Workplace incivility is defined as ambiguous and low intensity behaviours, so it’s no surprise that you might be confused when your coworker walks by without saying hello. Was he being rude? Or maybe he was just preoccupied? Nevertheless, these ambiguous behaviours occur with great frequency. Cortina and colleagues found over 70% of employees experienced incivility. Unfortunately, workplace incivility is related to a whole range of negative outcomes for employees, including:
- lower job satisfaction
- lower commitment to the organization
- intentions to quit
- poorer performance
- health-related outcomes such as stress and burnout
- and even workplace deviance (e.g., taking longer breaks)
My own research found that workplace incivility is related to outcomes that are just as severe as the outcomes experienced by victims of workplace bullying. What’s worse is that these minor behaviours may escalate into something more serious, such as workplace bullying or aggression. Andersson and Pearson argued that people will reciprocate rude behavior with rude behaviour, and this has the potential to escalate not only between the two people involved, but also potentially to witnesses.
So what can organizations do about it? So far, we don’t have very much information on what to do. One possibility is to train employees on workplace civility. Michael Leiter and his colleagues found that training employees to be civil reduced the frequency of incivility in the workplace and had a positive effect on employee attitudes towards the organization. However, such training can be time intensive and expensive. We also need more research testing these interventions to determine whether they have long-lasting positive effects. How often do employees need to be retrained? Also, are there other techniques that might work? For example, what if we could get witnesses to speak up?