Workplace incivility on the rise; here’s what to do about it

How well do your employees treat each other?

Christine Porath, an associate professor of management at Georgetown University, has found workplace incivility has dramatically increased over the past 20 years, with 50 percent of people experiencing incivility at work at least once per week, up from 25 percent 20 years ago.

Porath was recently interviewed on the Knowledge Wharton podcast, knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/civility-at-work. She is also the author of the book, “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace”

What has caused the increase?

“The number one reason people give for being uncivil is they feel too stressed or overloaded. But I think in general, also contributing to this is technology. It’s much easier to have misunderstandings when you don’t have things like tone of voice or facial expressions to go on,” Porath says in the podcast interview.

She also notes that two-thirds of the instances of incivility occurred between a manager and an employee. This could mean a manager “keeps people waiting needlessly”, or “belittles others’ efforts” or “makes demeaning remarks to someone”. Incivility causes a loss of focus and productivity for the affected employee.

Some other discouraging statistics she shared:

Two-thirds of those employees who experienced incivility intentionally gave less to their organization as the result.

25 percent take it out on the customer.

The cost of one toxic worker is more than the cost of two superstar employees.

More than half of employees won’t report rudeness because of fear and/or helplessness.

Uncivil behavior occurs within every organization, so it’s not possible to totally eliminate it, but Porath does think business owners can reduce its frequency.

Where does she suggest you start?

Take the civility test

Porath has developed a civility test available at www.christine porath.com/assess-yourself. The test takes just a few minutes to complete and will provide you a good foundation for thinking about improving civility. She also a group civility exercise in her book.

The civility test is structured with behavior questions such as “How often do you use email when face to face is needed?” and “How often do you pass the blame when you’ve contributed to the mistake?”

Evaluate yourself

Review the results of the test and begin to address those areas you are deficient.

Remember that you set the tone. Improving civility should be a regular topic of discussion with all of your employees. Remind your supervisors they can be direct with front-line staff without being rude.

Feedback to your employees

Porath’s research shows a very small percentage of people intentionally try to be uncivil to others. Most people are not aware they are being rude and do not realize their behavior is affecting others. It is your job to point out this negative behavior. Otherwise, employees might assume rude behavior is acceptable at your company.

There is a famous saying from the Greek philosopher Plato, and it is a good line to remember when you think about improving civility — “Always be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.”

Pat Sisneros is the Vice President of College Services at Everett Community College and former small business owner. Please send your comments to psisneros@everettcc.edu .

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