The People Pro® Blog

Is Your Workplace Toxic to People?

By Barbara Bartlein

Feeling stressed at work?  It could be your rude co-workers.  Incivility is a growing problem at work, according to recent surveys.   The Civility in America 2011 poll of 1,000 adults found 43% of Americans say they've experienced incivility at work, and 38% believe the workplace is increasingly disrespectful.

Workplace incivility is defined “as a form of organizational deviance often characterized by low-intensity behaviors that violate respectful workplace norms appearing vague as to intent to harm.”  Over four in 10 Americans, 43%, have experienced incivility at work.  A nearly equal number, 38%, believe that the workplace is becoming increasingly uncivil and disrespectful.

Workplace leadership, or lack of, is blamed for this decline by almost two-thirds of those who perceive greater incivility in the workplace.  This perception has been further fueled by the cynicism towards CEOs brought on by the recession and financial crisis.  Other reasons for workplace incivility include the economy and competitiveness in the workplace.

There are many who feel that the workplace reflects the erosion of civility in human interactions.  According to a study of 1,000 adults conducted by Weber Shandwick and Powell Tate in partnership with KRC Research, an overwhelming majority of Americans feel incivility has dramatically increased in recent years.  Daily occurrences of cyber bullying, online “flaming,” the bickering taking place on reality TV shows, and the mudslinging among politicians all point to a less civil society. 

Whatever the cause, the outcome for workers is the same; stress, job dissatisfaction, and decreased productivity.  Employees report that they begin to feel a sense of dread by Sunday afternoon as they know that they have to go to work on Monday. They often have difficulty sleeping and experience feelings of anxiety or even panic attacks.

Combatting incivility has become a mission for many companies and their employees.  Some things employers can do.

  • Start with the CEO.  Americans rate civility among company CEOs fairly low-only 28% regard CEOs as civil while 49% consider them uncivil.  Nearly eight in 10 Americans (79%) hold businesses and companies responsible for improving civility in society.  Corporate boards need to hold CEO's accountable for their behavior and the culture of the organization.  Using tools such as Leadership 360 where employees evaluate the leadership can give valuable information for performance reviews.
  • Boycott the bullies.  A full three-quarters (75%) of Americans believe that companies that are uncivil should be boycotted.  Many advocates are using online reports to advise others not to buy products or services because they felt the company or its representatives were rude or uncivil.  We should not have to beg someone to take our money.
  • Turn off the tube or radio.  News organizations, television and talk radio are losing their audiences as rudeness and abusive conversations continue.  If you see or hear something uncivil, let the station know that you will no longer be viewing or listening to their programming.
  • Hold the advertising.  Research carefully where you are spending advertising dollars to make sure that your organization is not supporting or tolerating bad behavior.  Make sure the media you support displays integrity and ethical behavior.
  • Encourage core values in the workplace.  Many organizations have established and posted key values that employees are expected to embrace on a daily basis. For example, Acuity Insurance of Sheboygan, WI, promotes that employees treat each other with respect, build trust, act with honesty and integrity, encourage teamwork and others.  Not only does this make expectations clear to employees, it gives a framework to deal with uncivil behavior when it occurs.
  • Monitor your own behavior.  You don't have to be perfect but it sure is nice to try. Take care of your own stress level and make sure that you take time to recharge your batteries from time to time.  If you do have a temporary civility lapse, make sure you apologize and make amends.  People respect those of us that can admit mistakes.

Barbara Bartlein, RN, CSP, is The People Pro.  For customized Teambuilding programs to increase productivity and retain quality staff,  call 414-747-1842

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