Civility at work enhances performance. Incivility? Not so much. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The link between incivility and performance at work is well documented. The cost of a toxic culture on performance and wellbeing is enormous. Here’s what every leader should know about civility at work and why it needs to be the new normal.

Incivility is Bad for Business

Incivility isn’t simply about hurt feelings or failure to say good morning as you walk into the office. It’s unacceptable behaviour that lowers self esteem and demotivates teams, but what does it look like?

Recognising Incivility

You’ll recognise the trademarks of incivility by rampant passive aggressive behaviour, sarcastic emails – often copying colleagues in to spread the joy, belittling, insults, bullying, office whispering, humiliation….the list is endless. Any behaviour where you are treated rudely or without dignity at work. And yet, for some, this is a daily experience. An astounding 63% of us report experiencing it. In some businesses and organisations we’ve effectively normalised it. But that normalisation comes with a hefty price tag.

Incivility increases absenteeism along with workplace related stress and burnout. The Whitehall II Study has been researching workplace behaviours for over thirty years. It discovered that toxic relationships can

  • decrease wellbeing
  • lead to lowered mood
  • lower immunity
  • increase the risk of a cardiac event (including cardiac related fatalities)

National Campaigns like Civility Saves Lives in the NHS recognise the toxic impact that bullying along with a culture of humiliation and blame have on individual performance. In fact, research has consistently demonstrated that within the NHS, where there is bullying, clinical outcomes are poorer. Error rates are also seen to increase. That’s a high price to pay for behaviours that can and should be addressed.

Four Factors for Sustainable Performance

Research by Christine Porath and Gretchen Spreitzer, Professors at Ross School of Business’s Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship identified four factors necessary for sustainable high performance

  • Civility
  • Feedback
  • Information Sharing
  • Autonomy

When incivility was present, the researchers discovered that the costs were enormous.

“In our research with Christine Pearson, a professor at Thunderbird School of Global Management, we discovered that half of employees who had experienced uncivil behaviour at work intentionally decreased their efforts. More than a third deliberately decreased the quality of their work. Two-thirds spent a lot of time avoiding the offender, and about the same number said their performance had declined.”

The Crucial Link Between Civility at Work and Performance

Porath and Spreitzer’s work demonstrates the critical link between civility and performance. When uncivil cultures are allowed to continue unfettered, they lead to

  • Demotivation
  • Reduced productivity
  • A decrease in the quality of work produced
  • Increased error rate
  • Reduced overall performance
  • Deliberate lowering of standards

If you want to create extraordinary performance how you treat people is critical. Positive interpersonal behaviour is pivotal to a healthy workplace culture. Sounds like a no brainer doesn’t it? So how can you turn the tide and create a strong civility climate?

Creating a Culture of Civility at Work

We talk about this on our leadership courses along with the impact of civility on performance. If you want happy, motivated, high performing individuals and teams – civility is critical. Civility works for everyone in an organisation, you’ll see improved outcomes, fewer errors and reduced staff turnover. The truth is, as an organisation you can’t afford not to address cultures that lack civility. But how to work towards a civility climate?

Step 1: Speak Out

Recognising incivility is the first step. Take a look at our Free Bullying in the Workplace Toolkit   When we work with an organisation and we see incivility, we flag it up. Don’t stay silent. Saying nothing results in collusion and implied approval. Good people will eventually leave and you’ll notice a downward (and permanent) trend in performance. Ignoring the issue will compound it.

Step 2: Highlight The Evidence Base

Our work with doctors, surgeons and consultants in the health service has focused on the link between civility and patient outcomes. This is huge. We build the evidence base for this into our leadership training and coaching. Convincing people that things can get better is the second step along with highlighting why they need to. Uncivil practices are old fashioned, ill informed and just plain bad practice. The growing body of research into incivility and poor performance is irrefutable – feel free to share this blog with repeat offenders.

Whatever your industry, the link is inescapable. If you recognise toxic practices at the top, they’ll trickle down into departments and teams, becoming the cultural norm. It’s crucial to honestly examine your practices and redefine what’s acceptable if you recognise toxicity and incivility have taken root. Adopt a growth mindset approach to carving out a strategy for civility at work. Change isn’t about blame and recrimination, it’s about creating change that sticks.

Step 3: Revisit Your Objectives, Systems & Procedures

Revisit your organisational objectives. Model civil behaviours. Make civility part of your strategy. We’ve worked with several organisations who are actively recruiting for civility – embedding it into their systems and procedures.

We work with Fortune 100 companies to provide leadership coaching, training and consultancy. To find out more about civility at work and performance, get in touch and discover how you can work with us, we’d love to hear from you.

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