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Dangers of Incivility in the Workplace

Treat Others Civilly and Expect the Same in Return

I’ve blogged about civility in the workplace before. Today’s blog is an extension of others on this issue.

Civility represents the quality of our behavior with others in our communities. This is important for business because how we treat others signals who we are and what we value. Moreover, since the essence of ethics lies in how we are with others, civility and ethics are intricately linked.

Let me clear up some misconceptions. Civility is not peripheral to ethics, dealing merely with manners. True civility manifests itself in good manners, proper etiquette and politeness. But it also runs deeper and is more profound. Simply put, civility requires restraint, respect and responsibility in everyday life. Without these, we can never act ethically.

Civility cultivates a civic code of decency. It requires us to discipline our impulses for the sake of others. It demands we free ourselves from self-absorption. By putting ethics into practice in our day-to-day encounters, civility is that moral glue without which our society would come apart.”

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 it’s 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. Civility

Both inside and outside the workplace, we see a rash of disrespectful, discourteous and rude behavior.  The impact of such destructive behavior (i.e., bullying) can be more psychologically damaging than open forms of abuse, such as harassment and violence. From a business and leadership perspective, the negative behavior happening outside of the workplace is trickling in — affecting employee loyalty, organizational commitment and overall productivity. The pressures of everyday life can take their toll on employees who are already working under a great deal of stress.  Consequently, tempers get frayed and patience and tolerance are thrown out the window.

Encouraging civility in the workplace promotes a low stress work environment and improved employee morale.  It also helps to mitigate employee dissatisfaction that often results in such things as civil rights complaints and lawsuits. The economic impact related to litigation, turnover, productivity and customer dissatisfaction can be devastating to an organization.

Encouraging civility in society – thoughtfulness, empathy, and caring for others – creates a framework for civility in the workplace. Civility is not like a faucet you can turn on or off at will. You can’t be bitchy in one aspect of your life; thoughtful and considerate in others; and then call yourself a civil person. It’s hard to separate one aspect of our lives from others because consistent behavior is what builds character whether in our personal relationships, in the workplace or online.

So, the morale of the story is to practice civility whenever you can.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 12, 2018. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and Like his page.