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Workplace Incivility Is More Common Than You Think

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Workplace Incivility Is More Common Than You Think

New research by SHRM reveals that instances of incivility have become a regular occurrence in the workplace.

The survey of over 1,000 U.S. employees found that two-thirds of workers (66 percent) say they have experienced or witnessed incivility in their workplace within the past month and over half (57 percent) have experienced or witnessed incivility at work within the past week.

The most common forms of incivility witnessed or experienced included addressing others disrespectfully (36 percent observed this behavior), interrupting or silencing others while they are speaking (34 percent), and excessive monitoring or micromanaging (32 percent).

Jim Link, CHRO at SHRM, who will be speaking on this topic at SXSW this weekend, said harm workers suffer from incivility should be a wake-up call for employers.

“A lack of civility in the workplace can have profound consequences for any company,” he said. “But the effects incivility has on the individual employee, as shown in SHRM’s recent research, should serve as a particular cause for concern among business leaders.”

Incivility Can Have Business Implications

While many workers and HR professionals believe their workplace is generally civil, those who experience incivility have vastly different perspectives:

  • Employees who believe their workplace is uncivil (28 percent) are over 3 times more likely than those who say their workplace is civil (9 percent) to say they are dissatisfied with their jobs.
  • Employees who believe their workplace is uncivil (38 percent) are more than twice as likely than those who say their workplace is civil (17 percent) to say they will likely leave their jobs over the next 12 months.
  • Employees who believe their workplace is civil (76 percent) are significantly more likely than those who believe their workplace is uncivil (43 percent) to say they have a sense of belonging at work.

Compared with employees who had not witnessed or experienced incivility in the past month, workers who had are less likely to be their authentic selves at work, less likely to believe they can share their honest thoughts without fear at work and more likely to believe they must filter much of what they say at work, the research found.

Incivility can affect teamwork, collaboration and engagement while also creating a toxic environment filled with stress and animosity, wrote Blaise Immanuel Sarkar, a leadership expert based in Guelph, Ontario, in an article published on LinkedIn.

He added that incivility can damage employee morale, productivity and job satisfaction.

“Organizations also bear the brunt, facing challenges such as high turnover, decreased customer satisfaction, and a stifling of creativity and innovation,” Sarkar wrote. “Recognizing the toll of incivility is essential in fostering a workplace culture that promotes respect and empathy, ensuring the well-being and success of individuals and organizations alike.”

Workplace Incivility Could Skyrocket in Coming Months

Election season tends to create tension that can lead to incivility at work. A 2022 SHRM survey found that 20 percent of employees said they had been mistreated at work by their co-workers or peers due to their political views.

In SHRM’s recent civility research, about 33 percent of workers believe workplace conflict will worsen in next 12 months.

“Because of the level of political polarity, civility is particularly important when it comes to workplace discussions about politics in general and the 2024 election in particular,” said Jonathan Segal, an employment law attorney in Philadelphia and frequent contributor to SHRM’s HR Magazine.

Segal said civility is always important in the workplace—and that respectfully disagreeing with others is particularly important.

“There is a big difference between stating one’s support for a candidate or position in contrast to personal attacks on the ‘other side,’ ” he said. “Ad hominem attacks of a candidate may be felt as a similar attack on his or her supporters.”

Employers can reduce workplace conflict and incivility in several ways:

  • Survey employees to identify where incivility exists.
  • Praise employees for positive performances.
  • Be alert and sensitive to employees’ feelings.
  • Encourage respectful dissent related to tasks, strategies and mission.
  • Create diverse teams where different perspectives can be heard.
  • Encourage people to manage their own conflicts.
  • Provide training to handle conflict or recommend helpful books on the subject.

To promote civility at work, SHRM is engaging businesses and individuals to be catalysts for civility through its “1 Million Civil Conversations” campaign. Engaging in open and civil dialogue can bridge divides and build understanding—not only to create stronger workplaces, but to promote the betterment of society.

“Through the ‘1 Million Civil Conversations’ campaign, SHRM is once again striving to create meaningful change in the workplace,” Link said. “Fostering a civil workplace is the type of positive change that can have a lasting impact for any organization, no matter how big or small.”

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