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Workplace Incivility and Employee Effectiveness

Workplace incivility is a common denominator that frequently take place as employees interact among themselves and with customers, and must be managed by employers and team leaders so that it does not negatively impact employee effectiveness, productivity, delivery of effective customer service and profitability. Incivility in the workplace is a seemingly harmless behaviour that hinders employee effectiveness and lowers productivity. It is commonplace nowadays in various offices, particularly in the services industry and public sector. It is a major cause of employee ineffectiveness but unfortunately it has not been receiving the right attention from employers of labour and management well enough to create enduring search for appropriate solutions in order to improve productivity.

The experiences of workers in their interactions with their larger environment mask the attention that should have been given to workplace incivility. Generally, there is insecurity in the society. There is negligence of the electorates in governance. The leaders take advantage of the led. Most times, there is no electricity supply. There is no pipe borne water. There is no good road. The streets are not clean. Oblivious of what it is, and indifferent to this government insensitivity to the electorates, people resort to self help. They generate light for themselves. They bore holes to get water. They collectively grade their own roads to make them serviceable. They clean their streets. The proportion of public service rendered by government is so minimal that citizens (who in turn are employees of companies) endure or are indifferent to this high level of government incivility to the electorates.

In another development, there is abuse at home. Work-life balance is so compromised that couples struggle to raise families with a minimum standard of contemporary life. There is aggression on the streets. Tempers are short, and fights are rife. There is rage on the road. Drivers do not respect basic driving and traffic rules. Road users do not find motivation on their own to obey rules without the presence of law enforcement agencies. People are generally vulnerable, and basically suffering and smiling. The toxic level of the larger society tends to make workplace incivility pales into insignificance. However, there is a need to expose the incivility among employees as one of the major causes of employee ineffectiveness and lack of productivity so that team leaders can identify the symptoms and treat them, creating an atmosphere of courtesy and respect among workforce. If the philosophy of effective customer service is built of courteous consideration for users of services, and the organization is getting results, it therefore suggests that incivility among employees will be counterproductive.

In order to underscore the seriousness of workplace incivility, we will consider this commonplace scenario. Let us take a case of a departmental meeting of seven members: Ade, Abu, Chidi, Titi, Christopher, Chukwu and Bintu. Ade who chaired the meeting was busy entertaining the members with unrelated stories of his recent trip exploits. Abu kept working his smartphone under the table to check his missed calls and interact on social media. Chidi was working with his ipad whilst pretending to be amused by Ade’s stories. Titi kept excusing herself and stepping out of the meeting room to receive phone calls in response to a client’s ‘urgent’ calls – she did this on more than eight occasions within thirty minutes. Christopher was reading the newspaper as the meeting was going on. Chukwu and Bintu were exchanging notes between each other and passing these notes to each other through others across the table because they sat at different ends of the table. All the participants represent a type of behaviours we frequently exhibit in the office. These behaviours constitute workplace incivility and result in employee ineffectiveness and lack of productivity.

Workplace incivility is a broad spectrum of deviant behaviours that employees exhibit in the office and are characterized by the absence of courteous consideration for the feelings and rights of other workers. The measure of effective customer service is to treat customers well, respect their feelings and needs, and handle them with courtesy and respect. When this level of behavioural performance is missing in the interactions of employees, incivility is manifest.

Workplace incivility qualifies as counterproductive work behaviour. It manifests as a low intense activity with indistinct or unclear intent (most authors popularly refer to this as ambiguous intent) to harm the target when compared with other forms of workplace toxic behaviours such as harassment, bully, aggression and violence. However, it shares common denominators with these toxic behaviours in the sense that there is an instigator, a target, the offending behaviour (classify it as irritating, annoying, or unacceptable) and the outcome that is certainly counterproductive.

The instigator is an employee who by conducts demonstrates an attitude or action that is at variance with a courteous consideration for the feelings and rights of others who turn out to become the targets. This lack of courteous consideration is at the heart of workplace incivility and is the offending behaviour whether the instigator realizes it or not. Banging the table in annoyance is an overt act of workplace aggression. Giving a colleague a silent treatment is an act of workplace incivility. Both are counterproductive: the former being is a deliberate intent to harm the target and the later may not be planned but achieving the same outcome of harming the target. In the scenario of departmental meeting that has been previously described, all seven participants did not set out to directly harm one another but have done so by their behaviours because they do not give courteous considerations for the feelings and rights of others. Judging by these behaviours, there is no way that the meeting could have ended well, achieving its set out agenda or considered effective.

Workplace incivility is increasing becoming a major counterproductive workplace behaviour that employers and team leaders should begin to pay more attention to its symptoms, causative factors, consequences on employee effectiveness and productivity so that they can deal with it with the right tools in order to engender productivity and profitability. The way employees relate and treat one another with courteous consideration or lack of it has a direct correlation with how they perform at work, and the type of results the organizations get.

An environment where employees grumble against the narcissistic behaviour of their team leaders cannot be productive. An environment where team leaders micromanage their team members cannot be productive. An environment that drives people to work extra hours without adequate compensations cannot be productive. An environment where employees pay eye service and sit glued to their seats refusing to close for the day until their bosses close cannot be productive. The more aggressive, rude and disrespectful an organization’s culture promotes the less effective and productive the employees become. It would appear that these organizations are getting results, but the long term effects on the quality of lives of their employees and sustainability of corporate productivity are capable of destroying all stakeholders.

The other day, I was in one of the popular banks that prides itself as the most customer friendly bank and the employees were grumbling and complaining about how they are being treated. On enquiry, the problem is not salary. The environment. The culture. The level of incivility that these employees have to put up with in order to perform their work. Unfortunately, one doubts if this bank has a mechanism to generate employees’ feedback to measure if their employees are happy work or are just working because they need the salaries. Across the services sector, particularly the banking industry this scenario is commonplace.

There is a need to pay more attention to workplace incivility as competition intensifies and technology eliminates the traditional interactions among employees. The environment is getting more sophisticated, fast-paced and constantly changing. Employers are becoming more demanding. They are asking for results. Employees are becoming more animated, stressed and crushed under the weight of targets and demands. Tempers are becoming shorter. Niceness has flown out of the window and everybody is temperamental, impatient, intolerant, and demanding. These factors escalates incivility in the workplace, and the office environment is becoming more toxic and less best place to work contrary to claims of most organizations.

The services sector is more at the receiving end because of the demands for customer service and productivity. The public sector too is not exempted. Aside services and public sector, virtually all organizations with command and control structure are susceptible to workplace incivility. The military commander who shouts order at his officers because it is the norm. The police inspector who ignores the salutary greetings of his subordinates. The chief executive officer who cannot say “thank you” to his driver who carries his briefcase from the car to the office. The officer who brushes off her colleagues because she is rushing for a meeting. The cases are too numerous to capture here.

(Watch out for the concluding part of this article. Thank you.)

Author: Babatunde Fajimi 

This article was first published in The Union Newspaper under Management Tips with Babatunde Fajimi on October 19, 2014

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