Leadership Journey

Helping leaders create a culture of civility and respect

Workplace Incivility: What is it and Why Does it Matter?

Though most of us have some understanding of or experience with Workplace Incivility, it can still be a difficult phenomenon to discuss or even identify. Defined by Sharone Bar-David as “seemingly insignificant behaviors that are rude, disrespectful, inconsiderate, or insensitive, where the intent to harm is ambiguous or unclear,” workplace incivility is, by definition, vague.

The term incivility provides us with an opportunity to frame this problem in the workplace. Behaviorally, incivility can take both overt and covert forms; eye-rolling, heavy sighs, sarcasm, gossip, tardiness, deliberate withholding of information, and failure to greet or acknowledge others are all common forms of workplace incivility.

Nevertheless, the somewhat-ambiguous nature of workplace incivility does not make its impact on us any less real. 

When on the receiving end of uncivil behavior, many of us feel a range of emotions that can make it difficult to respond effectively; we might feel some combination of stress, anger, guilt, or embarrassment both during and after the event. We may obsess about the event by replaying the memory of it over and over again in our minds. We might feel the urge to vent about the incident to another coworker, or even to find some way to get even with the person who was uncivil to us in the first place. 

All of these responses ultimately prevent us from being fully focused on our work and begins to chip away at our productivity, impacting both you and the organization. Typically, workplace incivility manifests in some form of inefficiency but it also has the potential to divert employees’ attention from even more important matters, such as workplace safety, resulting in incidents that may comprise the health and wellbeing of employees. 

The following research findings [1] from Pearson and Porath reveal the various impacts of workplace incivility on employees who have experienced it:

  • 48% intentionally decreased their work effort
  • 66% saw their overall performance decline 
  • 80% lost time due to worrying 
  • 78% were less committed to the organization 
  • 25% took their frustration out on customers 
  • 12% left the job

These numbers demonstrate that workplace incivility compromises our ability to accomplish goals and provide quality service to customers, and in some cases, it may even lead to costly employee turnover. Clearly, when people are unfocused, anxious, non-collaborative, and uncommitted, the implications can be both far-reaching and long-lasting.

Of course, no workplace is entirely free of incivility. Any organization that has employees who work together will find that employees unintentionally rub each other the wrong way from time to time. If we can accept that anyone can unintentionally be uncivil and become more cognizant of how our coworkers are impacted by our own missteps, we are well on our way to combating this workplace inefficiency. Learn more at Civil Work Spaces®.

[1] Porath, C., and C. Pearson, “The price of incivility: Lack of respect hurts morale – and the bottom line.”  Harvard Business Review, (Jan-Feb 2013), 1115–21