Home » Management Tips with Babatunde Fajimi » Managing Workplace Incivility to Improve Employee Effectiveness

Managing Workplace Incivility to Improve Employee Effectiveness

(This is the concluding part of last article titled Workplace Incivility and Employee Effectiveness.)

Once there is no courteous consideration for the feelings and rights of others, workplace incivility exists. It ranges from personal mistreatment, interpersonal mistreatment to relational mistreatment and cyber mistreatment. Instances of workplace incivility are too numerous to catalog and they occur every day.

Workplace incivility occurs when there is rude behaviour in employees’ actions towards others. Employees often invade the private space of their colleagues. Some even do it without the slightest thought for the inconveniences these colleagues have to endure to tolerate them. A bully tendency or arrogant behaviour is a sign of incivility in the office. Assertiveness in the workplace is productive but aggression (whether passive or active) qualifies as incivility.

A covert case of discourtesy is generally considered as incivility. Ignoring others, their contributions or efforts is incivility. An employee is culpable of incivility when she takes credit for others’ works without reference to their input. Some team leaders directly take credit for the works of their team members. This is not tough leadership: it is incivility.

When employees do not listen during conversation or at meeting, and are distracted with other things like phone calls, note taking or sheer lack of concentration, they are culpable of incivility. Listening is a key ingredient of effective communication. Anything that distracts like fiddling with pen or pencil among other personal indulgences are acts of incivility. Some employees are in the habit of talking down on others. Some others interrupt their colleagues. Some play loud music in the office to distract others. Others go around selling things: their personal stories, items and products in the office.

Another form of workplace incivility includes talking loudly on the phone in the office. Some employees’ ring tones are so loud and comical that they are not fit for the workplace. Cracking jokes, particularly inconvenient jokes about gender, ethnicity or disability is workplace incivility. Sharing personal and/or obscene pictures through the internet begins as workplace incivility and ends as unethical behaviours. The acts of discrimination in the office are workplace incivility. Insulting other people, talking angrily at and undermining them are cases of workplace incivility. Cases of cyber incivility involve writing email in ALL CAPS or sending angry email to others.

The listing could go on and on but the rule of thumb for deciphering workplace incivility is any behaviour that does not show courteous consideration for the feelings and rights of other employees.

Generally speaking, poor corporate governance is a major causative factor of workplace incivility. When the business ethics of the organization do not promote dignity of human labour, respect for human rights and equitable treatment of employees, the culture of such organization is compromised towards incivility.

Another cause is weak leadership. Most times, when leaders are not firm and assertive to lead by example and promote business ethics that instill dignity of labour and human rights, the organization is likely to be weakened towards incivility. A culture of ‘might’ over ‘right’ also promotes incivility. This culture is a sign of weak leadership and degenerative cause of workplace incivility.

Managerial incompetence usually results in incivility as team leaders try to cover their incompetence and disrespect their team members to make them look stupid. Workers too give cold treatment or silent treatment to their supervisors when they are unable to perform their duties as stipulated in job descriptions. It is incivility when team leaders talk to team members and the latter cannot respond intelligently to the leaders. It is stating the obvious to say that organizational culture causes incivility in the office. It flourishes when there is a culture of impunity. Any culture that is repugnant to human rights is bound to produce incivility among workers.

Technology is another cause of incivility. People abuse the use of technology such as phones, computers, and digital devises to pry on others privacy, ignore others or distract them. The type of organizational structure that a company installs can be the causative factor of incivility in the workplace. Employees’ lack of professionalism and personal flaws such as poor time management and respect for the private space of others cause incivility in the workplace. An employee has a work to do but his colleague keep distracting him with gossips of events around the office. This is incivility. Lastly, organization that is obsessed with performance at all cost is susceptible to incivility that can degenerate into abuse and workplace aggression.

