Workplace Civility

picture civility

Workplace Civility Matters © So What Can Managers Do About It?

Someone in your workplace is a jerk and their behavior makes your worklife miserable. Or perhaps someone you know is enduring an emotionally painful worklife in an uncivil workplace, and it is sucking the happy out of them. Many encounters with workplace incivility can be professionally destructive for both the target of workplace incivility, and the innocent observer of uncivil behavior. The insidious nature of workplace incivility attacks at the core of each organization, and over time diminishes both the target and observer’s desire to fully engage in their professional life.

Challenges In Todays Workplace

Civility, as a general topic, is broader than the workplace or the purview of etiquette writers and social commentators. Civility, as a function of organizational stability is narrow in focus, as appropriate civil behavior is important for the efficacy of today’s worklife and workplace, simply because the concept of civility includes the dignity of each human-being within the organization. Recognizing that employee’s personal lives and work lives are no longer mutually exclusive is a first step to understanding the “how” and the “why” behind workplace incivility. Our work environment has become an extension of our non-work environment and encompasses prevalent attitudes and behaviors found in our larger society. The dynamic nature of the early part of the 21st century work environment also contributes to the avalanche of workplace incivility. Global competition, dwindling markets, corporate outsourcing, and the rise of temporary and term employees have introduced a greater element of uncertainty into the modern workplace; an uncertainty which did not exist in the era of the job-for-life employer/employee relationship, which many within our parents’ generation enjoyed. Workplace incivility is a contemporary blight within the organizational landscape, and it adversely impacts both individuals and the organization wherein they work. Through a variety of research projects and workplace surveys, the data supporting the existence of workplace incivility is mind-blowing. Among thousands of employees surveyed across various industries and job levels, the numbers are staggering:

  • 99% of employees have witnessed workplace incivility;
  • 96% of employees reported firsthand experience of incivility;
  • 80% of employees wasted work effort worrying about the uncivil incident;
  • 78% of employees reported reduced organizational dedication as a result of experiencing or observing incivility;
  • 63% of employees wasted effort by avoiding the instigator of uncivil acts and behaviors;
  • 48% of employees reduced work effort as a result of experiencing or observing incivility;
  • 47% of employees decreased work attendance as a result of experiencing or observing incivility;
  • 38% of employees purposely decreased work quality, and 12% changed jobs specifically as a result of workplace incivility.

What Is Workplace Incivility?

While this data is significant, what it does not address is the human toll and resulting impact on your organizations’ bottom-line or customer experience. Any mention of incivility and workplace in the same sentence generally conjures up images of social isolation, screaming bosses, mobbing peers, and gossiping subordinates spreading salacious stories about the defenseless “victim” or target. Which is precisely the distorted workplace reality that the perpetrators of workplace incivility love to create. As a frame of reference workplace incivility can be defined as any disrespectful, paltry, and mistrustful interaction with fellow workplace and worklife participants; where the instigator may intentionally or unintentionally obfuscate the nature and purpose of their incivility, specifically with the intention to cause harm to the target. Stated another way, an uncivil person may either act uncivilly out of ignorance or a lack of self-awareness, or more insidiously they may act uncivilly with a purposeful intent to harm their target.

Workplace Civility Matters

Quite simply, Workplace Civility Matters! So what can leaders and managers do about it? By first acknowledging and naming the existence of the contemporary phenomenon of workplace incivility, we can begin the journey towards creating a more civil work environment. Organizations can contribute to improving workplace culture by exploring the “how” and the “why” in which workplace participants, including leaders, managers, and line staff, contribute to workplace incivility. Additionally, by understanding the role of leadership, i.e. executives, managers and workplace influencers, in creating and imbuing civility and positive cultural norms within your organization, you can both mitigate existing workplace incivility, and promote workplace civility throughout your organization.

Definition Of Workplace Civility

Workplace Civility is the opposite of incivility or confrontational attitudes and deviant behaviors, such as an intimidating manner, being quarrelsome or petty, or being obstinate. Like its antonym, Workplace InCivility, the action of Workplace Civility also has three parts

  • Being respectful, even in the face of disagreement….
  • Being generous, even where there is a cost to doing so ….
  • Being trusting, even when there is a risk to being so ….
  • Workplace Civility is a respectful, generous, and trusting interaction with fellow workplace and worklife participants.

A Theoretical Framework For Workplace Incivility

The theoretical framework, as a subset of organizational behavior, includes four key points:

  • the perspective of the target,
  • the potential for reciprocal counter-incivility,
  • escalation in response to perceived deviation from norms for mutual respect, and
  • the tipping point wherein workplace incivility evolves to other less ambiguous and more direct forms of deviant workplace behaviors, such as violence.

