The rise of incivility in the workplace

man sticking out his tongue at a phoneEarlier this month, I participated in Respect in the Workplace training at my work. It was excellent.

While there was a pronounced focus on harassment, timely given the Me Too movement and stories of sexual abuse and harassment out of Hollywood, there was also an important emphasis on respect and incivility.

Incivility in the workplace is on the rise. Both McKinsey and Harvard Business Review have published excellent articles on this trend and the hidden costs.

According to one study in 1998, 50% of workers reported they were treated rudely at least once a month. In 2011, the figure rose to 55% and 62% in 2016. That’s twelve times a year most of us experience some form of incivility at work.

What happens when we experience incivility in the workplace? We feel devalued, hurt, emotionally upset. It becomes hard to concentrate and focus on tasks at hand. It is emotionally draining. If it festers or the conflict worsens, the fight, flight or freeze response begins to override our ability to function. We disengage or we leave altogether.

Incivility results in lower productivity, higher employee turnover, and lower employee engagement.

What wasn’t addressed in the training was the root cause of this disturbing trend. Some may attribute it to Trump or social media. I believe the root cause is directly related to the amount of pressure and stress on employees to deliver results at all costs—often at the cost of incivility.

And here’s the scary part–none of us are immune.

A few weeks ago, I found myself speaking a bit icily on the phone to a colleague who had not communicated with me that they would miss a requested deadline. There was no phone call or email to let me know they could not complete the work, despite several attempts on my part to follow up with them.

Who in this case was disrespectful—me for adopting a clipped, direct tone (but hopefully still professional) to the conversation, or my colleague for not communicating with me in the first place? You tell me.

There is one thing I do know. People will always take their cue from the people at the top. Leaders must live, breathe and model respect and civility in the workplace if it is to be sanctified in the culture of the organization.

There is a nasty trickle down effect that occurs when a leader speaks or sends an email with highly caustic or sarcastic language to employees. It sends a message—it’s OK to act this way, when it’s not OK.

This week’s #HappyAct is to take a stand against incivility in the workplace. We all need to be leaders to make our workplaces happier, positive places to be.

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