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Civility vs. Incivility in the Workplace

Weber Shandwick Survey Results Seem Unrealistic

An annual poll on civility in society by Weber Shandwick continues to show that a vast majority of Americans – 93 percent – identify a civility problem in society, with most classifying it as a “major” problem (69 percent). Despite this high-level of dissatisfaction with civility in society, 92 percent of Americans considers the general level of civility in the workplace as strong. Moreover, 27 percent report this level of civility to be an improvement compared to a few years ago. The question is why the disconnect?

Organizations that create a civil workplace environment make it a priority – it becomes an organizational value. In civil workplaces, leadership is more likely to be perceived as civil (49 percent), whereas in uncivil environments its only 10 percent.  In civil environments, employees feel safer reporting uncivil conduct (33 percent) than in uncivil ones (17 percent). In uncivil workplaces, employees are more likely to distrust management to handle complaints about incivility (48 percent vs. 13 percent of employees in civil workplaces).

When Americans overall are asked to respond to a list of actions that would improve the level of civility in the country, 42 percent are in favor of “civility training in the workplace” and 40 percent are in favor of “employers encouraging employees to report incivility in the workplace.” The study finds that the workplace may be ground zero for civility progress.

One finding of great interest given the focus on equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is that 83 percent of employees describe their workplace as diverse and inclusive. Diversity and Inclusion is closely linked to civility in the workplace, as respondents in uncivil workplaces are twice as likely to characterize their employers as weak on diversity and inclusion (37 percent vs. 15 percent of civil workplaces). The research makes it clear that employees expect greater diversity and inclusion in their workplaces in the future.  Workplace-incivility

I have previously blogged about workplace incivility. I am not convinced civility in the workplace is as high as the Weber Shandwick poll suggests. For one thing, a survey of nearly 800 managers and employees across 17 industries by Dr. Christine Porath in her book Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace indicates that people are feeling disrespected at work; some believe there is a toxic culture with insensitive managers.

Another study by the Ethics & Compliance Initiative indicates that suspected wrongdoing in organizations has reached a historic high, while rates of retaliation for reporting of suspected wrongdoing have doubled in the last two years. Here are some of the results.

  • 69% of employees said they reported the misconduct they observed; a 19% increase and all-time high since the inception of the research.
  • 44% said they had been retaliated against for reporting wrongdoing.

I think the Weber Shandwick results may be slanted against reporting incidents such as sexual harassment. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) survey, sexual harassment in the workplace is under-reported by employees partly because some employees are unaware that their employers have anti-harassment policies or that there are ways to report without bringing harm to themselves. The survey found that 11 percent of non-management employees said they had experienced some form of sexual harassment in the past 12 months. Of those, 76 percent said they did not report it for reasons that included fear of retaliation or a belief that nothing would change. This finding is consistent with what the Equal Employment Opportunity Council (EEOC) has previously reported, according to SHRM.

In a general sense, organizations can increase civility in the workplace by instilling the following values:

  • Listen first, then respond
  • Talk to people, not over them
  • Respect different opinions
  • Be courteous
  • Disagree but don’t be disagreeable
  • Debate the policy, not the person.

Organizations need to develop a code of civility that defines the scope of actions within the entity that bring to light issues of civility. The basic principles should be supported by specific rules that fit the environment and include critical issues such as sexual harassment, equity, diversity, and inclusion, and other issues that create an ethical culture. If there is one thing the Weber-Shandwick study shows, at least to me, is the way culture is defined directly impacts the results from respondents and the right questions have to be asked to get valuable results.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on June 19, 2018. Dr. Mintz is a Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Visit his website and sign up for his newsletter.