Costs of Workplace Incivility

Christine Pearson

A single incident of incivility in the workplace can result in significant operational costs, reported Christine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Global Management and Christine Porath of Georgetown University.
They cited consequences including:

  • Intentional decrease in work effort due to disengagement,

    Christine Porath

    Christine Porath

  • Intentional decreased time at work to reduce contact with a offensive co-worker or manager,
  • Reduced work productivity due to worrying about incivility incidents
  • Reduced commitment to the organization after an incident,
  • Attrition.

Less tangible organizational symptoms include:

  • Increased customer complaints,
  • Cultural and communications barriers,
  • Reduced confidence in leadership,
  • Less adoption of changed organizational processes,
  • Reduced willingness to accept additional responsibility and make discretionary work efforts.

Workplace incivility behaviors are typically “rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others,” noted Pearson and Lynne Andersson, then of St. Joseph’s University.
Specific behaviors deemed “uncivil” included minor and extreme actions identified in The Baltimore Workplace Civility Study by Johns Hopkins’ P.M. Forni and Daniel L. Buccino with David Stevens and Treva Stack of University of Baltimore.

 P.M. Forni

P.M. Forni

Respondents identified “uncivil” behaviors including:

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

Respondents classified more extreme unacceptable behaviors as “violent”:

  • Pushing a co-worker during an argument,
  • Yelling at a co-worker,
  • Firing a subordinate during a disagreement,
  • Criticizing a subordinate in public,
  • Using foul language in the workplace.

Gary Namie

Workplace bullying was also included in the Campaign Against Workplace Bullying  report by Gary Namie.
He defined bullying as “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,
  • Women were targets of bullying 75% of the time,
  • Few bullies were punished, transferred, or terminated from jobs.

Costs of health-related symptoms experienced by bullying targets included:

  • Depression,
  • Sleep loss, anxiety, inability to concentrate, 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.

Choosing Civility
Widespread prevalence of workplace incivility was noted by Forni, who offered specific suggestions to improve workplace interactions and inclusion:

  • Assume that others have positive intentions,
  • Pay attention, listen,
  • Include all co-workers in workplace activities,
  • Avoid complaints,
  • Acknowledge others,
  • Give praise when warranted,
  • Respect others’ opinions, time, space, indirect refusals,
  • Avoid asking personal questions
  • Be selective in asking for favors,
  • Apologize earnestly,
  • Provide criticism constructively,
  • Maintain personal grooming, health, and work environment,
  • Accept responsibility and blame, if deserved.

More than 95% of respondents in The Baltimore Workplace Civility Study suggested an aspirational and sometimes challenging intervention: “Keep stress and fatigue at manageable levels.”

Structural and process change recommendations include:

  • Instituting a grievance process to investigate and address complaints of incivility,
  • Selecting prospective employees with effective interpersonal skills,
  • Offering a clearly-written policy on interpersonal conduct,
  • Adopting flexibility in scheduling, assignments, and work-life issues.

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

©Kathryn Welds

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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