Unlike workplace bullying, workplace incivility isn't always glaringly obvious. However, that doesn't mean that it doesn't exist. Workplace incivility runs rife in some workplaces, but managers can make moves to spot and prevent it.
Here's everything you need to know about workplace incivility — and how to nip it in the bud.
1. What is meant by workplace incivility?
Workplace incivility is any low-intensity, deviant behavior like rudeness and discourteousness with or without the intent to harm others at work.
"Workplace incivility can be defined as deviant workplace behavior of low intensity that can include such behaviors as being rude, discourteous, impolite or violating workplace norms of behavior," according to Study.com. "People engaging in uncivil behavior may not necessarily have bad or harmful intent. However, you can think of workplace incivility as a type of antisocial behavior."
In fact, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior, "workplace incivility is ubiquitous." The study finds that an estimated 98 percent of workers experience incivility, with 50 percent experiencing such conduct at least weekly.
The researchers also note that "the monetary cost of experiencing incivility is estimated at $14,000 per employee annually, due to project delays and cognitive distraction from work" — alarming statistics since "incivility affects many employees and has a large ﬁnancial impact on the organizations they work for.
Plus, when employees are subjected to workplace incivility, they may end up trying to avoid the instigator (aka a teammate with whom they need to work), withdrawing from work and even taking their frustrations out on clients or customers, which isn't a good look for the company. They may also avoid offering new ideas, solutions or help, retaliate against their colleagues who've displayed poor behavior, spend less time at work or even quit.
Workplace incivility has gotten so bad that, according to the research, U.S. companies spend 13 percent of their time just addressing the fallout of incivility in their offices and workplaces.
2. What are examples of incivility?
You, too, are probably familiar with some of these workplace incivility examples:
- Being rude to colleagues
- Condescending a subordinate
- Talking in unprofessional language
- Berating a subordinate or colleague
- Making unfounded assumptions and ensuing accusations
- Invading personal privacy and/or space
- Workplace gossiping
- Excluding colleagues
- Interrupting colleagues
- Texting during a colleague or manager's presentation
- Using demeaning language
- Talking over someone in a meeting
- Rolling eyes in response to something a colleague says
- Mocking a colleague
- Leaving a mess in the office kitchen for someone else to clean up
- Jamming the office printer for someone else to deal with
- Disrespecting authority
- Bullying colleagues or subordinates
- Abusive micromanaging subordinates
3. What causes workplace incivility?
There are many possible causes of workplace incivility. Here are three reasons why workplace incivility might be present in your workplace.
1. Workplace Stress
Stress can, of course, cause workplace incivility because looming deadlines, long work days, work failures and more can take a toll on employees. They may take their stresses out on their colleagues, displaying rude behaviors to their fellow workers, clients, customers and even managers.
2. Low Employee Morale
Low employee morale can also lead to workplace incivility because, when employees are dissatisfied with their jobs (whether it's because of poor pay, bad benefits, no work-life balance, a long commute or something else entirely), they're more likely to be stressed out. And, again, stress can lead to exhibiting hostility toward others — especially if those others aren't dealing with the same stressors (they are paid better, have good benefits, have a work-life balance and an easy commute, for examples).
3. Mismatched Team Members
Sometimes, people just don't mesh well. Their drive and their vision both need to match up, and they should benefit from working with one another's unique abilities and strengths. But that's not always the case and, when it's not, people can tend to get frustrated with each other. This frustration may manifest in the form of workplace incivilities like rudeness.
4. How can managers prevent workplace incivility?
There are steps managers can take to prevent workplace incivility if they keep a watchful eye and spot it. Here are three steps managers can take.
1. Lead by example.
Managers are responsible for leading by example and setting the stage for those that work for and alongside them. As authority figures, their actions essentially suggest what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable. They drive the company culture, but if they exhibit workplace incivilities themselves, the company will end up with a culture that allows such behaviors.
If, however, they don't stand for such behaviors and, instead, show positive traits — like teamwork, collaboration and open communication — they can fight workplace incivility before it happens.
2. Hold employees accountable.
Employees should be held accountable for their actions, always. If an employee interrupts another employee during a meeting, managers are in an authoritative position in which they can ask that employee to wait their turn. Meanwhile, if an employee who is subjected to workplace incivility starts avoiding the culprit and slacking on their work because of it, they, too, should be held accountable for their poor performance. All employees, in other words, should be held to the same standards of professionalism in the workplace.
3. Train for civility in the workplace.
Training for workplace civility should happen during the onboarding process. All new-hires should be told what to expect when joining the company — how they can expect to be treated, and what's expected of them in regards to how they treat others.
This way, if they experience workplace incivility, they know that they can turn to the human resources department to let them know that an employee(s) has breached those terms and has, as such, created a hostile working environment. In other words, they may be more inclined to bring issues to the attention of the company when they're clear that workplace incivility is not acceptable.
Likewise, they'll ideally be less likely to breach the terms, as well, since they've been explicitly told what's unacceptable behavior and warned of the repercussions.
AnnaMarie Houlis is a feminist, a freelance journalist and an adventure aficionado with an affinity for impulsive solo travel. She spends her days writing about women’s empowerment from around the world. You can follow her work on her blog, HerReport.org, and follow her journeys on Instagram @her_report, Twitter @herreport and Facebook.