Over the years, I have collected enough evidence about incivility in the workplace that I could write a book about it. Thankfully, it's already been masterfully done by highly acclaimed Georgetown University business professor Christine Porath.
For nearly two decades, Porath has studied and observed a sharp rise in workplace rudeness, emotional harassment, bullying, and other toxic behaviors that cost companies financially and employees their health and well-being.
She writes in The New York Times:
Incivility hijacks workplace focus. According to a survey of more than 4,500 doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel, 71 percent tied disruptive behavior, such as abusive, condescending or insulting personal conduct, to medical errors, and 27 percent tied such behavior to patient deaths.
People working in an environment characterized by incivility miss information that is right in front of them. They are no longer able to process it as well or as efficiently as they would otherwise.
Employees contribute less and lose their conviction, whether because of a boss saying, "If I wanted to know what you thought, I'd ask you," or screaming at an employee who overlooks a typo in an internal memo.
Here are some classic examples of a toxic workplace from two standpoints: your boss and your peers/co-workers. In all cases, such an environment demoralizes people and causes performance and productivity to shut down. Do any of these hit home?
8 examples of a toxic boss
- Walking away from a conversation because he or she loses interest.
- Answering calls in the middle of meetings without leaving the room.
- Openly mocking people by pointing out their flaws or personality quirks in front of others.
- Reminding their subordinates of their "role" in the organization and "title."
- Taking credit for wins and employees' contributions or accomplishments.
- Pointing the finger at others when problems arise.
- Being secretive and hoarding information. Employees are left in the dark and don't know what's going on.
Is never wrong and has a hard time taking blame or ownership for things and will never admit to having made a mistake.
9 examples of toxic co-workers
- Interactions are characterized primarily by criticism and negativity.
- Indirect communication and passive-aggressiveness is used to "go around" normal chains of authority.
- What they say they value and how they act are significantly different. They say one thing, and do another -- a lack of honesty and integrity.
- A lack of cooperation between team members and departments to get stuff done.
- There is significant competition and jealousy between people at a level that is unhealthy.
They do not do what they say they are going to do.
They gossip and spread rumors by enlisting others into their negative spin campaign usually to vilify someone or something.
They exhibit a lack of personal organization, focus, and discipline needed to get the job done.
They are rigid and resistant to change, often holding things up and taking colleagues down with them.
Try a more civil workplace
Porath advocates for several simple and virtually free ways that companies can incorporate more civility into their culture. Here are a just a few.
Smile and say thanks more. "Making small adjustments such as listening, smiling, sharing and thanking others more often can have a huge impact," says Porath. In one study unpublished study, she says a smile and simple thanks (as compared with not doing this) resulted in people being viewed as 27 percent warmer, 13 percent more competent, and 22 percent more civil.
Share information. People contribute more effectively when they understand how their own work fits with their company's mission and strategy.
Be polite. Behavior involving politeness and regard for others in the workplace pays off. "In a study in a biotechnology company, those seen as civil were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders," states Porath.
Show respect. Porath says "individuals feel valued and powerful when respected. Civility lifts people. Incivility holds people down. It makes people feel small." She adds, "Across many decisions -- whom to hire, who will be most effective in teams, who will be able to be influential -- civility affects judgments and may shift the balance toward those who are respectful."
Make eye contact the "10/5 Way." Ochsner Health System, a large Louisiana health care provider, implemented what it calls the 10/5 way. Employees are encouraged to make eye contact if they're within 10 feet of someone, and say hello if they're within five feet. Using this practice, Porath says Ochsner reported improvements on patient satisfaction and patient referrals.
Get rid of technology during meetings. Porath cites one radical approach an executive of a multibillion-dollar company took to stop excessive multitasking in his weekly meetings. He placed a box at the door and required all attendees to drop their smartphones in it so that everyone would be fully engaged and attentive to one another. He didn't allow people to use their laptops either. Initially, this experiment was rough as employees were "like crack addicts as the box was buzzing." Porath says that the meetings became vastly more productive and within weeks "they slashed the length of the meetings by half." The executive reported more presence, participation, and even fun during the meetings.