Workplace incivility is taking over our organizations, professional relationships and everyday interactions. According to Dr. Jia Wang, associate professor of human resource development, understanding why incivility happens and how to address it starts with awareness.
“When we think about incivility we think about something major, but it doesn’t have to be,” explained Dr. Wang. “Most of the time it’s the little things accumulated in your daily life that make a huge impact.”
When incivility happens and it affects enough employees, it can impact productivity and, eventually, an organization’s bottom line. Uncivil acts, also termed microaggressions, have been cited as a major cause of employee turnover, poor workplace climate and job dissatisfaction.
“Many people experience incivility, but they choose not to speak up because they need the job or worry about retribution,” stated Dr. Wang. “I want to help people to be courageous and say ‘this is not right and it needs to stop.’”
So, what can an organization do to reduce and prevent incivility in the workplace?
Define Acceptable Behavior
It starts with the organization’s leadership. To make a change in the workplace, leaders need to develop behavior statements. These statements define what qualifies as uncivil on both the personal and organizational level.
“If I was holding a workshop session, I would have [an employer] sit down and brainstorm as many statements as they could. I would have them think about things they have observed and experienced and what they would consider uncivil,” explained Dr. Wang.
Engage With Employees
It is also important for leadership to take a look at their own actions and determine whether they are being civil to their employees. A leadership team has to be willing to engage in conversations with and take feedback from colleagues.
Unfortunately, a lot of people – including CEOs and corporate leaders – are not willing to discuss uncivil behavior because it is uncomfortable and often confrontational.
Recognize Behavior Patterns
Dr. Wang recommends making small, daily changes such as starting a meeting to discuss bad behavior a company wants to stop and good behavior that deserves recognition.
“To me, incivility is a culture thing and culture change does not happen overnight. But, you can educate people to be culturally aware and culturally competent.”
Human resource professionals can play a key role in this process by playing the role of executive coach. This relationship can support cultures and policies that measure behavior and hold individuals accountable.
“What kind of culture do you want to foster in your organization? How do you translate that? The leadership really needs to be serious and sincere about that… being their coach is very important.”
Reinforce Your Values
Dr. Wang says setting clear behavioral expectations is not enough to stem the flow of uncivil behavior, especially when they are only posted in hallways or addressed once a year.
Continually reviewing and talking about an organization’s behavior statements shows employees that the leadership team isn’t just checking off a box, but that they really care about changing the climate.