Uncivil workplace costly problem

Evan Abbott

An increasingly uncivil workplace costs businesses not only talented employees, but also paying customers.

It’s up to owners and managers to address behavior that creates a “toxic environment,” said Evan Abbott, director of organizational development and learning for the Mountain States Employers Council (MSEC). “They set the tone. They create the norm of what’s accepted.”

Abbott oversees organizational development as well as training and conflict management for the MSEC, a nonprofit membership organization established to maintain effective relationships between employers and employees. Abbott was among the speakers who presented an employment law update in Grand Junction.

Abbott said incivility has become more common in the workplace in part as an effect of a recession that’s forced many businesses to do more with less staffing. Survey results reflect that economic tension, he said. “We just don’t have time for the niceties.”

Incivility includes a range of behaviors, Abbott said: bullying, gossip, snide remarks and anything else that violates what otherwise would be the norms of the workplace.

People sometimes don’t intend to exhibit such behaviors, but ambiguous comments can be interpreted that way, he said. Other people create a “bubble” within which they feel justified to impose their own norms. E-mail offers a kind of separation in which employees write things to one another they wouldn’t dare say face-to-face.

Whatever the cause, incivility in the workplace poses a variety of problems, Abbott said. One survey found that 47 percent of employees decreased the time they spent at work to avoid such situations. Such workplace stress can lead not only to increased absenteeism and turnover, he said, but also higher health care costs.

In addition, incivility in the workplace affects customers, he said. According to the results of one survey, 50 percent of customers who observe such behavior are less likely to do business with that company again.

Abbott suggested a three-pronged approach to dealing with incivility in the workplace.

First, employees must learn good self-management skills and to view other employees as colleagues, not competitors. “They have to own their own behaviors.”

Second, business owners and managers must set the tone for how employees treat each other by setting an example with their own behaviors, he said. Supervisors who engage in uncivil behavior themselves empower their employees to act in the same ways.

Third, businesses must examine their workplace cultures and foster a civil culture not only by words, but also deeds. It’s important not to reward bad behavior by promoting the talented jerk over an average, but more amiable, co-worker, he said. Moreover, civil behavior and teamwork should be important components of employee performance reviews.

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