Rudeness in the workforce is rampant.

Disrespect in the workforce is rampant.  

Workplace incivility often occurs with no acknowledgement or recognition by the offenders or by management, allowing what  is often considered a norm to continue unaddressed.


Despite persistent discussion about improving corporate culture, civility problems continue in the workplace.

These bad-mannered behaviours are destroying employee relationships and office self-esteem, as well as effecting bottom line profitability. Few leaders are doing anything to stop it. According to The Cost of Bad Behaviour by Christine Pearson and Christine Porath, it is far more widespread than people realise—and incivility in the workplace has disturbing effects. Here are just a few of the figures from research:

  • 96 percent have experienced incivility at work
  • 48 percent of employees claim they were treated uncivilly at work at least once a week
  • 10 percent said they witnessed civility every day
  • 94 percent of workers who are treated uncivilly say they get even with their offenders

What is Incivility in the Workplace?
Incivility is defined as “the exchange of seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms or workplace conduct.”

In essence, what is considered “uncivil” is based on an individual’s perceptions of actions or words. Sometimes it can be blatant, like:

  • losing one’s temper or yelling at someone in public
  • rude or obnoxious behaviour in the workplace
  • badgering or back-stabbing in the workplace
  • withholding important customer/client information
  • sabotaging a project or damaging someone’s reputation


But mostly, it is seen via the more subtle actions of:

  • arriving late to a meeting (now haven’t we all done that?)
  • checking e-mail or texting during a meeting
  • not answering calls or responding to emails in a timely manner
  • ignoring or interrupting a colleague in the workplace
  • not saying “please” or “thank you”

I’m sure your nodding now, huh?

Incivility does not ‘just’ happen between co-workers. About a quarter of customers/clients surveyed believe disrespectful behaviour is more common today than it was five years ago.

So much for all the talk and advertising about great service and a positive customer experience.

Why Does it Matter?

It can have a devastating impact on employees, as well as the organisation as a whole. When incivility is prevalent in the workplace, stress levels increase and performance decreases.

Employees become less engaged, which means they can also become disheartened, indifferent and even angry. They put in less effort, become distracted, produce inferior quality and can even burn out. Perhaps you’ve seen these tell-tale signs. They lead to losses in efficiency, effectiveness and of course, profitability.

What Can We Do About it?

1. Increase Awareness

The first step is to recognise that incivility is an issue that can debilitate an individual and an organisation. Educate employees about the cost and impact of uncivil behaviour. Most people don’t even realise the trend or know the cause of their malaise or frustration in the workplace. Outline what it is and what it looks like. Share the research on the impact of continued incivility in a community to increase the sense of urgency to address it.

2. Create Workplace Standards and Value Civility

Agree to set a clear, written standard for behaviour, noting what is acceptable and what is not. Management needs to be not only involved in the process, but committed to demonstrating civility and strengthening its importance. Communicate the standards with all employees so they understand how to consistently demonstrate respect and concern for others. Contemplate making civility one of your principal ethics, a principle that guides the internal conduct at your organisation.

Be sure to recognise and acknowledge employees who demonstrate it, so all employees see it’s a serious commitment—a value of the business, not just words on a wall. Equally important is addressing occurrences and complaints, and taking remedial action so your employees see it is not condoned or tolerated.

3. Provide Internal Training and Coaching

Particular individuals in the workplace may not even realise they display uncivil behaviour—the employees figure this is “not related tome.” Well, chances are they lack self-awareness (like some of the culprits) and/or have no idea how to change behaviour that may be entrenched. Training employees on your new standard will help create a transparent, welcoming and tolerant environment.

Ideally, the internal training would be practical and include genuine skill practices that are recorded, so employees can see themselves and hear how they sound. This helps employees see the impact of their behaviours on others and allows them a chance to practice in a safe environment. When the employees experience development in the training and obtain developmental coaching to sustain the change, they are more likely to continue their newfound behaviours.

4. Encourage Open Communication and Feedback

Continue the new culture, put systems in place that encourage open communication so that it becomes the norm. Organisational leaders need to lead responsibly and create a safe environment so employees are not fearful when sharing concerns or reporting incidents.

Promote constructive and open feedback so employees learn how to demonstrate respect and common courtesy, really listen to each other and be more patient of each other’s ideas and opinions. Continue the exchange of ideas and engage employees in the process by gathering their input and ideas. Share improvement along the way so all employees can see the impact of their efforts and celebrate successes.


It makes sense to cultivate a climate of civility and a culture of openness and inclusion. According to P.M. Forni, the co-founder of the Johns Hopkins Civility Project and author of Choosing Civility:

“Encouraging civility in the workplace is becoming one of the important business goals in our diverse, hurried, stressed and legally conscious culture. A civil workplace is good for workers, since the workers’ quality of life is improved in such an environment. But a civil workplace is also good for the customers, since the quality of service they receive from happier and more relaxed service providers is improved.”

And, it is the right and most civil thing to do.

How can we help-

On the Table Consulting creates and implements a wide variety of communication and management consulting services, including organisational process development, executive and leadership development, and conflict resolution workshops.

On the Table Consulting offers mediation to facilitate conversations involving personal and workplace conflicts.

On the Table Consulting assists people and teams to have conversations. Conversations to resolve conflict impartially, objectively and in a timely manner.



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