Here’s an interesting statistic for HR Executives and Leadership Teams.  Employee absenteeism costs an estimated $225.8 billion a year in lost productivity in the United States.  This is a faily hefty chunk of change.

So what prompts an employee to “call in sick?”  Are they really sick? When a co-worker uses the expression, “I need a mental health day,” it is often do to emotional stress.  What causes it? 

Incivility has increased in the workplace over this past decade putting undue stress on employees. This affects the way people feel about fellow team members and how they feel about their work, which adds more stress.

Escalating stress spawns more incivility.   It is a vicious circle. A recent article in the Harvard Business Review referenced a study that revealed, “Those who have been the targets of bad behavior are often, in turn, uncivil themselves: They sabotage their peers. They ‘forget’ to copy colleagues on memos. They spread gossip to deflect attention.”

The study also concluded that half of today’s employees who have experienced incivility at work intentionally decreased their work efforts. More than a third decreased the quality of their work. When I do the math and add these dismal results on top of the workplace absenteeism rates, the numbers are staggering.

Are incivility, bad behavior, and rudeness new workplace norms?Since the downturn in the economy starting in 2008, many organizations have seen an epidemic of bad behavior. It spreads like wildfire throughout the company. One reason is what I call the “kick the dog” syndrome.  A supervisor is rude to an employee who is rude to a co-worker who goes home and kicks the dog. Uncivility is contagious on teams and in companies because one bad word seems to deserve another. This all stems from unresolved anger, hurt feelings, frustration and disappointment. The bottom line is a fear and anger-focused work environment which very few talented employees enjoy coming to. 

Public relations firm Weber-Shandwick released a survey in 2010 that revealed that 40 percent of Americans felt that incivility pervaded their workplace and 38 percent believed there has been an increase in incivility from just a few years ago. These results back my recent findings in the TIGERS Trust and Communication’  survey conducted with HR Executives worldwide.

So if incivility is roaming the halls of your work environment, how do you recognize it? 

  • Absenteeism – Team members and employees call in sick. They need some time off to regroup. Some start looking for other employment where collaboration and cooperation are more prevelent. 

On the flip side, employees that receive positive support and feedback from supervisors want to reciprocate. They avoid causing problems and understand  the strain their absenteeism places on others.

  • High turnover – Employees give their pink slip to the employer and walk out the door. This leaves organizations scrambling to train and hire from within or recruiting from without resulting in erroded profits. 
  • Waning productivity – Employees stop caring about their productivity. They just want to make it through the day, keep a low profile and avoid ugly confrontations. The goal is to collect a paycheck at the end of the week so they do what they need to do to fly under the radar. I call this employee the 10% employee. They give 10% of what they are capable of just to bring home the bacon.
  • Lower customer satisfaction – If employees are rude to each other, you can bet they are rude or indifferent to vendors and customers too. The cost associated with attracting new customers is much higher than making the customers you have happy. Bottom line — unhappy customers take their business elsewhere. 

So what are solutions to the rude and uncivil workplace? 

Civility starts at the top and trickles down:  Leaders who allow civility to breakdown are corroborators for hostile environments. The CEO is responsible for ensuring that the right people are in the right seats and must uphold the core values and workplace principles that support civility. To correct incivility, executives must seek answers to: 

  • How subordinates are treated from administrators to VPs;
  • Whether there is indifference to organizational problems and conflict;
  • Whether employees are humiliated or berated by leaders or co-workers; employees;
  • Whether swearing or shouting occurs;
  • Whether cultural differences are ignored.   

Sensitize the organization: Make both leaders and employees aware of the negative impact of incivility in the workplace. Work with the HR department to develop policies similar to sexual harassment procedures. Management throughout the organization, including C-suite executives, must be role models for civil behavior. 

Make civility the norm in front line operations: Good business practices start with front line employees. They form a customer’s first impression of an organization, and all too often the last impression. Customers who are treated badly are also 10 times more likely to be vocal about their treatment than satisfied customers. This happens internally when employees commiserate with one another and externally by warning friends and family about their poor customer service experience.

Marketers will also advise that it costs an organization more to attract new customers than it does to keep current customers. This means that uncivility often impacts an increase in the advertising, marketing and sales budget. 

Make civility a criterion for selecting employee candidates: During the interview process, ask the right, open-ended questions to sniff out rudeness and potential incivility. Don’t just look at the candidate’s resume; question their methods for achieving results. Did they use cut-throat, take no prisoner tactics to achieve goals? 

Make civility a key component of your on-boarding process: Old habits die hard. If cooperation and kindness are important to your team dynamic and operations, make sure new employees understand the civility you expect from the start and what this looks like in day-to-day operations.

 Join membership programs of reputable organizations – Join organizations that offer content and training resources that teach effective, positive workplace communications and conflict resolution. Many managers were put into positions of authority with no training. They receive pressure from the top and pull from the bottom with no support or mentorship. TIGERS Den membership is where team leaders and HR professionals can gain access to resources and tools to curb incivility, enhance communication, improve collaboration, and build trust back into their organization. 

Civility is not dead; it just needs to be resurrected. The benefit is more productivity, less absenteeism and more joy in work.

About Dianne:

Dianne  Crampton is the Founder of TIGERS Success Series. She is the leader in building successful quality-focused and cooperative team culture communities. As a thought leader in the team culture movement, she has been published by Barrett Koehler, Pfeiffer (an in print of John Wiley & Sons) and Three Creeks. Her latest work, TIGERS Among Us: Winning Business Team Cultures and Why They Thrive has received international acclaim. 

Crampton was nominated by Merrill Lynch for Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards for a team culture change system that helps leaders bring about desired change remarkably fast. She now  licenses consultants , facilitators, and HR leader to use the proven TIGERS team culture system within their organization for measurable success. TIGERS helps leaders build and improve trust, interdependence, genuineness, empathy, risk, and success in teams which results in a dynamic work environment that attracts and retains very talented, quality-focused people. Subscribe today to receive instant access to Dianne’s general membership where like-minded professionals discover valuable resources for team, leadership, and cooperative work environment development that grow organizations in a scalable and measured way.