Ten years ago, incivility expert, Christine Porath, wrote in the Harvard Business Review that “rudeness at work is rampant and it’s on the rise.”

In her research which included polling thousands of workers about how they’re treated on the job, Porath stated 98% of workers reported they had experienced uncivil behaviour, with half saying it was a weekly occurrence.


Incivility is not a commonly used word – but it’s time we changed that.

Incivility is defined as the lack of civility or courtesy; rudeness; an impolite or uncivil act or remark[1].

In my book, Transforming Norm, I share with readers how on so many occasions when I am asked to help rebuild a team or workplace culture, many of the problems can be traced back to incivility. I also share a case study from one of my coaching clients who was the recipient of incivility from a senior leader and share the impact this had on her.

Most recently when delivering my Transforming Norm workshop to an Executive Team the Managing Director shared with his team how as a graduate he had been on the receiving end of incredible rudeness by his boss.  Every morning he would say good morning to his boss, and every morning the boss would ignore him.  This went on for years.  The fact that decades later this came to mind very quickly for this Managing Director spoke volumes, and it was a powerful share for him to his team.

There is no excuse for incivility in the workplace – regardless of your role.

What Does Incivility Look Like?

WorkSafe Tasmania say “rudeness in the workplace can be intentional or not… [and] these behaviours basically signal ‘I don’t care about you’.”

Common examples of workplace rudeness, include:

  • Someone speaking over you or cutting you off in meetings
  • Ignoring your input
  • Taking calls midway through a conversation
  • Using their devices throughout a chat with you or a meeting where you are speaking
  • Talking to you disrespectfully
  • Using sarcasm or crude or offensive language
  • Taking credit for your work
  • Spreading rumours, or
  • Taking their frustrations out on you.

Some additional examples I hear about are the lack of greetings or acknowledgements within teams or from leaders, and poor or no salutations in emails.

Rudeness often translates to written form and most of us can attest to bristling at a curt or sharply worded email demand in our careers – so popping a simple Hello/Hi/Dear in your emails and signing off with a Thanks so much/Kind regards/Warm regards can go a long way.

The Cost

Nearly every person that experiences uncivil behaviour responds negatively, according to Porath.

In some cases, by retaliating.

Porath, says that:

  • Employees are less creative when they feel disrespected
  • Many employees get fed up and leave
  • About half deliberately decrease their effort or lower the quality of their work
  • Incivility damages customer relationships with people less likely to buy from a company with an employee they perceive as rude, whether the rudeness is directed at them or at other employees; and that
  • Witnessing just a single unpleasant interaction leads customers to generalize about other employees, the organization, and even the brand.

This is a high cost indeed – even more so for people focused businesses.

Establish Codes of Behaviour

Workplaces need to establish basic codes of behaviour and hold people accountable to these.  Basic civilities should be practiced and outlined in these codes.

The workplace is not a social club or your kitchen table. How you communicate with others outside of work is up to you, but in the workplace there absolutely should be baseline expectations and basic civilities should be maintained.

Set the expectation, model, and monitor behaviours accordingly.

And remember, what you walk past you accept.

Team Culture by Design

We’re doing a lot of work helping Teams design their ideal team culture and setting their standards of behaviour.  If you’d like to know how we can help you do this see our program information here or email alexandra@tanyaheaneyvoogt.com for more information.

Tanya Heaney-Voogt

Director & Principal Consultant
MBA, ICFACC, MAHRI, Dip Mgt, Dip Coaching, Prosci® Certified Change Practitioner
E: tanya@tanyaheaneyvoogt.com

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