Workplace Incivility: Contagious and Costly

Civility cost nothingPeople who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued as a result, because uncivil behaviors are somewhat ambiguous and require employees to figure out whether there was any abusive intent….This mental fatigue, in turn, led them to act uncivil toward other workers. In other words, they paid the incivility forward….workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and has an average annual impact on companies of $14,000 per employee due to loss of production and work time.*

Incivility lives – not just in the workplace – but all over the place in America. If the 2016 election process doesn’t tell you so, take a look at the Civility in America 2016 findings:

95% [of Americans] say civility is a problem, with three-quarters (74%) saying  civility has declined in the past few years. 70% also say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65% in 2014.

This is not good, not for anything nor anybody. Victims of incivility are depleted of the resources needed to do and feel well in their lives. In other words, they burn out. And, because they are too fatigued to control their own frustrations, even the most well meaning among them can wind up doing unto others the same kinds of rude and impatient behaviors as had been done unto them. Workplace incivility is a disease that spreads from one person to another and, in that, is contagious.

No surprise, then, that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported on workplace incivility, making recommendations to include making civility an important part of the performance appraisal system. Pay and promotion tied to this aspect of behavioral performance could be just what the doctor ordered to turn an uncivil workplace into a happy, fertile place of civility, productivity, and excellence overall. But what if our organizations are not ready to take that step? Is there something we can do ourselves? Actually, there is.

Notice that I chose an image to plant the solution word, ‘civility’, over the problem word, ‘incivility’, in our brains. The CDC is with me on this in its additional recommendations that organizations focus more on creating civility than on eliminating incivility, and on posting visual signs and sayings about civility around the workplace: on walls, in newsletters, in paychecks… The brain is like a garden. Neurons that fire together wire together. What we think and do is what we plant. What we plant – and what we water by thinking and doing it again and again – is what grows and spreads. From one person to another, as we know. If your organization is not there yet, how about a grass roots civility movement to help move things along. Civility can start with a seed of your own. Create the world you want to live in. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Johnson, R. Michigan State University. “How incivility spreads in the workplace” August 10, 2016

Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



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