Many people think being civil is the same as having good manners. Civility includes getting along, sometimes to the extent of making sacrifices for the good of the whole group. Civility also includes a sense of reciprocity.
Workplaces have a set of unspoken rules for verbal and non-verbal behaviors which reflect the level of respect and civility that exists. Such rules are established by example of all levels of management.
Marshall Goldsmith, (management guru) said, “When the boss acts like a little god and tells everyone else they need to improve, that behavior can be copied at every level of management. Every level then points out how the level below it needs to change. The end result: No one gets much better.” When it comes to conduct, the best approach is to manage by example.
It’s not just nice to work in an environment that is civil, incivility is costly. Porath and Pearson, authors of The Cost of Bad Behavior found that executives spend seven weeks a year dealing with employee conflicts; 95% of Americans have experienced rudeness at work; and 12% have left jobs because they were treated badly.
Whether or not civility can be required has been argued. Can an employer require employees to smile and acknowledge co- workers with a expression such as good morning? Should employees bereprimanded for walking away from a copy machine that is jammed or not cleaning up after themselves in the break room? These behaviors are subtle examples of incivility.
As incivility intensifies to include gossip, condescension, arguing, foul language, and accusatory remarks, employers may feel justified to call attention to and correct the behavior. As the intensity of incivility increases to discrimination, harassment or workplace violence, employers feel increasingly accountable and required to take action.
Studies show that uncivil behavior has a spiral effect. When passive incivility such as not acknowledging the presence of a person with a greeting or eye contact is not addressed, it becomes the norm.
Passive incivility has no targeted victim, yet someone may perceive harm from the action. The person who perceives harm may retaliate with coercive action. The spiral begins, the environment worsens.
The broken window theory applies to incivility. Broken windows or a littered sidewalk do not harm a neighborhood, if they are addressed. Left untended, they send the signal that littering and vandalizing are the norm. It may become a neighborhood where it is acceptable to be openly drunk, beg for money, or steal. In short, little things lead to bigger things. Establishing and maintaining a healthy, civil work environment is critical.