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Is Workplace Incivility Impacting Your Employee Morale?

What is workplace civility? It means much more than simply good manners or etiquette. Crucially, it includes behavior that promotes mutual respect at work.

Therefore, incivility can be perceived as disrespect or rudeness, according to Christine Porath, associate professor at Georgetown University and author of Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.

Understanding workplace incivility

Porath joined Paycom’s HR Break Room podcast in a recent episode, “Civil Remedy: How Civility Impacts Employee Morale.” She pointed out that incivility is in the eye of the beholder. “It includes a lot of different behaviors,” Porath noted, “from mocking or insulting people, to telling offensive jokes, to texting in meetings, to saying something that maybe people take offensively. Some may find it rude; others may think it’s absolutely fine.”

While one-quarter of people surveyed in 1998 reported being treated rudely at work at least once a week, that figure rose to 55% in 2011 and 62% in 2016, according to research by Porath.

Common examples of incivility include:

  • failing to return phone calls, voice mails or emails
  • not arriving or consistently arriving late to meetings
  • interrupting conversations or meetings
  • yelling, phone slamming, fist pounding, throwing objects
  • ignoring others or their opinions
  • addressing co-workers in an unprofessional manner
  • belittling people
  • not responding to invites
  • withholding information

Effects of uncivil behavior

So what happens when a workplace becomes uncivil? Porath says those employees become less motivated. In fact, her studies show 66% of employees say they intentionally cut back time and effort in the workplace. “It really ruins collaboration,” she advised. “They put in less time, less effort working with others. But also, it makes people not bring their full selves to the workplace, so they might not share ideas or information.”

Porath says incivility also can lead to turnover, with employees ultimately leaving the organization because they feel mistreated or disrespected.

Creating a culture of civility

Your HR team, as well as front-line managers, are essential in creating a culture of civility. Porath notes that they are the employees who set expectations of civility in the workplace. “It’s important there is the expectation that people are civil, but then walk the talk, so they’re role-modeling and leading by example. When people don’t adhere to whatever the norms are for respectful treatment, it’s important that leaders step up and coach them on the fact.”

Porath stressed that, across different industries, companies see positive results by investing in training, even at a basic level. The right HR technology can also aid in training your workforce on civility in a scalable way, especially when educating employees on giving and receiving feedback.

Learn more about incivility, and the positive business impact of civility, in the HR Break Room. Listen to “Civil Remedy: How Civility Impacts Employee Morale” here.