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Conquering Conflict: Incivility in the Workplace and How to Prevent it.

Unfortunately, incivility occurs in too many organizations and during too many days affecting too many peope to count. Workplace incivility refers to disrespectful or rude behavior that violates traditional workplace standards of respect. Uncivil persons make condescending remarks, and desparging comments: they gossip, ignore and exclude others, among other actions that create a negative or hostile work environment.

This behavior can erode teamwork, diminish morale, and adversely affect the well-being and productivity of employees. Excellent leaders address and prevent workplace incivility to sustain a healthy and positive work environment.

Incivility is wrong. It's unethical behavior. However, it's not just the right thing to do, it can also affect an organization's bottom line. One study on this topic revealed that, in response to uncivil experiences, 48% of employess intentionally decreased their work effort, 47% intentionally decreased their time at work, and 38% intentionally decreased the level of quality in their work.

Furthermore, 80% of employees responded that they lost time at work by just thinking about the incivility they experienced, with 66% reporting a loss in their performance, and 78% indicating that their commitment to their organization decreased. In addition, the authors of this research concluded that the cost of incivility can be as much as $14,000 per employee. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. More negative consequences include:

  1. Increased Stress and Anxiety: Exposure to rude or disrespectful behavior can elevate stress levels and contribute to anxiety among employees, affecting their mental and emotional well-being.

  2. Higher Turnover Rates: Employees subjected to incivility may seek more positive and respectful work environments, contributing to increased turnover rates and the costs associated with recruitment and training.

  3. Impaired Team Dynamics: Incivility can disrupt teamwork and collaboration, creating a toxic atmosphere that hinders effective communication and cooperation among team members.

  4. Negative Impact on Health: Prolonged exposure to workplace incivility has been linked to health issues such as headaches, sleep disturbances, and even more severe conditions like cardiovascular problems.

  5. Damaged Reputation: Organizations with a reputation for tolerating incivility may struggle to attract and retain top talent, as job seekers are increasingly valuing positive workplace cultures.

  6. Conflict Escalation: Uncivil behavior can escalate into more serious conflicts if left unaddressed, leading to a hostile work environment and potential legal issues for the organization.

  7. Poor Customer Relations: Employees affected by incivility may carry their negative experiences into interactions with customers, potentially harming client relationships and the organization's public image.

So, what can excellent leaders do to create a healthy and productive workplace, free of workplace incilivilty? Here are some recommendations:

  1. Clear Policies and Expectations: Establish clear and comprehensive policies regarding workplace behavior as a fundamental step in preventing incivility. Communicate these policies to all employees, outlining the expectations for respectful communication and behavior. Clearly define the consequences of violating these policies to create a sense of accountability.

  2. Leadership Commitment: Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the culture of an organization. Leaders should model respectful behavior, demonstrating empathy and active listening. By fostering an inclusive and positive atmosphere from the top down, leaders set the tone for the entire organization and encourage employees to follow suit.

  3. Training Programs: Implement training programs that focus on interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, and diversity and inclusion. These programs can enhance employees' communication skills, increase their awareness of the impact of their words and actions, and promote a more understanding and collaborative work environment.

  4. Promote Open Communication: Encourage open and transparent communication channels within the organization. Employees should feel comfortable expressing their concerns without fear of reprisal. Establishing regular feedback mechanisms, such as surveys or confidential reporting systems, provides an avenue for employees to voice their grievances and facilitates early intervention.

  5. Create a Positive Work Environment: Cultivate a workplace culture that values and recognizes employees. Employee recognition programs, team-building activities, and a focus on work-life balance contribute to a positive atmosphere. When employees feel appreciated and supported, they are less likely to engage in uncivil behavior.

  6. Address Conflict Promptly: When conflicts arise, address them promptly and constructively. Provide mediation or conflict resolution resources to help employees navigate disagreements in a respectful manner. Encourage open dialogue and work towards finding mutually beneficial solutions to prevent lingering animosity.

  7. Zero Tolerance for Bullying: Establish a zero-tolerance policy for uncivil behavior. Clearly define what constitutes such behavior and ensure that employees are aware of the consequences. Promptly investigate and address any reported incidents, demonstrating the organization's commitment to maintaining a safe and respectful workplace.

Leaders must create a workplace where employees feel respected, valued, and supported. When individuals feel safe and respected, they are more likely to collaborate effectively, contribute innovative ideas, and ultimately thrive in their roles. Addressing incivility isn't just about creating a more enjoyable work environment; it's about nurturing a culture that promotes well-being, productivity, and overall success.

Make civility one of your core values. As Peter Drucker once said, "Good manners are the lubricating oil of organizations."

Jim Dittmar


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