Just this Monday, my millennial daughter showed up to her office– her first full-time job - at the regular time, only to find the lights off and the front door locked. She texted a co-worker, who said, “Oh, it’s a four-day weekend for July 4th. We don’t work today.” My daughter texted back, “How was I supposed to know about this? I only started a few months ago.” The co-worker responded, “It was in the online calendar.” To which my daughter replied, “What online calendar?” The co-worker texted back, “Yea, I didn’t get access to it for 6 months. Your boss should have told you.” My daughter called me later that morning in tears and told me the story. She felt disrespected and left out, saying, “Mom, I’m trying to think if I missed a clue on Thursday last week, but I’ve replayed the whole day and nobody mentioned that we were off on Monday.” This incident played out against a backdrop of a boss who ignores her, rarely keeps his promises to her and doesn’t respond to her emails.
This, my friends, is workplace incivility: rude behavior that demeans and disrespects workers. I counseled her to start looking for another job.
Perhaps the reason this incident angered me was because I recently read a New York Times article entitled “No Time to Be Nice at Work” by incivility expert Christine Porath. Sadly, many people can relate to this subject: over 95% of surveyed employees report having been subjected personally to a rude co-worker or a disrespectful boss. Incivility at work wreaks havoc with employee’s health and well-being and costs employers in the US over $300 billion a year (according to Porath & Pearson), mostly in reduced productivity and increased attrition.
What does incivility look like in the workplace? Rudeness can take several forms, such as:
The results of rudeness in the workplace harm the company itself. In a survey of over 800 employees and managers across industries, Porath and her colleague Christine Pearson, in a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, reported many unwanted consequences of demeaning experiences. These include loss of productivity (some of which is intentional), increased absenteeism, lower commitment to the organization, and higher attrition rates. At Cisco, a company that has won Fortune’s Best Places to Work award for 15 years, a study discovered that the cost of incivility at the company was over $12 million annually.
Not only are companies adversely affected by incivility, but the individual recipients of this disrespectful behavior suffer. Laboratory studies showed that participants who are belittled by the researcher perform poorly in both problem-solving and creative tasks. In addition to impaired cognitive abilities, incivility causes stress in its victims, resulting in a cascade of health problems. I am convinced that my husband had a heart attack last fall (he’s fine now, thanks to great medical care) due in part to the incivility and lack of consideration demonstrated in his workplace. Studies confirm that incivility and rudeness in the workplace cause cardio-vascular distress, including heart attack and stroke.
What can a concerned manager or owner do to combat the threat of rudeness? Here are 5 methods:
1. Increase awareness of your own behaviors and their effects on your team. This can best be done by engaging the services of an executive coach who can conduct at 360 assessment and provide coaching and support to make behavioral changes as needed. A good coach will in essence hold up a mirror to the executive and help them understand the positive and negatives consequences of their actions. As an executive coach, I often tell my clients that they can lose their temper and yell – but only once a year. At that frequency, the outburst is highly significant, surprising even, and will created heightened attention to the matter that provoked the reaction. If losing your temper is a customary reaction, your actions will serve only to shut people down and reduce their commitment to the company. Always remember that you are the top behavioral role model for the company.
2. Hire for civility. Include in your interview process a way to assess the candidate’s ability to be resilient under pressure and maintain their emotional composure. Ask behaviorally based questions such as “Tell me about a time that you lost your cool under pressure” or “What have you done in the past when a co-worker irritates you?” Check references and ask about the candidate’s performance under pressure. Ask, “Did you ever hear of or see this person act rudely or disrespectfully to others?” Some companies even ask their candidates to perform in a role modeling exercise, in which the job seeker is asked to handle an angry customer or poorly performing employee.
3. Fire for incivility. As the leader of your company, do you have the courage to terminate a rude employee, even if he or she is a great performer? As the saying goes, one bad apple can rot the entire apple barrel. A rude person, especially a manager, can damage the emotional climate and productivity of an entire workgroup. Never underestimate the contagion of a rude boss, and do whatever it takes to either neutralize that person or ask them to leave.
4. Recognize good behavior. Create reward systems that recognize respectful behavior, good customer service, or actions that uphold the company values. Many companies create a peer-to-peer reward system in which an employee can appreciate another for their good work. Tip: Tie this award back to the positive value that the employee was exemplifying. One large company I know of has an online form to recognize a co-worker’s good deed, and the form has a field to designate which company value was demonstrated.
5. Conduct both exit interviews and post-departure interviews: It’s surprising to me how many small to mid-sized companies do not perform exit interviews to determine the cause of the employee’s departure. These interviews, especially if conducted by an outside entity, can uncover root causes of unwanted attrition. In addition, a growing trend is to contact the employee six months after their departure to ask for their perspective on why they left. With several months of experience at a new company, this person can provide valuable insights for your culture. In the case of good employees, you may even want to open the door for them to return to the firm. Several of my clients are successful in enticing former employees to return to the company once they’ve seen what it’s like at another organization.
In my daughter’s case, she is voting with her feet: due to the disrespect and neglect she’s experienced from her boss, she has started to look for another job.
Kristin Robertson, CEO of Brio Leadership, is dedicated to increasing the number of employees who are excited to go to work on Monday mornings. Services include executive coaching, leadership development classes and company culture consulting. Don’t forget to get a copy of Kristin Robertson’s new book, Your Company Culture Ecosystem, available on Amazon.
From the desk of