By Danita Johnson Hughes
Sometimes you might wonder if we truly live in a civilized society. It seems rude and discourteous behavior is on the rise, and the modern workplace can be an incubator for such incivility if left unchecked.
Inside and outside the workplace, we see a rash of disrespectful, discourteous and rude behavior. Angry commuters use their vehicles to take out their aggressions and deliberately cut off others in traffic. Customer service has diminished to the point where most would prefer to use the impersonal ATM machine than face an unhappy bank teller. Malicious political campaigns and tactics draw out the worst in even the most respected individuals. Children face tremendous fear and stress from bullies at school. The examples of an uncivilized society are too numerous to recount, and the workplace is a microcosm of society.
The impact of such destructive behavior can be more psychologically damaging than open forms of abuse, such as harassment and violence. From a business and leadership perspective, the negative behavior happening outside of the workplace is trickling in, affecting employee loyalty, organizational commitment and overall productivity. The pressures of everyday life can take its toll on employees who are already working under a great deal of stress. Consequently, tempers get frayed and patience and tolerance are thrown out the window.
Time for a Change
Understanding precedes change. What typically leads to uncivil behavior is a disagreement. Someone wants to be right, better or stronger. Someone wants to be heard. Sadly, that attitude often leads to a win-lose outcome.
As a leader, the best first step is to realize conflict is a vital and necessary part of organizational success. Properly facilitated, disagreements lead to healthy, constructive conversations that translate into creativity, innovation and a shared sense of accomplishment.
Encouraging civility in the workplace promotes a low-stress work environment and improved employee morale. It also helps to mitigate employee dissatisfaction that often results in such things as civil-rights complaints and lawsuits. The economic impact related to litigation, turnover, productivity and customer dissatisfaction can be devastating to an organization.
Some signs of an organization infected with incivility include:
- Higher-than-normal employee turnover
- A large number of employee grievances and complaints
- Lost work time by employees calling in sick
- Increased consumer complaints
- Diminished productivity in terms of quality and quantity of work
- Cultural and communications barriers
- Lack of confidence in leadership
- Inability to adapt effectively to change
- Lack of individual accountability
Civility is essential to defining the culture and establishing a foundation of proper business behavior. It’s a value that successful organizations strive to achieve.
To be able to build and maintain itself as a viable entity capable of reaching its full potential, an organization must be able to manage its interpersonal relationships in a manner that promotes positive interactions that are civil and respectful. This is not an easy task considering the myriad personalities and individual circumstance impacting workplace interactions. But it can be accomplished with leadership commitment to fostering positive and meaningful interactions among employees.