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Workplace Incivility – Little Problems That Turn into Big Ones

Let’s talk about a little problem in the workplace that comes with a big cost. Review the following list and ask yourself, “Have I ever done this?” or “Has anyone ever done this to me?”

  • Skipping meetings, showing up late or leaving a meeting early with no explanation
  • Forwarding others’ e-mail to make them look bad
  • Failing to return phone calls or respond to e-mail
  • Withholding information
  • Shutting someone out of a network or team
  • Paying little attention or showing little interest in others’ opinions
  • Not saying “hello,” “please” or “thank you”

Don’t think this is common? Think again as one out of every five employees in the workplace experiences this type of uncivil behavior every week.

And the costs of these types of behaviors — due to the stress they cause — are astonishing with estimates for US companies reaching $300 billion annually. The bottom line is that uncivil behavior erodes trust, squashes teamwork, curbs creativity & innovation, and negatively impacts your customers whether you realize it or not.

According to research done by Christine Porath, workplace incivility refers to seemingly insignificant behaviors that are rude, disrespectful, discourteous or insensitive, where the intent to harm is ambiguous or unclear.

The problem is that incivility is not objective like harassment or workplace bullying where the intent to harm is unambiguous and clear. Yet, 45 percent of the workforce reports that incivility negatively impacts their motivation and 66 percent report that incivility negatively impacts their ability to perform their job.

And to make matters worse, if you think workplace incivility is on the rise, you would be correct. The percentage of employees who report being treated rudely by colleagues at least once a month has risen by 13 percent over the past 20 years.

So what can you do about it?

First, recognize that the longer workplace incivility goes “unchecked”, the more pervasive it becomes in your culture and the more likely the behaviors will escalate. Act decisively — don’t stick your head in the sand.

Second, if you haven’t done so yet, establish a set of core values that reinforce your vision and mission and embed these values throughout your core people processes such as new-hire orientation, employee on-boarding, and performance management.

Third, learn to take a leadership stance toward workplace incivility. Give people the benefit of the doubt by learning to separate the intent of someone’s behavior from the impact the behavior has. It’s hard to act leader-like when you take every behavior that is directed at you as a personal attack. Excuse the person not the behavior.

Fourth, continue your courageous leadership stance and address the poor behavior. This final step isn’t easy but it is imperative. Start the conversation by stating all employees are held to the same standard. Talk objectively using facts rather than opinions, and provide a clear example of what the desired behavior needs to look like moving forward.

Your employees will contribute their time, talent and effort in return for a salary, benefits, and safe conditions that will allow them to carry out their job duties to their full potential. It’s your responsibility as a leader to create this environment.

About the Author

Darryl WahlstromDarryl Wahlstrom is president of D.A.W. Organization Consulting Services. He may be reached at 269-353-1898 or darryl@daw-consultingsolutions.com.

Let’s talk about a little problem in the workplace that comes with a big cost. Review the following list and ask yourself, “Have I ever done this?” or “Has anyone ever done this to me?”

  • Skipping meetings, showing up late or leaving a meeting early with no explanation
  • Forwarding others’ e-mail to make them look bad
  • Failing to return phone calls or respond to e-mail
  • Withholding information
  • Shutting someone out of a network or team
  • Paying little attention or showing little interest in others’ opinions
  • Not saying “hello,” “please” or “thank you”

Don’t think this is common? Think again as one out of every five employees in the workplace experiences this type of uncivil behavior every week.

And the costs of these types of behaviors — due to the stress they cause — are astonishing with estimates for US companies reaching $300 billion annually. The bottom line is that uncivil behavior erodes trust, squashes teamwork, curbs creativity & innovation, and negatively impacts your customers whether you realize it or not.

According to research done by Christine Porath, workplace incivility refers to seemingly insignificant behaviors that are rude, disrespectful, discourteous or insensitive, where the intent to harm is ambiguous or unclear.

The problem is that incivility is not objective like harassment or workplace bullying where the intent to harm is unambiguous and clear. Yet, 45 percent of the workforce reports that incivility negatively impacts their motivation and 66 percent report that incivility negatively impacts their ability to perform their job.

And to make matters worse, if you think workplace incivility is on the rise, you would be correct. The percentage of employees who report being treated rudely by colleagues at least once a month has risen by 13 percent over the past 20 years.

So what can you do about it?

First, recognize that the longer workplace incivility goes “unchecked”, the more pervasive it becomes in your culture and the more likely the behaviors will escalate. Act decisively — don’t stick your head in the sand.

Second, if you haven’t done so yet, establish a set of core values that reinforce your vision and mission and embed these values throughout your core people processes such as new-hire orientation, employee on-boarding, and performance management.

Third, learn to take a leadership stance toward workplace incivility. Give people the benefit of the doubt by learning to separate the intent of someone’s behavior from the impact the behavior has. It’s hard to act leader-like when you take every behavior that is directed at you as a personal attack. Excuse the person not the behavior.

Fourth, continue your courageous leadership stance and address the poor behavior. This final step isn’t easy but it is imperative. Start the conversation by stating all employees are held to the same standard. Talk objectively using facts rather than opinions, and provide a clear example of what the desired behavior needs to look like moving forward.

Your employees will contribute their time, talent and effort in return for a salary, benefits, and safe conditions that will allow them to carry out their job duties to their full potential. It’s your responsibility as a leader to create this environment.

About the Author

Darryl WahlstromDarryl Wahlstrom is president of D.A.W. Organization Consulting Services. He may be reached at 269-353-1898 or darryl@daw-consultingsolutions.com.
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