The High Cost of Incivility at Work

Posted November 17, 2017 by Mary McGinley

Not so long ago, the idea that the workplace was one of civility and politeness was a given. In recent years, however, the exact opposite behavior is rearing its very ugly head. The number of incidents of incivility and downright rudeness has become more prevalent.

In an article reported by the Harvard Business Review, and in polls that spanned some 14 years involving feedback from thousands of workers about on-the-job treatment, 98% of those surveyed reported having experienced behaviors that would be considered uncivil. A large number reported that they experienced such incidents at least once per week.

In a recent article by Jennifer Breheny Wallace for the Wall Street Journal, when people are stressed on the job, people do tend to let manners slip. Snapping at a colleague, forgetting phone etiquette such as answering a text received during a luncheon or meeting with a co-worker is becoming more common. After the election of Donald Trump as President, this kind of incivility and intolerance seems to be on the rise once again.

While such behavior may be chalked up to modern social norms becoming far too lax or even stress related, the fact is that rudeness and incivility in the workplace can become a real detriment to any company’s bottom line. In the Harvard Business Review study, experts found that almost everyone responds to workplace rudeness in a negative manner. Employees are far less likely to risk their personal creativity, innovation or even productivity if there is an underlying fear that they will experience disrespect or rudeness.  The study indicated that workers who were mistreated at work reduced their creative endeavors by 25 – 30%, which is hardly surprising. No one wants to purchase or do business with those whom they regard as being rude. Customers and clients who witness a single unpleasant incident can be put off and make the assumption that the entire organization tolerates such behavior and will take their business elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

In the more than 14,000 workers, executives, CEO’s and HR professionals that were interviewed by HBR, everyone agrees that incivility at work is wrong and all efforts should be made to correct the problem, few grasp what the real costs for such behaviors can add up to. It is not beyond imagining that those who experience rudeness and unfair treatment at work are likely to exercise some form of retaliation. Seeking such revenge may come in the form of payback toward the person who offended them or the entire organization. In the survey, those who experienced an incident of incivility at work may have managed to conceal their true feelings on the matter but did a variety of things to even the score.

  • 80% lost time at work because of worrying about the incident.
  • 63% lost time at work attempting to avoid the other person.
  • 78% indicated that their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 48% indicated that they put less effort that into their daily tasks.
  • 38% decreased the quality of their work intentionally.
  • 12% indicated that they made the decision to leave their job due to uncivil treatment.

In addition, 25% of those surveyed indicated that they had, at one time or another, taken out their frustrations on the organization’s clients or customers, thus may have cost their company business.

Of those HR professionals surveyed, a single incident of rudeness can take up days or even weeks trying to mend relationships in the workplace taking time and money away from other projects and reducing the productivity of not only those involved but other workers around them.

It goes without saying that civility and manners cost very little and can pay off in a big way to a company’s bottom line. Organization management should lead by example and endeavor to treat everyone with civility and respect. Creating a culture of helpfulness and civility and asking for feedback from workers, as well as offering encouragement and positive reinforcement is a good start. Some Fortune 1000 companies have decided to put civility as one of the main criteria before making a final hiring decision. They understand that like good manners and civility tends to be contagious and can greatly add to the success of their organization.

How the people in your organization treat each other, business peers and customers can make or break your business. At EinsteinHR, we are committed to finding the best person to fit in your organization. We understand that what looks good on paper may or may not be the best candidate. We are committed to being there to help you find the right fit.

Hiring a qualified candidate is an investment of both time and money.  We can help ensure that you get the most for your money and improve your chances of getting just the right candidate for the job. Contact us today at 888-981-3622 (emc2) to find out how we can help.