Unpleasant and unacceptable behaviour at work can be very costly.
Incivility in the workplace is serious. The costs of damage control are real in terms of both time and money.
If employees show disrespect for each other, a fragmented and uncooperative culture will soon spring up. Victims of rude behaviour may take more sick days or fall behind in their work because of stress. They do not want to work with the offending individual; a reduction in productivity and increased errors can result.
Employers Have a Duty to Support Civility
The courts have established that employers have a duty to create a workplace conducive to the well being of the employees. In the landmark lawsuit, Stamos v. Annuity Research & Marketing Services Ltd., in which Ms. Stamos was awarded a generous judgement, the judge determined that “an employer’s failure to prevent the harassment of an employee by co-employees is an obvious breach of this duty, and has been held to be capable of amounting to constructive dismissal.” In other words, it is ultimately up to the employer to defuse any situation that could lead to a breakdown in the social order of the workplace.
Staff may quit because of a tolerated lack of respect. Meetings can be side-tracked by acrimonious behaviour of individuals seeking personal retribution rather than dealing with business issues. Failure to meet deadlines because of personal issues could ultimately lead to difficulties meeting clients’ needs.
The Many Faces of Incivility
Here are just a few of the common forms of unacceptable behaviour:
- No credit for a job well done
- Employees not owning up to their mistakes
- A meeting sabotaged through non-participation
- Domination of a meeting or conversation
- Not sharing responsibilities for maintaining a clean locker room or kitchen
- Causing embarrassment or humiliation to others
- Displays of anger
- Abusive language
- Sullen and petulant withdrawal from the company community
- The silent treatment.
An individual incident may be explained by someone having a bad day; a pattern, however, may be the first signs of a social breakdown within the company.
Rudeness to clients and suppliers can take many forms. With the increase in cultural diversity in the business community, care must be taken not to offend. Rudeness may be something as simple as failure to greet a client or failure to follow up a complaint in a timely manner. The fact that perception is reality to most people means that employees must at all times project politeness and courtesy to anyone who comes into contact with the business. Disrespect will mean an increase in complaints and a decrease in client confidence.
Client comments about disrespectful staff may indicate more than a single problem employee; indeed, it may indicate the corporate culture is changing: orders are down, production time is up, staff sick time is increasing, a hostile tension exists within the office, and you are constantly listening to complaints from department heads.
Addressing the Issue
Combating the insidious impact of internal incivility needs to be planned.
The First Step
Determine what may be considered as incivility within a workplace. Obvious issues such as rudeness, profanity, negative comments concerning other employees, management or other departments may be considered as a base point to open discussion.
The Second Step
Meet with all staff. A general discussion should address the positive benefits of civility. Do not point the finger; instead, stress how a civil working environment will benefit individuals and organization alike.
A more civil working environment will result in improved:
- Communications as misunderstandings and arguments are reduced
- Employee cooperation
- Productivity as employees focus on work rather than interpersonal issues
- Attendance and punctuality
- Client confidence in service and product
- Capacity to reach corporate goals or make internal changes
- Management effectiveness as energy spent dealing with personal conflicts is channelled into completing projects
- Understanding between employees with cultural differences.
Management must explain what it expects from employees.
The Third Step
Management defines and explains what they expect employees to do to improve civility. Although these expectations are general in nature, management should encourage all employees to adopt the following:
- Communicate with courtesy and respect
- Adhere to rules and regulations
- Say thank you after assistance
- Offer fellow employees the same encouragement you would want from them
- Congratulate someone on a job well done
- Listen to fellow employees for ideas that can be transferred to the workplace
- Set up a suggestion box, either electronic or paper, for employees’ ideas. Don’t just collect them; actually review them and discuss them with employees.
Management is Key
Like everything else in the company, civility comes from the top down. Management’s first role is to ensure that a culture of civility becomes engrained in all employees.
The concept of civility can be incorporated into performance evaluations. By stressing the individual employee’s responsibility for personal and corporate improvement, management reinforces the need for a positive change within the individual.
Management must respect all employees, whether in upper management or on the line. All issues should be addressed quickly: point out any inappropriate activity but make the transgressing employee understand you are willing to listen to their side of the story. Work with the employee to correct the situation. Documenting all meetings will establish whether this was a one-time occurrence or a pattern.
Civility Benefits All Stakeholders
Civility in the workplace will make a better working environment, which in turn will result in happier employees, better service and production, an increase in client confidence, and a more robust bottom line.