Courtesy, rudeness, incivility, and professionalism – the economic impact
Most of us have experienced or observed work-related rudeness, hostile behavior, obvious distractions when personal attention is needed, and worse. It’s annoying, no doubt, but there are significant costs to organizations from this aspect of unprofessional behavior as well as reported in “Incivility Can Have Costs Beyond Hurt Feelings” Shortcuts column by Alina Tugend, New York Times, Nov. 20, 2010]
Christine Pearson, a professor of management at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona, has conducted research for a decade that documents that many workers left jobs because of continuing incivility – but they rarely say that on exit. Pearson is co-author with Christine Porath of “The Cost of Bad Behavior” (Penguin Portfolio, 2009). Their research covered 9,000 managers and workers and found that incivility was rampant in the workplace. Some examples are ignoring a colleague, gossiping behind colleagues’ backs, ignoring requests for help and borrowing supplies without asking – doing these things consistently, not a one-off. Interestingly, they found that 60% of bad behavior came from supervisors or levels above, 20% from people on the same level and 20% from people below.
Results of this behavior were: decreased effort on the job after experiencing ongoing rude behavior, slacking off or sticking only to the narrow definition of their tasks as well as exit of valuable talent. Apparently there is a sort of double-standard in many organizations. Employees are expected to treat clients/customers with respect, but there is little concern about how colleagues treat each other.
There are solutions; some are simple but not easy. Orientation meetings – when people first join an organization – can emphasize the importance and expectation of civility. Most important says Pearson is that top management model civil behavior and be willing to discipline all those who act badly or unprofessionally on a consistent basis, regardless of their success in other ways.
Other academics are researching incivility and taking up the cause of change. One is Pier M. Forni, a professor of Italian literature at Johns Hopkins University and co-founder of the university’s Civility Initiative. . Forni says “We are both ruder and more civil than in times gone by.” In referring to the latter, he says we are more accepting of diversity and have a higher ecological awareness. But classical courtesy is on the decline.
Professor Forni, author of “The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude” (St. Martin’s Press, 2008) attributes the major causes of incivility to anonymity, stress, lack of time, lack of restraint and insecurity. Anonymity provided by the Internet and ability to easily shoot off rants by text has lowered the bar. One measure to counteract electronic incivility of note: growing economic power South Korea teaches “netiquette” to school children at an early age.
I would wager a guess that few firms and other organizations have been tracking and calculating the financial costs of the civility transgressions component of unprofessionalism. Perhaps they should be calculating those along with the social costs. That would make the business case for training, coaching and disincentives for negative behavior.
Please contribute your thoughts.
Phyllis Weiss Haserot www.pdcounsel.com