Costs of Workplace Incivility

The Cost of  Bad BehaviorChristine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Christine Porath of Georgetown University assessed the cost impact of workplace incivility in The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What To Do About It.

They estimated that a single incident of incivility in the workplace can result in quantifiable operational costs:

  • Intentional decrease in work effort due to disengagement (48% affected employees)

    Christine Porath

    Christine Porath

  • Intentional decrease time at work to reduce contact with perpetrator (47%)
  • Lost work time due to worrying about the incident (80%)
  • Lost work productivity due to avoiding the perpetrator (63%)
  • Reduced commitment to the organization after the incident (78%)
  • Attrition (12% change jobs).

Danita Johnson Hughes added other quantifiable organizational symptoms:

Danita Johnson Hughes

Danita Johnson Hughes

  • Increased consumer complaints
  • Cultural and communications barriers
  • Lack of confidence in leadership
  • Inability to adapt effectively to change
  • Lack of individual accountability
Christine Pearson

Christine Pearson

Lynne Andersson, then of St. Joseph’s University and Christine Pearson, then of University of North Carolina, generalized that workplace incivility behaviors are typically “rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.”
Johns Hopkins professor P.M. Forni’s The Baltimore Workplace Civility Study, uncovered specific behaviors deemed “uncivil”, acceptable, and violent.

 P.M. Forni

P.M. Forni

Respondents agreed that unacceptable, “uncivil” behaviors include:

  • Taking a co-worker’s food from the office refrigerator without asking (93%)
  • Refusing to collaborate on a team project (90%)
  • Shifting blame for an error to a co-worker (88%)
  • Reading another’s mail (88%)
  • Neglecting to say please, thank you (88%).

Fewer respondents evaluated the following items as “acceptable workplace behavior”:

  • Taking the last cup of coffee without making a new pot (20%)
  • Not returning telephone calls and/or e-mails (17%)
  • Ignoring a co-worker (12%).

Respondents classified the following unacceptable behaviors as “violent”:

  • Pushing a co-worker during an argument (85%).
  • Yelling at a co-worker (59%).
  • Firing a subordinate during a disagreement (41%).
  • Criticizing a subordinate in public (34%).
  • Using foul language in the workplace (28%).
Gary Namie

Gary Namie

Gary Namie’s Campaign Against Workplace Bullying research report broadened the definition of unacceptable “violent” behavior to include workplace bullying, “the deliberate repeated, hurtful verbal mistreatment of a person (target) by a cruel perpetrator (bully).

His survey of more than 1300 respondents found that:

  • More than one-third of respondents observed bullying in the previous two years
  • More than 80% of perpetrators were workplace supervisors
  • Women bullied as frequently as men (50% of perpetrators)
  • Women were targets of bullying 75% of the time.
    Perpetrators were women 84% of time, and men 69% of time
  • Few bullies were punished, transferred, or terminated (7%)

Like Pearson & Porath as well as Hughes, Namie identified quantifiable costs of health-related symptoms experienced by bullying targets:

  • Depression (41%)
  • Sleep loss, anxiety, inability to concentrate (80%), which reduced work productivity
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) among 31% of women and 21% of men
  • Frequent rumination about past bullying, leading to inattention, poor concentration, and reduced productivity (79%).

Choosing CivilityP.M. Forni’s book Choosing Civility: The Twenty-Five Rules of Considerate Conduct, provides specific recommendations to observe civility in the workplace and beyond.
These guidelines build on Danita Johnson Hughes’ call for:

  • Respect
  • Restraint
  • Refinement

Though guidelines may seem obvious and unnecessary, Forni cites the widespread prevalence of workplace incivility as evidence that these reminders are needed:

  • Think the best
  • Pay attention, listen
  • Be agreeable, inclusive
  • Speak kindly, don’t speak ill, avoid complaints
  • Acknowledge others, accept and give praise
  • Respect others’ opinions, time, space, indirect refusals
  • Rediscover silence, avoid personal questions, be selective in asking for favors
  • Apologize earnestly and thoughtfully
  • Assert yourself, make criticism constructive
  • Care for your guests, be a considerate guest
  • Respect others by attending to grooming, health, environment, and being gentle to animals
  • Accept responsibility and blame, if deserved.

Ninety-six percent of Forni’s respondents in The Baltimore Workplace Civility Study recommended a difficult-to-implement organizational intervention: “Keep stress and fatigue at manageable levels.”

They recommended practical organizational policies almost as frequently as the aspirational goal of stress containment:

  • Instituting a grievance process to investigate and address complaints of incivility (95%).
  • Selecting prospective employees with effective interpersonal skills in (91%).
  • Clear, written policy on interpersonal conduct (90%).
  • Adopting flexibility in scheduling, assignments, and work-life issues (90%).

-*How do you handle workplace incivility when you observe or experience it?

Related Post:
White Men can Lead in Improving Workplace Culture

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3 thoughts on “Costs of Workplace Incivility

  1. Pingback: Apologies: Repairing Relationships, Creating Interpersonal Peace | Kathryn Welds | Curated Research and Commentary

  2. kathrynwelds Post author

    Gary W. Kelly wrote, in response to

    Excellent post. It covers the bases well, and documents the studies supporting the statements. Obviously, bullying is a contributor to incivility and must be one of the zero tolerance items. That can be difficult as many managers from the CEO down want to use “military manners”–perhaps from experiences they had or learned. They are often bullying, abusive, and intolerant of any other agenda than the one they have. Intolerance of others, regardless of the reasons given, fosters incivility. A climate of civility must begin at the top of the organization. Management has to walk the talk, and exemplify the values that are being professed. In that sense, this is a hard sell. Management is not readily convinced that civility must begin with themselves until the organization is in trauma from a manifestation of bad practices.

    Kathryn Welds replied
    Thanks, Gary, for your analysis of organizational sources of incivility – often top management, for tolerating or enabling these behaviors.

    The costs of workplace incivility are discussed here:

  3. kathrynwelds Post author

    Gary W. Kelly continued:
    Very well done! 🙂

    It does remind me of my mentor, an organizational psychologist, who related how he had to teach doctors in a distinguished medical institution, common courtesy and civility. He never thought his job would involve teaching something as basic as courtesy and respect to well educated physicians who were advanced in management, too. They had not a clue that they were abusive and were the source of the dysfunctional operation of the unit. We were taught to expect to have to teach common courtesy and mutual respect to all members of an organization. Your post eloquently illustrates why. Thanks for posting.


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