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Incivility: A Pricey Problem in the Workplace

Jo-Ann Munoz

October 25, 2016
Jo-Ann Munoz

Can a rude employee attitude cost you money at the bottom line? 

 

The incivility of the presidential election of 2016 has exposed the worst of American politics and American politicians. The snipes, jeers, and momentous insults mobilize both the base and the opposition – all in the name of being “the winner”.

 

This incivility has become so pervasive that there is a danger it will become even more acceptable than it already is.  The fact that this behavior is rewarded with 24/7 media coverage and cold openings that earn big ratings on Saturday Night Live suggests that incivility is the best way to win.

 

That this kind of incivility exists in some workplaces is no secret.  The goal is also to “win” – not a team win, or a company win, or even a win-win.   It’s personal and stems from the belief that in order for me to win, you have to lose.

 

This may be true of opposing sides – but when the protagonists are on the same side, no one actually wins.  In addition to the obvious, an uncivil office is not a rewarding place to work. The effects of incivility are much more damaging.

 

The Price of Incivility, 2013 Harvard Business Review article by Christine Porath and Christine Perrosn, assigned actual costs to incivility.  Through a poll of 800 managers and employees across 17 industries, they learned just how people’s reactions play out.  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 organization declined
  • 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment
  • 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers

 

In an experiment conducted with Amir Erez, a professor of management at the University of Florida, 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.

 

The article even found that incivility can and does affect a company’s bottom line. It was found that “people are less likely to buy from a company with an employee they perceive as rude, even if the rudeness isn’t directed at them.”

 

The article goes on to offer several excellent suggestions to offset incivility in the workplace.  I would like to offer one more.  To paraphrase Michelle Obama “When they go low, we go high.”  If you observe or experience incivility, think about ways to diffuse it. In the heat of the moment, don’t take the bait but instead take the higher road.

 

Proverbs 15:4  “The soothing tongue is a tree of life,

but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.”

 

The simple act of soothing rather than inflaming may be the first step to a more productive, creative, enjoyable and profitable company.