The Ambiguity Of Incivility

There are several beneficially ambiguous characteristics to workplace incivility, which serve as a means for the antagonists or instigators to perpetuate their deviant acts just below the radar of an organization’s response mechanism. Typically, individual acts of incivility are not bad enough to invoke adverse management actions, such as formal admonishment or termination. However, the vagueness component of incivility, and the inherent ambiguity, is part of what makes the phenomenon so insidious. Noticeably the actors in the drama of workplace incivility are never vague, and every organization can easily name many of the known antagonists and instigators – even when no formal complaints have been lodged against them. A familiar refrain may be “oh, that’s just Jack – he is just being a jerk!”

Avoiding Workplace Incivility Does Not Mean

Avoiding workplace incivility does not mean that workplace and worklife relationships cannot entertain vigorous and healthy discourse and debate. Rather, civil discourse and debate can increase several positive aspects of organizational worklife, including Critical Thinking, Intellectual Curiosity, Problem-Solving, Worklife Engagement, Accountability, Responsibility, Performance Output and Customer Satisfaction.

 A Preemptive Strike

Create Awareness about workplace civility and incivility through discussion. Unless your organization has created an avenue to talk about the phenomenon of deviant workplace behaviors within the workplace, many worklife participants will assume the deviant behavior is a cultural norm. A strategy towards creating a more civil environment includes introducing the words and concepts of civility and incivility into the organization’s lexicon, and expressing a specific commitment to creating and sustaining a civil workplace. Other steps include:

  • Provide an overview and awareness of the presence and impact of both civility and incivility in the workplace and in your worklife
  • Explore the “how” and the “why” in which workplace participants contribute to workplace civility and incivility
  • Explore the role of leadership in creating and imbuing civility and positive cultural norms
  • Introduce a variety of proven strategies and tactics to (1) Mitigate existing workplace incivility, and (2) Promote workplace civility throughout your organization
  • Explore how to recognize and commit to measure increased civility in your workplace

Who Does Incivility Impact?

Research shows that incivility spirals create a complex and negative effect upon employees, work units, and also within the wider enterprise in which contemporary organizations operate. Employees subjected to workplace incivility (either the target, or the observer) are acutely affected on multiple emotional and physical levels. The preponderance of employees queried admitted to a reciprocal action against the organization, as opposed to the instigator, to balance out perceived injustice. This is a surprising fact for many leaders, as the basic assumption is that the target seeks revenge against his or her antagonists. However, more often than not a target of workplace incivility will lash out against the perceived injustice of their situation and direct their response against the organization, through a variety of actions; including (1) withholding or diminished effort, (2) maligning the organization, (3) pilferage of employer property and time, (4) sabotage, and (5) divulging propriety information to competitors.

What Is The Impact Of Incivility

Research indicates that 90% of those surveyed deemed incivility a serious workplace difficulty, which can spiral into more serious deviant behaviors including violence, and also wear away at the organization’s ethical standards. Any incivility event can cascade, instigating secondary incivility spirals, which magnify the effect on the organization. Subsequently, organizational performance, desired outcomes, and the bottom-line suffers. Incivility is more than a personal issue, rather it is a personnel issue and an organizational issue, which unsettles the workplace and reduces target and observer efficacy. Workplace incivility may become the introductory step in other workplace deviant behaviors that compels the target and instigator to more overt acts of hostility.

How Leaders And Managers Choose To Act Civil – Successfully!

Leaders and managers are an organizations’ first line of defense in the face of the contemporary threat, as their behavior sets the tone for the entire organization. So what can you as a manager, leader, or influencer, do to create a more civil workplace?

  • Reflect upon your own behavior regularly
  • Treat others as you would want to be treated
  • Model civil behavior in your self
  • Applaud civil behavior in others
  • Rebuke uncivil behavior in others
  • Rebuke uncivil behavior in others civilly

How To Cultivate Civility Within Your Organization

From an organizational perspective there are a variety of approaches, which when executed in unison, can make the difference in recalibrating your organizations’ cultural norm towards being a civil workplace. Specific actions include:

  • Weed out incivility through effective hiring
  • Leaders must take the lead in shaping employees attitude regarding incivility
  • Train team to be cognizant of how employees’ personality traits affect both job performance, and perception of incivility
  • Train team by exploring rude and disrespectful behavior
  • Train team in establishing awareness of destructive emotions in others, such as envy and jealousy
  • Train team by endorsing civil behavior
  • Train leaders and managers to moderate their own behavior

The Good News

The good news is that Workplace Civility Matters ©  – And as leaders, managers, and organizational influencers you can do something about it. There is nothing inherent in workplace incivility that makes it a permanent state for any work unit or organization. Quite simply, the tipping point occurs when you as leaders, managers, and organizational influencers decide that the status quo is no longer acceptable; and that you simply prefer to work in, contribute to, and be associated with a workplace where civility is an expected cultural norm and employees can flourish. For more information about  the Workplace Civility Matters © program and how to implement change within your organization, take a look at the following YouTube video at about ideas and programs available to support your organization.