Workplace Civility: Are You Walking the Talk?

Posted on December 30, 2012 by VITAL WorkLife

Young female coworker getting yelled at in officeIn a 2003 Workplace Civility Study, the large majority of the 400 Baltimore workers surveyed said it was "very important" to them to work in a civil environment (83%). The top five behaviors they agreed created a culture of incivility were:

  1. Taking a co-worker's food from the office refrigerator without asking (93%).
  2. Refusing to work hard on a team effort project (90%).
  3. Shifting blame for mistakes to co-workers (88%).
  4. Reading someone else's mail (88%).
  5. Neglecting to say please and thank you (88%).

"If the same study were done today, cell phone usage and texting during meetings would undoubtedly make the list," explains Deb Wood, senior EAP consultant for VITAL WorkLife.

Uncivil behaviors take a toll on performance as well as nerves. In "The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It," authors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath describe the results of their research with several thousand managers and employees from a diverse range of U.S. companies. Here's how those surveyed responded to incivility in the workplace:

  • 48% said they deliberately decreased their work effort
  • 47% decreased their time at work
  • 38% decreased their work quality
  • 66% said their performance declined
  • 80% lost work time worrying about the incident
  • 63% lost time avoiding the offender

The management actions that Baltimore workers thought would be most helpful in creating a civil work environment were:

  • Keeping stress and fatigue at manageable levels (96%)
  • A grievance process to handle complaints of incivility (95%)
  • Looking for positive interpersonal skills in prospective employees (91%)
  • Clear, written policy on interpersonal conduct (90%)

Creating a Culture of Civility

Saying please and thank you are cornerstones of civility but won't, alone, make the workplace civil. Organizations need to have a clear, written policy on interpersonal conflict. The specifics may vary from organization to organization but should include expectations, such as:

  • Greet others (even if they do not greet you)
  • Speak politely to and respectfully of others
  • Keep a positive perspective
  • Be welcoming to co-workers, customers and vendors
  • Give credit where credit is due
  • Return messages in timely and respectful manner
  • Accept and give praise or kudos
  • Respect personal space, business and time
  • Take ownership of issues or problems (if yours)
  • Make "repair efforts" if warranted
  • Give constructive criticism
  • Make efforts to address conflict in reasonable and respectful ways

Modeling and Hiring for Civil Behavior

Having established guidelines for civility for senior management as well as line managers and supervisory staff is a good starting point. And, there should be an expectation that they should model the appropriate behavior.

Wood recalls working with an organization where a high-ranking administrator answered phone calls and sent text messages during meetings. "It wasn't until a board member confronted him that the administrator became aware that this behavior was perceived as rude," recalls Wood. "He not only stopped doing it himself, he made a rule that everyone had to turn their phones off during meetings."

Managers can also promote workplace civility by hiring polite people. "Look for any inappropriate spoken or body language," advises Wood. "Get feedback from any support staff who interact with the candidate."

Put Your EAP Benefit to Work

Wood advises managers to address office rudeness directly and—if uncomfortable doing that—to request assistance from an EAP consultant by calling 800.383.1908 for a free, confidential consultation. Click here to learn more about manager/supervisor consultations. 

"Most managers don't have the time to instruct their employees in office etiquette," concludes Wood. "We've helped countless employees to develop awareness about how their behavior affects others, enhance their social skills and help them avoid offending their co-workers."

Contact VITAL WorkLife at 800.383.1908 or access resources through your VITAL WorkLife App. 

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