The Cost and Cure for Lack of Civility in the Work Place

The Cost and Cure for Lack of Civility in the Work Place

I was recently sent an article from the New York Times entitled: Incivility Can Have Costs Beyond Hurt Feelings (Nov 19, 2010).

The article generally discusses rude or offensive behavior in both a personal and a business environment. How can such rude behavior be defined? A few examples were mentioned:

  • Ignoring employee or peer requests or outreach for assistance;
  • Not acknowledging a colleague (actually ignoring them) when meeting or passing in the workplace (such as in a hallway);
  • Denigrating an employee or peer behind their back verbally or in writing; or
  • Showing general disrespect for an employee or peer—their person, their opinions or their property.

It seems that there is a consensus that this type of rude behavior has been sharply on the rise for the last two generations; although not all quoted in the article seemed to agree. It seems fairly obvious to this frequent walker and long-time operator of a motor vehicle.

Research on this subject was also presented in the article. I found three findings of particular interest to the CEO:

  • Many workers have reported to researchers that they have left companies and jobs because of continuing incivility, but rarely report it as the reason for leaving;
  • 60% of disrespectful behavior observed comes from above (organizationally—the boss) while the rest is split equally between peer (the same level) and subordinate (from below); and
  • Half of affected employees said that they had generally decreased their efforts on the job after experiencing ongoing rude behavior—and further have declined putting in any extra effort for the company.

In short, bad behavior reduces productivity (and profit) and it seems to be highly controllable from the top of the organization.

As with most corrosive situations within an organization, the top executive can either cause it or stop it. Let me suggest five things you can do starting today to avoid or stop it (without writing any new policy statements).

  • Smile and your employees will smile back at you and at other employees.
  • Listen to your employees as a demonstration of their continuing worth and importance to you and the company.
  • Get out of your office and go to where the money is made or lost. Touch each employee and take an interest in their job and lives—at all levels of the company.
  • Drastically limit the use of electronic communications (What!—reverse 2 decades of “progress”). If you have something important to say speak directly to your employees, even if (and particularly if) it is bad news.
  • And if someone in your organization is disrespecting another employee (and particularly a subordinate or another powerless to punish the offender), the top executive must act to stop it—with the same tact and elegance used to put down a coup d’état in Central America.

We were thinking about writing a series of articles earlier this year on the subject of leadership. Perhaps the five above actions is our way of starting to speak to the subject.

Leaders understand the cost of incivility, do not allow it and know that their employees will follow their example. Are you a leader?

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