Rudeness at work is something I’ve touched on a few times in the past. For instance, a 2015 study from Tel Aviv University looked at how rudeness can quickly spread through a work team, undermining performance as it goes.
“Relatively benign forms of incivility among medical staff members — simple rudeness — have robust implications on medical team collaboration processes and thus on their performance as a team,” the authors say. “This is important because rudeness is rampant in many medical contexts. Patients and their families may be rude to caregivers, and caregivers may be rude to one another.”
Sadly, it seems such incivility is becoming more commonplace. A recent study from researchers at Texas A&M University set out to explore incivility in the workplace, including how it starts.
“When we think about incivility we think about something major, but it doesn’t have to be,” the authors say. “Most of the time it’s the little things accumulated in your daily life that make a huge impact.”
As with the Israeli study from 2015, the paper finds that incivility can have a significant impact upon both company productivity, and ultimately its bottom line. It can also have a big impact upon employee turnover and job satisfaction.
Sadly, it seems that incivility is something many of us encounter at work, but we often keep quiet about it for fear of retribution. The paper defines a number of clear steps companies can take to improve matters.
Making the workplace civil
The authors believe change has to start at the top, with leaders developing ‘behavior statements’ that define what qualifies as uncivil behavior, both for individuals but also for the organization.
The leaders also need to look inwards at their own behavior and test whether they themselves are being rude to employees. Suffice to say, if a boss is known for their temper and rudeness, then such self-reflection seems unlikely, and it’s also difficult to see how staff would challenge them.
Nonetheless, the authors believe that small, daily changes can add up to something much more substantial.
“To me, incivility is a culture thing and culture change does not happen overnight. But, you can educate people to be culturally aware and culturally competent,” they say.
HR also play a key role, if only in coaching the executive team in the kind of behaviors they want to see in the organization. They’re also crucial in holding them to account. It’s also something that they can help to ensure is communicated on a regular and ongoing basis, as this will be much more effective in delivering change than sporadic and insignificant messages.
Looking to tackle incivility at work can seem like micromanagement on steroids, but given the significant impact it can have on so many different aspects of organizational health, perhaps that’s an assumption we need to overcome.