Incivility at Work Harms Business and Productivity

Research conducted by the Harvard Business Review has shown that rudeness in the workplace is both on the rise and contagious. More people today report experiencing uncivil behavior at work than they did 14 years ago – in 1998 only 25% of people reported they were treated rudely at least once a week, and now it’s up to 98%. While their research didn’t set out to explain why more people bring their bad attitudes to work with them these days, it did explain how incivility can spread, how it affects the workplace, and what we can do to control it.

The Impact of Incivility On Business

Incivility affects employees on many levels. It affects the way they get along with other employees and they way the perceive themselves, which in turn affects personal and team work performance. Incivility can dramatically impact the productivity of a business by reducing the quality of work and even the amount of work employees can get done. When employees are treated badly by other employees but especially by management:

  • Creativity suffers
  • Team spirit and performance pay
  • Time must be taken to manage the incidents

Additionally, sales suffer when customers witness incivility. Research showed that customers are less likely to buy from a business in which they observed workplace incivility.

“Our research shows that people are less likely to buy from a company with an employee they perceive as rude, whether the rudeness is directed at them or at other employees. Witnessing just a single unpleasant interaction leads customers to generalize about other employees, the organization, and even the brand.”

You Hit Me, I’ll Hit You Back

The researchers found that, like a virus, incivility is contagious. When employees see management ill-treat employees, they quickly realize that rude behavior is accepted in the workplace and they feel at liberty to exercise less self control. And when employees ill-treat other employees they tend to respond negatively.

It’s not  really a surprise that incivility spreads at work; we can observe the same on the playground in children and in every kind of relationship. The question is, what can we do about it?

How To Reduce Workplace Rudeness

The authors of the study offer some tips to reduce workplace incivility. First, they say, good workplace behavior all starts with the boss. Management must change their own attitudes and take a zero tolerance approach. Managers should strive to:

  • Treat employees with respect
  • Hire civil people
  • Teach civility
  • Reward good behavior
  • Penalize bad behavior

Hopefully this research will help us to return our workplaces to the more civil ways of the past!

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