clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Incivility turning more workplaces 'toxic'

Incivility is a growing problem, and one of the places where it becomes "toxic" is at work, according to research released this week at the American Psychological Association annual convention.

Researcher Jeannie Trudel of Indiana Wesleyan University-Marion said academics define workplace incivility as "a form of organizational deviance ... characterized by low-intensity behaviors that violate respectful workplace norms, appearing vague as to intent to harm."

Think rude, insulting and ill-mannered.

"Seventy-five percent to 80 percent of people have experienced incivility. It's a growing and prevalent problem," Trudel told USA Today.

"It's very hard to target because you don't really know if someone actually means to be rude or if it's just off the cuff, so it's an insidious problem. There are very, very negative effects of accumulated minor stresses."

Trudel and study co-author Paul Fairlie of Toronto found 86 percent of 289 workers at three Midwestern companies reported incivility at work.

"White collar work is becoming a little more blue-collar," Fairlie said. "There's higher work demands, longer hours. When you control for inflation, people are getting paid less than in the late '60s. A lot of people are working much harder. They've got fluid job descriptions and less role clarity. So for some people, for a growing fringe, work is becoming more toxic."

It's not just disheartening or uncomfortable, either. Incivility affects retention of both the people who work in a company and those who would do business with that company, according to the Civility in America 2011 study, a report produced by Weber Shandwick, KRC Research and Powell Tate. It found that 86 percent of Americans had been victims of incivility. At the same time, 59 percent admit they have also been uncivil.

The report noted that "many people are voting with their wallets against incivility by severing their patronage to companies, redefining their perceptions of brands and spreading negative word of mouth about companies. Business leaders not only have to worry about consumer perception, but also what is happening within their own walls, as their employees increasingly encounter incivility among themselves. Uncivil employees can mean lower morale and productivity, greater legal risk and increased chances that customers will bear the brunt of an unhappy or uncivil representative."

Workplace incivility is hurting American corporations in lost productivity and stress, resulting in multi-billion dollar annual hits to the economy, Professor Christine Porath at Georgetown University's McDonough School of Business told the researchers.

The report found 43 percent of American workers had experienced incivility on the job, while nearly that number believe the workplace is becoming less civil and respectful than it was a few years ago. Among those who say the workplace is becoming less civil, blame is credited to workplace leadership (65 percent), employees (59 percent), the economy (46 percent), competitiveness in the workplace (44 percent), younger employees (34 percent), Internet access (25 percent), lack of employee rights (24 percent) and older employees (6 percent).

It hasn't gone unnoticed. Headlines trumpet incivility in multiple venues. Academics study it. And there's even a Workplace Bullying Institute, which says that it "is the first and only U.S. organization dedicated to the eradication of workplace bullying that combines help for individuals, research, books, public education, training for professionals-unions-employers, legislative advocacy and consulting solutions for organizations."

The incivility that companies show their consumers creates a backlash, the civility report said. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans say they've either quit buying from a company or have revised their opinions of a company because someone in that company was uncivil in their interaction. And about 6 in 10 have suggested their friends, family or coworkers not buy certain products because of bad behavior by the company or its representatives.

Consumer Reports says 64 percent of consumers have left a store because of poor service.

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com; Twitter: Loisco