Combating incivility in the office


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Combating incivility in the office

  1. 1. ^Ém" OfficePRO JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012 • -^ r^IZT
  2. 2. COMIATING THÉ by Catherine M. Mattice, MA
  3. 3. munication among team members—to name a few of the perks. Don't panic or do anything rash, though. There are steps you can take to remedy the situation. Incivility at work is on the rise. After presenting her research at the recent American Psychological Association annual convention, researcher Jeannie Trudel of Indiana Wesleyan UniversityMarion told USA Today that "Seventyfive percent to 80 percent of people have experienced incivility." Trudel's coauthor, Paul Fairlie, added, "White collar work is becoming a little more blue collar. There's higher work demands, longer hours... A lot of people are working much harder. They've got fluid job descriptions and less role clarity. So for some people... work is becoming more toxic." The Civility in America 2011 poll found similar results and reported that 86 percent of Americans are mistreated at work, 38 percent believe the workplace is becoming more and more disrespectful, and 59 percent admit to being uncivil to co-workers. also released a report earlier this year claiming that their survey of over 5,600 American workers revealed 25 percent of Americans are bullied at work. That survey follows 25 years of academic research that continuously points to bullying as a pervasive issue in the workplace. Incivility and aggression at work is 28 OfficePRO JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2012 costly. Performance, productivity, company loyalty, time at work, communication, teamwork and job satisfaction all decrease as a result of employees feeling unhappy with the work environment and angry at each other. Before Obi Orgnot was the CEO of OrgNot Ltd., a consulting firm that works with clients to increase profitability, he managed a sales team dominated by aggression. As Orgnot points out, incivility can affect your company's customer service. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found, for example, that 11 percent of the time bullies at work bully customers. The Civility poll found nearly 7 in 10 Americans say they've stopped purchasing from a company because of an uncivil interaction with a company representative. The bottom line? We are already under pressure to conserve monetary resources, and incivility could be hurting your bottom line. Incivility spirals into more incivility and allows a negative organizational culture to thrive. This is dangerous because culture is a valuable asset to your success—cultures that advocate positive employee relationships see quality performance, innovation, decreased turnover and absenteeism, reduced stress and better com- Present A Business Case To Decision-Makers Most C-Levels know intuitively that positive workplace relationships are a valuable tool to organizational effectiveness, but it may be hard to convince them to actually address it. If incivility is flourishing in your department, however, it is imperative that you make a business case for eradicating it. Everything that happens in business can be quantified, so open a fresh spreadsheet and start making some calculations. If, for example, you are paid $35 an hour and you spent two hours a day for the last two weeks dealing with employee relationships or poor customer service, the company lost $700. In preparing your business case, quantify time wasted and tangible costs such as training or a lost customer, then present your case to management. Use Assessments To Determine The Extent Df Incivility Once decision-makers are on board, it might be wise to spend some time determining how pervasive incivility is within your organization so you can develop appropriate action plans. Remembering that incivility is generally related to an organization's culture, it would be wise to take steps to address the problem systemically. One tool you might use in this endeavor is a 360-degree assessment. Most organizations use a top-down approach to feedback, which means managers deliver performance evaluations to their subordinates who, in turn, deliver evaluations to their subordinates and so forth. But 360-degree assessments provide the ability to obtain much richer information. "What you really want to create is a feedback-rich environment," says Kathryn Rippy, Principal of Migliore Consulting, a leadership and organizational development firm. "Three
  4. 4. hundred-sixty degree assessments can be utilized to ensure various perspectives are 'heard' about an individual's performance in relation to the overall culture and goals of the organization." These assessments "allow employees to hear perspectives from different individuals they deal with on a daily basis. Understanding the impact their behavior has on others increases their ability to make corrections and interact in a way that contributes to a more civil workplace." Personality tests might be another option, according to Orgnot. "I brought the team in for a day and administered a personality test which helped me determine the leaders of this aggressive culture and who was simply acting this way to fit in. Then I told the leaders to find somewhere else to work. Complaints were significantly reduced, and we began to have a more balanced office. Most importantly, when an aggressive type slipped through the cracks, they found themselves isolated." Provide Communication Skills Training A strong business case will likely allow you to gain permission to bring on a communication skills expert who can provide training in effective communication skills. Also consider offering an entire training program around civility. An ongoing program that occurs over time will have a much greater impact than a one-time class. Include topics such as resilience, conflict management, positive thinking, assertiveness, empathy, gratitude, compassion and forgiveness. If your training budget is tight, you could even recommend that each department choose one of these topics and work together to create a course for delivery to the rest of the company. If none of this is an option, at the very least request that civility be included in your already-existing harassment training. Be Open About Organizational Changes 11 this post-recession time, organiza1 tions are still making changes to work teams, closing down worksites, or liquidating some of the company assets in order to stay afloat. All this uncertainty makes people aggressive, and being open about those changes can make a Incivility spirals into more incivility and allows a negative organizational culture to thrive^ world of difference. "Rumor mills about impending changes can cause incivility, aggression, and low employee morale because change makes employees feel unsure all c^f the time," according to Linda Konstan, President of Sensible Human Resources Consulting, LLC. "Set up a 'rumor mill' page on your Intranet that would allow employees to anonymously list the latest rumor they've heard. It gives the management team a chance to address that rumor before it gets out of hand." As a manager, it is important that you remain as transparent about change as you can. It isn't always possible to share everything you know, but demonstrating to your employees that you are doing your best to be open will allow them to relax a little. of the room reminded everyone to stay on their best behavior, and it also gave everyone permission and confidence to call each other out. When someone was rude, they had to put a quarter in. Incivility will probably never go away, but the fact that we can talk about it openly makes life much easier." When nasty e-mails began flying around at a nonprofit organization, Michelle Mathis, a human resources assistant, decided to hold a company meeting. "We essentially gave the entire company a verbal warning about appropriate e-mail communication so the next time any person sent one we could come down on them pretty hard. The meeting also showed employees we were paying attention to interoffice communication, and that we had a no tolerance policy for disrespectful behavior." Ultimately, you can't advocate for change if you're not walking the walk. Albright knew she couldn't hold people accountable for poor behavior if she wasn't engaging in positive workplace behaviors herself. On a final note, even if you don't have access to your company's decisionmakers, or the ability to serve as a catalyst for a change in your organization's culture, know that you do have the power to change the culture within your own department. Using 360-degree assessments, being open about your vision for a civil department, being open about organizational changes as best you can, demonstrating respectful workplace behaviors—and acknowledging and rewarding employees who are civil—will allow you to push your department and your organization towards a culture of civilitv. About the author: Catherine M. Mattice, MA is the president of Civility Partners, LLC (, a training and consulting firm specializing in devel- Be Open About Your Campaign For A Civil Work Environment Again, change requires transparency. Carol Albright, executive assistant for a staffing firm, started a quarter jar for her office. "The large jar in the middle oping systemic solutions for eliminating negative workplace behaviors. Mattice has appeared as an expert in USA Today, Inc Magazine, MSNBC, and on FOX, NBC, and ABC news, as well as published in a variety of business trade magazines. In addition, Mattice is an adjunct at National University and Southwestern College. OfficePRO 29
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