Professional courtesy is declining. We may blame it on economy-related stress; having no time for nice during financial insecurity. A number of surveys indicate coworkers as the primary source of incivility. The Journal of Occupational Health Psychology surveyed 1100 workers; 71% had experienced workplace incivility in the past five years.
Novations Group, a Boston consulting firm, that studied workplace vulgarity and boorish behavior found 38% of women heard inappropriate sexual innuendos and insults last year, an increase of 16% compared to the previous year.
Perhaps harsh, greedy, all about me values created our current economy. In any case, it doesn’t make sense to blame rudeness on anything other than the person who is behaving rudely.
People perform better in healthy environments. Companies today need every competitive advantage. Employees who experience incivility are less likely to be productive and loyal or go beyond their required duties.
Rudeness and tawdry behavior are obscure. An intent to harm another person is not required. Included are things such as not greeting a coworker as you pass in the hall. Public Agenda found 80% of respondents said lack of respect and courtesy is a serious national problem; 60% believe it’s getting worse; and 41% admit they are sometimes part of the problem. We may forgive poor manners because we have been uncivil on occasion.
The problem with forgiveness is the bar is lowered, excuses are no longer necessary; it becomes common for people to pass without acknowledgement. The term incivility spiral was coined describing the increased severity of aggression when targets retaliate and instigators escalate.
Incivility costs the company in lost productivity. Studies show employee targets spend time avoiding the instigator, have increased tardiness and absenteeism, and may have related psychological and physical health issues. Supervisors spend time resolving personal conflicts. One study showed executives spend 13% of their time resolving conflicts. In another study, 46% contemplated changing jobs to avoid the instigator and 12% actually changed jobs.
Senior leadership must recognize incivility as a financial threat to the company. A written civility statement backed up with standards of respect and modeled by leadership will provide a competitive advantage. The American Psychological Association recognizes companies with a Psychological Healthy Workplace Award. Companies selected in 2010 experienced reduced turnover and sick time usage (1.4 days annually), fewer accidents and employee health improved.
Fairness in the workplace includes treating people with respect and providing tools needed to perform well, along with keeping promises and offering support. Establishing standards that demonstrate respect include returning phone messages within 24 hours, being on time and prepared for meetings, using please and thank you, and greeting people as you pass. Civility doesn’t depend on status or position. Everyone deserves respect.