A recent encounter with a less-than-polite grocery store clerk reminded me that incivility isn't just a character flaw, a personality quirk, or the product of "a bad day." Incivility is a much wider problem with a startling arch of influence. You can try to blame the rude person, his or her parents, or the school he or she attended. But we are all part of the problem. Which also means we all can be part of the solution.
Incivility in the workplace needs to be addressed for what it truly is: a massive time suck that impacts productivity, profits, and employee retention.
A survey by the American Psychological Association, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and summarized in the newsletter Good Company, finds that workplace interventions targeting incivility generally focus on overt, potentially illegal conduct such as sexual harassment. It's a necessary place to start. But it's the incessant and often unacknowledged rudeness that drives employees away from companies, or at the very least, causes them to use every last sick day to avoid a toxic environment.
Rude employees generally don't act out with the intention to annoy. Rather, they're more often rude due to the instigators' ignorance, oversight, or personality.
The good news is that incivility can be immobilized. It doesn't have to be an accepted part of the workplace culture. A respectful environment isn't something that's only dragged out for client meetings.
Here are five concrete steps to move your company forward:
1. Company policy: Address civility in your corporate mission statement, personnel policies, and everyday interactions.
2. Buy-in: Everyone from the CEO to the temporary worker needs to know and adhere to the corporation's commitment to a civil workplace.
3. Training: Executives, seasoned managers, new managers, high performers, "difficult" employees, new employees—everyone needs to learn business etiquette and how to incorporate the principles of etiquette into their daily work life.
4. Ongoing support and accountability: There will be individuals who struggle with workplace civility. Consider more intensive education for these individuals. Make employees accountable for their appearance and actions.
5. Exemplify the behavior you expect from your staff: This rule applies in parenting, as well as other areas of life.
Employees who feel respected are more engaged in their work and their company. And, according to a recent Gallup poll reported in the Gallup Management Journal, engaged employees are "more productive, profitable, safer, create stronger customer relationships, and stay longer with their company than less engaged employees." Train your employees to embrace civility. The results will amaze you.