The concept of inappropriate conduct at work goes by many names – bullying, misbehaviour, harassment, and several others. While not all misconduct in the workplace is created equal, it all has an impact. We often only read about major occurrences, typically harassment and violence, but what about the less significant, day-to-day actions which may not even register as requiring follow up or corrective action? Perhaps someone overhears a joke or heated discussion they find unprofessional, maybe someone arrives late to a meeting or spends more time on their phone in a meeting than they spend engaged in the topic of discussion – these may seem minor, but what is their impact? Can you measure the consequences of workplace behaviour on productivity, morale, and ultimately, revenue?
In their book The Cost of Bad Behaviour, researchers Christine Pearson and Christine Porath have done just that. Using the general term “incivility” to cover the myriad variations of improper conduct individuals may experience in the workplace, they gathered data from thousands of people in various industries over the course of more than a decade, and their findings certainly require attention.
Pearson and Porath write that 48% of employees reported being treated uncivilly at work at least once per week. 3 out of 4 employees were dissatisfied with the way in which their employer deals with workplace incivility. However, only 9% of the employees surveyed had reported the issue to their Human Resources departments or employee assistance provider. 94% of employees surveyed claimed that they try to “get even” with the person who mistreated them, and 88% reported that they “get even” with their employer. These are just a few of the many statistics reported by Pearson and Porath, but it is easy to see a recipe for workplace unrest and a poor workplace culture.
So, what do employees do about this perceived mistreatment? Pearson and Porath’s data identified that 28% of employees lost time at work, 37% of employees felt less committed to their employer, 22% reduced their effort while at work, and 10% intentionally spent less time at work. 12% reported that they had actually left their employer because of incivility.
An additional complication is that self-reporting of the behaviour experienced at work does not allow for any analysis of the severity of the conduct. Ultimately, in my view, that doesn’t matter. The truth is that perception of how one is treated will impact the individual and determine their reaction regardless of what an objective review of the conduct would find. In other words, if someone feels that they have been treated uncivilly, they will act based on how they feel.
Employers can address this by leading by example. Develop policies and procedures which clearly identify what is and is not appropriate at work, and ensure that your leaders act in accordance with those policies. Place an emphasis on reducing uncivil behaviours, even the ones that seem insignificant, and respectfully remind your colleagues to do the same if you notice any shortcomings. Encourage your staff to take action to address the inappropriate conduct of others, or if uncomfortable doing so, to report it to leadership, and make sure it is acted upon when reported.
Remember, policies and training ensure legislative compliance. Actions change culture.