Blowing the Whistle on Workplace Misconduct
Workplace Stress

Incivility in the Workplace

It's Getting Nasty in the Workplace

I have previously blogged about the loss of civility in society. The American Psychological Association defines Workplace Incivility as a form of organizational deviance characterized by low-intensity behaviors that violate respectful norms, appearing vague as to intent to harm. In other words, workplace incivility manifests itself in rudeness, insults and plain old bad manners. Research suggests 75% to 80% of people have experienced incivility. I believe these results simply mirror the fact that a lack of civility exists in society. It’s no wonder it has translated into a decline in civility in the workplace.

Workplace aggression also is on the rise further confirming the lack of civility. A boss may be sarcastic and borderline insulting if you can’t get a project done on time. Co-workers may try to take credit for your work to get ahead. We hear disrespectful comments and even curse words more often in society so it is no wonder inappropriate language has become the norm in the workplace.

The best way to prevent workplace incivility is for top management, especially the chief executive officer, to set an ethical tone that rudeness, disrespectfulness, and put-downs will not be tolerated in the workplace. There should be sanctions imposed on repeat offenders. No exceptions should be tolerated. All employees must be treated the same out of fairness and to instill personal responsibility and accountability for one’s actions in the workplace. Top management must develop a trusting environment in the workplace. Those employees who are respectful, caring and empathetic should be confident that their behavior will be rewarded and those who deviate from these norms will receive appropriate sanctions.

One reason incivility is on the rise is the growing number of layoffs of employees and a more competitive work environment. It’s as if I told my students 10 percent of the class would get D’s and F’s. The pressure to get any advantage might lead some to cheat to get ahead in this competitive environment.  Workers are being asked to do more things, work more hours, and generally adhere to, at least in some circumstances, unreasonable workplace demands. This creates added pressure at a time when many of us are struggling to make ends meet, provide for our families, and see our spouses and children at least some of the time.

The Civility in America 2011 poll of 1,000 adults found 43% of Americans say they've experienced incivility at work, and 38% believe the workplace is increasingly disrespectful. In the online survey, done in May by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research, 67% cited a "critical need" for civility training.

While calling for more civilty in politics, President Obama likened Washington to the "Tower of Babel" – a place where sometimes the sound of God’s voice is lost. "There is a sense that something is different now, that something's broken, that those of us in Washington are not serving the people as well as we should. The President went on to say: "At times it seems like we're unable to listen to one another, to have at once a serious and civil debate." Speaking at the annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. the president said this “erosion of civility” sows division and distrust.

In my workplace training experiences I have always started off by telling the audience that we should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. This is the basis for a civilized society – to raise the level of civil discourse to a higher level.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, August 17, 2011