The path of workplace incivility leads to ineffectiveness and lack of productivity. It is important to stress from the onset that it could degenerate into lawsuit. In the past, employees overlook incivility. These days, as more and more employees are becoming aware of their human rights and the limit of corporate rascality in the face of the law enforcement, they are beginning to assert themselves in order to prevent themselves from bullies and aggressors in the workplace.

Like harassment and violence, workplace incivility could result to lawsuit against instigators or the organization as a whole. No organization wants to waste time or money on lawsuits that could tarnish their corporate reputation or sink them financially. Hence, employers and team leaders should begin to pay close attention to the effects of incivility on the overall organizational effectiveness and productivity. Workplace incivility causes workplace stress, burnout and ill health. Absenteeism rates increase with high incidences of incivility. Medical bills are likely to increase and impact cash-flow and bottom line. Organizations are bound to suffer high rate of turnover if incivility is rampant. Talented workers are resourceful and creative. They are likely to resign and practise their trades where their contributions will be respected. Incivility creates a toxic work environment and employees can become aggressive, violent and unproductive.  If workplace incivility is not checked, it degenerates into harassment, aggression and workplace violence.

Employees experience reduced job satisfaction in an environment where there is prevalence of workplace incivility. Employees want to be treated like a human being. They want to be respected. They want their contributions acknowledged. If these are missing, they cannot enjoy the jobs they do. They cannot derive satisfactions from their jobs. Heightened workplace incivility affects mental health. Employees who do not get help on time could resort to suicide to cover their shame. Workplace incivility results in a culture of disrespect and impunity and causes teamwork to falter. Employees become toxic and sometimes transfer aggression to their family members, customers and other people outside their office environment.

Workplace incivility has been identified as a major source of disputes and conflicts among employees, and between employers and employees. More often than not, negotiations between employers and labour union leaders fail not because demands are not met but because of incivility. It is the customers that are at the receiving end. Where workplace incivility thrives, customer service experience is next to nothing. Employees treat customers as if they are doing them a favour. The customer cannot be the King of Queen where there is workplace incivility.

Workplace incivility can be managed. Organizations should institute a deliberate culture that acknowledges employees as their source of competitive advantage and reward these employees with respect of their human dignity, respect of their human rights, and considerations for their values and contributions to the organizations. In articulating their strategy for managing people, and implementation of an employee-friendly workplace, organizations should ensure that their human resources management and employee engagement uphold these things: human dignity, human rights, values and employees’ contributions. This promotes a sense of ownership and commitment to the organizations. There will be mutual respect for what the organization stands for, and the roles of all stakeholders in the organization.

Organizations should design a policy on workplace civility and ensure that all employees subscribes to this policy at the point of employment. This policy alongside with others should be used as part of the induction manual for the orientation of new employees. All employees should be constantly trained on workplace civility and rewarded with points for civility on a regularly basis. Workplace civility should be executed as part of the performance management system of the organization, and deliberate attempts should be made to sustain its implementations. It is workplace civility that promotes effective customer service. Organizations struggle to implement effective customer service programme because they fail to promote workplace civility. Service becomes a lot easier when employees observe workplace civility. Simple actions such as “thank you”, “I am sorry”, and “please” are the pillars of courteous considerations for others in the workplace, and are sacrosanct in service delivery.

Organizations should promote workplace diversity and inclusiveness among its employees. When employees respect the rights of other people, and acknowledge that others are different from them in professional backgrounds and other perspectives, they are bound to give considerations to them. Diversity will encourage workplace civility. When employees are emotionally intelligent, they are able to understand themselves, and give courteous considerations to others. All employees in the organization should be trained on emotional intelligence and those having challenges mastering their emotions should be encouraged to actively participate in Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) which the organization should set up as part of their strategies to manage workplace incivility and promote wellness among the workforce.

Author: Babatunde Fajimi 

Article was first published in The Union Newspaper under Management Tips with Babatunde Fajimi on Sunday, October 26, 2014


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