Workplace incivility is a big, and costly, problem. Although it is less detrimental than harassment or bullying, it still has major effects on productivity and employee morale.
Incivility refers to sarcasm, put-downs, and other acts of rudeness that make the work environment less welcoming. Worse, these actions are contagious and lead to an “incivility spiral”: A person is treated rudely, they treat someone else rudely, and the cycle continues. This makes the workplace less welcoming for all employees.
In a study conducted by University of Arkansas management professor Chris Rosen, he found that workplace incivility leads to lower productivity and decreased morale.
“Basically, incivility begets incivility,” says Rosen. “And our findings verify that these contagion effects occur within very short, even daily cycles.”
Rosen estimates that workplace incivility has doubled over the past 20 years “and on average costs companies about $14,000 per employee annually because of loss of production and work time.”
For a small business, this cost could be devastating.
With that in mind, how should managers deal with workplace incivility?
First, make it clear what kinds of behaviors are acceptable in your workplace. If employees complain about workplace incivility, take it seriously and take action to stop it.
Use feedback during day-to-day interactions or formally through performance evaluations to help employees understand the importance of attitude and civility. Do not use performance evaluations punitively, though, because that will significantly lower employee morale and loyalty.
Realize that you may be part of the problem. If your business or department is struggling, it’s easy to take your worries out on your employees. However, by doing so, the resulting incivility spiral could only make the situation worse.
If your organization is going through a rough spot, encourage loyalty and teamwork and lead by example. A charismatic boss with a “can-do” attitude can drastically increase team cohesion.