Articles, Blog

Workplace Incivility: The Silent Epidemic

December 19, 2019


Incivility is spreading in the work place
like an epidemic. Research has shown us, over the past 18 years, tens of thousands of
people worldwide reported to have received treatment at least once a month.
The number of victims has been steadily increasing from 49% in 1998, to 55% in
2011, and to 62% in 2016. What about you? When was the last time you felt ignored?
Unappreciated? Under appreciated? Degraded? Or just embarrassed? What
behavior have you witnessed or experienced that you would consider
disrespectful or inappropriate? My colleague and I, and my students of
course, have been conducting a study on work place incivility for the past 10
years. I like to share with you four of our findings. First we learned uncivil
behavior takes various forms. For example: making demeaning comments, not giving
credits to others, gossiping, and disrupting meetings, insulting yelling at
others, bullying and harassing others. The list can go on and on.
I remember in my conversation with Sally, she shared, “My boss would criticize me
harshly all the time until I cried. He would write down all my problems, like 20
of them not just one or two, and he would make me realist in front of others in a
very big meeting.” Second we learned uncivil behavior is rude and
discourteous. Have you ever had people take your food out of the refrigerator
without telling you? What about people not returning your
phone calls? Or talking behind your back? In essence uncivil behavior
demonstrates a lack of respect for others. In addition, uncivil behavior can be
mundane too. In my conversation with Henry he recalled, “One time his boss looked at his hand writing and said, ‘Henry you better start to practice handwriting and
submit it to me, because you need to learn how to write.'” How about the manager
who tells you, “If you are smart, you’re gonna do it right now.” As all these
examples show, uncivil behavior is often subtle
and therefore has remained silenced. Throughout research we also learned
uncivil behavior can be very powerful. Right? Uncivil behavior is triggered by a
number of causes, then here are two that really stand out for us. The first cause
is informal workplace environment. Nowadays the climate of many
organizations have become very informal. This informality is evidenced by the
dress code, language choice, conversation patterns. As the work place becomes
informal, the line between what is and is not appropriate has become blurred, and
some of the long-standing cues about respect and politeness have vanished. The
second cause is the power and social status. People with more power tend to
have more opportunities to be uncivil, and guess what? They often get away with
it. And the less powerful employees tends to be victims or the targets. Just think
about the power gradients between your supervisors and subordinates, teachers
and students, your boss and you. We also learn uncivil behavior can be very
costly. Insensitive actions can create lasting impacts. For individuals uncivil
words and deeds can have negative effect on their
psychological and physical well-being, reduce your creativity, focus, commitment
motivation, and job satisfaction. And for organizations, incivility can lead to
undesirable outcomes, such as reduced productivity and increased turnover. In simpler terms,
an organization’s bottom line is negatively affected by unhappy
and unproductive employees. Finally what adds to this already very complicated
issue are the advancements in technology. Think about Facebook, Twitter, Instagram,
and cyber bullying. Technology has enabled uncivil behavior virtually
everywhere. In this very short talk, I’m unable to give you solutions, however I
do hope this short talk will elevate your awareness of workplace incivility,
because it is time for us to break the silence and reverse this epidemic. Thank
you! you

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