Incivility

Why is it important

In late 2018, the training accreditation was stripped from 2 of Sydney’s top teaching hospitals – Westmead and Royal Prince Alfred. It was alleged that senior teaching staff were systematically bullying or failing to provide respect to their staff and trainees

This is an example of the growing awareness (& intolerance) of bad or ill-mannered behavior - generally known as incivility. Individuals, institutions and businesses are recognizing incivility and understand that it carries a tremendous emotional, physical and economic cost. In 2016, it was estimated that bullying cost Australia $36 billion in lost productivity and job stress and some estimates put the cost in the hundreds of billions of dollars for the USA.

Incivility has been defined as “the exchange of seemingly inconsequential or inconsiderate words and deeds that violates social norms of workplace conduct.” It is important to note that incivility reflects people’s subjective interpretation of actions and how these actions make them feel. Quite often the person interpreting actions as “uncivil” is not the offender.

Examples of incivility include -
• Not saying “please” or “thank you”
• Not listening
• Avoiding someone
• Checking e-mail or texting messages during a meeting
• Failing to return phone calls or respond to e-mail
• Taking credit for others’ efforts
• Showing up late or leaving a meeting early with no explanation
• Talking down to others
• Withholding information
• Setting others up for failure
• Shutting someone out of a network or team
• Making demeaning or derogatory remarks to someone
• Paying little attention or showing little interest in others’ opinions
• Throwing temper tantrums
• Intimidating or violent behavior

Incivility – it is subjective, it is expensive, and it is on the rise. 

What is the Impact?

Unfortunately, incivility at work is pervasive, on the rise and it is a serious contemporary business issue.

But how pervasive is incivility in the workplace? Recent surveys of US workers, have highlighted the following staggering statistics–

• 96% - have experienced incivility at work
• 48% - treated uncivilly at work at least once per week
• 60% - experience stress because of workplace incivility
• 80% - believe they get no respect at work
• 75% - were dissatisfied with the way their companies handle complaints
• 12% - Left their jobs because they were treated uncivilly

Workplace incivility usually goes unaddressed by management or companies until the damaging consequences reach intolerable levels. These are the same companies and C-Suite managers who expound the importance of their staff, describing them as “….our most valuable resource.” Yet 80% of staff feel they are not respect at work and 75% are dissatisfied with the company’s response to their complaints. This is a huge disconnect between what companies are saying and what they are allowing to occur within their organisation.

Why are people increasingly behaving badly? Some of the reasons include -
• they’re overloaded at work and basically “forget” to be civil or polite.
• In today’s “gig” economy, the emphasis is on short-term contracts and workplace dealings become transactional rather than relational. Why try keep the peace with coworkers, subordinates, or bosses if you are not here next week?
• Electronic communication such as emails & texting depersonalizes every interaction. 

The cost is not just money

The statistics from the US about the spread and scope of incivility are shocking and there is no reason to think that other societies and companies would be any different.

It would be safe to say that nearly everybody has experienced some form of incivility during their career and probably during the past working week. So, how does incivility affect us and how do we cope as targets of incivility?

Incivility causes massive increases in the level of stress that people feel. Stress has been directly linked to fatigue, weight loss and gain, headaches, high blood pressure, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances. Stress is also linked to cognitive dysfunction, including reduced motivation and confidence, loss of concentration, and decreased productivity and creativity. Stress takes an emotional toll and is associated with anxiety, increased pessimism and cynicism.


Participants who experienced incivility were 30 percent less creative. They produced 25 percent fewer ideas, and their ideas were less diverse. short-term memories suffered; they recalled nearly 20 percent were less likely to feel motivated and excited about learning new ideas and skills and 30 percent less likely to feel vital and alive.

Those in highly uncivil environments were also 36 percent less satisfied with their jobs and 44 percent less committed to their organizations. Most telling of all, their managers rated them as performing 10 to 20 percent worse than others in the organization. 

Teamwork is also a key casualty. 73 percent of those who hadn’t experienced incivility volunteered to help work colleagues. But when a colleague was rude to participants only 24 percent of those who had been treated uncivilly offered to help. 

Teamwork is vital and companies spend a lot of time and effort to develop and grow teamwork. However, all this effort can be shattered by incivility.