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Combatting Incivility in the Workplace

What causes incivility and how to mitigate it

Each workplace has its own dynamics that foster healthy interpersonal relationships and encourage respect. This contributes to a vibrant setting where people want to work. However, shifting viewpoints and continued disrespectful behaviour can dampen an otherwise welcoming environment into one laced with negativity. Referred to as incivility, these actions may be more noticeably recognized by some employees over others. 

While some conduct may be chalked up to a perception of banter, it can begin to erode the confidence of staff members who see this damaging behaviour for what it is.

Regardless of whether a company sits below 50 employees or tops over 5,000, incivility can be present in all workplaces. It acts like an epidemic, becoming out of control and potentially leading to far worse reactions or behaviours. In addition, it may result in a failure to retain talent and an inability to inspire and motivate employees to perform at their best.

Knowing the signs of workplace incivility is vital to ensure that necessary steps can be taken to combat this problem. To understand how to address incivility in the workplace, we must first discover what it is and what might cause it. In this article, we will examine this issue and ways to mitigate it.

Table of Contents

What is Incivility in the Workplace?

How an employee behaves in the workplace affects those who work with them. Counterproductive behaviour can affect individuals but also, on a grander scale, the companies they work for. These behaviours may originate from aggressive tendencies like violence and harassment but can also be seen in various other forms such as psychological aggression. A milder expression of these actions is known as incivility. It’s often subtle, manifesting as negative behaviour between staff with the intent of rudeness or disrespect.

The longer this phenomenon goes on, the more likely it will become the norm. A workplace can quickly become known as one that allows for incivility, rather than it stemming from just one person. The intent to harm a targeted staff member violates the considerations of mutual respect and opens the door to potential other issues. Due to its harmful nature, workplace incivility can be linked to bullying, abuse, and undermining. Although it is considered a lesser aggressive tactic, it still has damaging effects.

Examples of Incivility in the Workplace

An inconsiderate comment, leaving a desk or workspace messy, or a crude joke could all be forms of workplace incivility. Perhaps you were working as part of a team where you played a minor yet vital role, yet you received no credit from your colleagues or manager. Unlike certain other actions of poor workplace behaviour, incivility can be challenging to measure as it may be targeted to make an employee feel uncomfortable or underappreciated.

What Causes Incivility in the Workplace?

A variety of reasons can be the cause of workplace incivility. Company pressures resulting from systematic changes, such as uncertainty around downsizing, restructuring, and mergers may be a culprit, causing undue stress on employees. Similar stress-inducing factors can come from the required use of new technologies, tight deadlines, and information overload.

It’s also possible for leadership to be the cause of incivility in the workplace, whether it comes from comments or behaviours made directly by a leader themselves or as part of their responsibilities that are conducted without consideration for their employees. This can stem from high demands, failure to recognize accomplishments, or a lack of information available to help an employee succeed.

Often, organizational change is a typical reason for incivility. However, without proper touchpoints in place to discuss concerns, the root cause may remain unknown. Ideally, practices should be set up to ensure this kind of behaviour does not happen.

How to Address Incivility in the Workplace

Since workplace incivility is a unique form of counterproductive behaviour, it should be handled as such. This means taking the time to identify strategies that would make a considerable difference in the handling of each case. Addressing incivility in the workplace can be done in various ways to provide both the employee and their leader with the support and tools they need to combat these actions.

As an Employee

From a personal point of view, reflect on your behavioural impact on your colleagues. The influence of others on us is just as strong as our influence on them. Even when dealing with incivility, it is critical that you remain civil. If you feel underequipped to handle the situation, speak with your manager to bring the issue to light further. Those who demonstrate workplace incivility will often conduct themselves differently when superiors are around. This could cloud their perception of the workplace environment, leaving them unable to address issues they are unaware of. Sharing your perspective can help them gain valuable insights.

As a Leader

Fostering space for a healthy, inclusive work culture often can’t be accomplished overnight. Taking necessary steps to ensure policies and reporting procedures are in place ensures that even if you are unaware of workplace incivility, it can easily be brought to your attention. Dedicate time each week to check in with employees, and provide a safe space where they feel comfortable sharing how they feel. You should also reflect on your personal skills regarding conflict resolution. Consider taking a training course to enhance your abilities, and review the possibility of sharing the course with employees. They may even feel empowered to address an issue of incivility in the workplace themselves.

How Whistleblower Security Can Help

Combatting workplace incivility without proper reporting tactics in place can be a struggle. You may be unaware of how to implement practices that allow employees to feel supported and heard regarding these types of conflicts. At Whistleblower Security, our solutions showcase a commitment to a more transparent, considerate workplace for all businesses. We recommend the implementation of our ethics hotline as a way to combat incivility in the workplace. Each report is submitted to a company’s designated persons for review so they can decide how to handle the situation best.

Staying silent about workplace incivility can harm morale and your company’s integrity. Addressing these issues before they escalate can make all the difference. To learn more about our services, contact us today.

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photo Amanda Nieweler
About the Author
Amanda writes for WhistleBlower Security about ethics, compliance, workplace culture, and whistleblower hotlines. Amanda brings her nearly two decades of risk and compliance experience to the WBS blog where she is dedicated to helping people and companies promote speak-up cultures.