Incivility in the workplace is a much larger issue than most employers realize and should be addressed in every organization in some capacity. In most cases, it’s likely either being misreported as bullying or harassment (which can have a very negative impact on the organization’s reputation and performance) or being completely ignored or unreported.
Many organizations are addressing this issue but choose to keep their actions very discreet – not a bad choice as long as employees have faith in their employer’s tactics and notice a difference in behaviour within an acceptable timeframe.
Sometimes the person responsible for the toxic behaviour is in a unique position within the organization; not necessarily a superior, but perhaps a top performer. They’re not likely to be removed from the organization due to their outstanding contributions on a performance level, but employers also don’t want to sacrifice the expertise they can share with their peers because no one will voluntarily interact with them.
Incivility can be verbally demonstrated through tone of voice, choice of words or silently through body language such as rolling eyes, hand gestures and posture. These actions have a significant impact on the mental health of the individual these behaviours are directed at and can grow exponentially when these situations have a public arena.
Imagine for a moment that you’re a mid-level employee and each week your colleagues meet with your manager to discuss new opportunities for business development. You’re not a top producer but you’re no slouch either, so when an opportunity crosses your path you do your research and prepare to present your idea at the next meeting. You practice your pitch and prepare the answer to every possible question. You’re ready. Your manager quiets the room at the start of the next meeting and briefly introduces you. Less than 10 words into your presentation you hear what can only be described as a “scoff” from one of your fellow employees. They roll their eyes and mutter “Seriously?” just loud enough for most of the room to hear, including you. That wasn’t a question you prepared to answer and the blatant rudeness throws you off. You can feel your heart pounding and the blood creeping into your cheeks. Visibly unnerved by the interruption, but not wanting to give up completely, you stammer through the rest of your idea and sheepishly sit back down, letting the meeting go on around you.
What was wrong with this scenario? The employee demonstrating the incivility to their peer? The manager that didn’t intervene and explain why that behaviour is not conducive to the organization’s culture and performance? Or that you didn’t call attention to the incivility and stand up for yourself?
If you guessed all of the above, you’re absolutely right. Keeping in mind the proper environment to address incivility (not in a public forum), it’s up to employees to be resilient enough to recognize the incivility as an offense to their psychological health and be willing to call attention to it. Managers aren’t off the hook though; their job is to recognize the impact incivility has on people and be willing to confront that behaviour early.
It’s up to employers to set the tone for the organization through action. Implement workplace policies to set expectations of behaviour and outline the consequences of an infraction. Finally, if you’re the individual behaving with incivility towards your peers, strengthen your inner monologue and keep it to yourself until you’ve reached a level of psychological health where incivility is no longer an acceptable behaviour for you either.