “The Cost of Bad Behavior” by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, you will find that employees:

  • Believe that incivility is a bigger problem than everyone thinks (80%)
  • Have been the recipient of incivility at work at some point in their work life (96%)
  • Are stressed out due to the uncivil behaviors of bosses or other employees (60%)
  • Believe there is no respect between bosses and staff in the jobs they’ve worked at (80%)
  • Have said that they have been treated uncivilly at least once per week (48%)
  • Are unhappy with how incivility is handled at their company or organization (3 out of 4 companies)
  • Are afraid to say anything about incivility due to repercussions or they will not be up for promotion if they do (more than 50%)
  • Have reported incivility to their HR department or Employee Relations Manager (9%)
  • Who have gotten even with coworkers or the organization due to unresolved issues around incivility (88-94%)
  • Have left the company who did not handle incivility as the employee expected (12% - which averages out to $50,000 per employee that has to be replaced)

I read in that book that the cost of incivility in the workplace annually is $300 Billion. Image if all businesses and organizations in the US can drop that number to zero!! I know, “Pie in the sky”, right? That number is huge and if every organization or company spent some time, energy, and resources on making their organization a “Civil” company, image how much more profit could be made.

Here are some immediate ways to help employees and managers to behave civilly:

  • Insist as a leader that your company will focus on civility in the workplace
  • Create expectations on what you expect on the topic of civility in the workplace and encourage participation from others to set standards of behaviors or ground rules
  • Coach others through the process of learning and development (see my previous articles on coaching, if you are looking for step-by-step problem-solving techniques)
  • Follow up and document through your performance management system or make it a “must” in the process itself (see previous article on this topic on our website)
  • Be consistent and tackle issues immediately to help eliminate stressful and unwarranted incivility in the workplace

The result will be:

  • Turnover will decrease
  • Employees will feel valued and respected
  • Productivity will rise
  • The company will save lots of money

Next month I will write about how to help others to behave civilly in more detail and what could be in it for those who have a hard time being civil.

Lorraine Twombly

Lorraine Twombly