The price of uncivil behaviour at work

The price of uncivil behaviour at work

Rudeness at work is rampant, and it’s on the rise.

Over the past 14 years, we’ve polled thousands of workers about how they’re treated on the job, and 98% have reported experiencing uncivil behaviour. The costs chip away at the bottom line. Nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility responds in a negative way, in some cases overtly retaliating. Employees are less creative when they feel disrespected, and many get fed up and leave.

We’ve collected data from more than 14,000 people throughout the United States and Canada to track the prevalence, types, causes, costs and cures of incivility at work. We know two things for certain: incivility is expensive, and few organisations recognise or take action to curtail it.

Forms of incivility

We’ve all heard of or experienced the “boss from hell”. The stress of ongoing hostility from a manager takes a toll. There can be lots of attrition among low-level employees, and those who stay absorb the behaviours they’ve been subjected to and put newcomers through the same kind of abuse.

Incivility can take subtle forms, and it is often prompted by thoughtlessness rather than actual malice. Think of the manager who sends emails during a presentation or the team leader who takes credit for good news but points a finger at team members when something goes wrong. Such relatively minor acts can be even more insidious than overt bullying, because they are less obvious and easier to overlook – yet they add up, eroding engagement and morale.

The costs of incivility

Many managers would say that incivility is wrong, but not all recognise that it has tangible costs. Targets of incivility often punish their offenders and the organisation, although most hide or bury their feelings and don’t necessarily think of their actions as revenge.

Among workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

 48% intentionally decreased their work effort.

 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.

 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work.

 80% lost work time worrying about the incident.

 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.

 66% said that their performance declined.

 78% said that their commitment to the organisation declined.

 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.

 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

Experiments and other reports offer additional insights about the effects of incivility. Here are some examples of what can happen:

Creativity suffers: In an experiment, participants who were treated rudely by other subjects were 30% less creative than others in the study. They produced 25% fewer ideas, and the ones they did come up with were less original.

Performance and team spirit deteriorate: Survey results and interviews indicate that simply witnessing incivility has negative consequences. We also found that witnesses to incivility were less likely than others to help out, even when the person they’d be helping had no apparent connection to the uncivil person.


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