Civility usually is demonstrated through manners, courtesy, politeness, and a general awareness of the rights, wishes, concerns, and feelings of others. It includes the behavior that helps to preserve the norms for mutual respect at work and, given the current economic and political climate, it’s something we could all use more of.

In 2016, 62% of employees were treated rudely at work at least once a month, according to a global, annual poll on workplace incivility by McKinsey & Co. Since the poll began in 1998, rude behavior has increased at an alarming rate — which means that every year, chances go up that your leaders and employees are being dismissive, demeaning, and discounting to one another.

Rude behavior has increased at an alarming rate — which means that every year, chances go up that your leaders and employees are being dismissive, demeaning, and discounting to one another. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart

At the SHRM 2018 Conference, Christine Porath, Associate professor, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University led a session on “Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace.” Porath is the author of a book by the same title and gave a popular TED Talk on the topic. In her science-backed talk, Porath shares surprising insights about the costs of rudeness and shows how little acts of respect can boost your professional success, and your company's bottom line.

In a 2018 article for the Harvard Business Review, Porath shared research on the broad reach of incivility across industries.

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“We all want to come to work and be treated with kindness and respect.” says Porath. “Unfortunately, my research shows that there is rampant incivility in most organizations. I found that 98% of the workers I surveyed over the past 20 years have experienced rude behavior and 99% have witnessed it. And the situation seems to be worsening. In 2011, half said they were treated badly at least once a week — up from a quarter in 1998. So, what can a manager do to ensure that people on their team or in their department treat each other well?”

Where to begin addressing workplace incivility

Where to start? Porath recommends that you begin by assessing your own civility and behavior. How do you behave under pressure? How do you respond to stress? It’s important that workplace leaders model the behavior they wish to teach, and your own personal experience is an invaluable part of that learning process. Sharing your own shortcomings and how you addressed them is transparency at its finest. Employees want to know that you not only expect certain behavior from them, but that you expect the same from yourself.

Porath also discusses evaluating your company’s interview process, where you should articulate values and set expectations. First, managers need to set expectations. This starts in the interview process when you have the opportunity to articulate your values to prospects during the hiring process. Be explicit about your organization’s values and then encourage candidates to decide for themselves: Do they truly want to work in an organization where these values reign supreme every day?

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Once an employee joins your team, it’s important to reinforce those values. Marriott, for example, identified three pillars of employee well-being: “We all need to feel good about ourselves, the workplace, and about our company’s role in society.” Managers at Marriott know that small daily acts affect how employees interact with others and that civility spreads in networks. Saying good morning when someone enters the elevator rather than staring at the floor in silence can make a difference. At Marriott, the expectation is that everyone contributes to creating a positive community in the workplace. This message is reinforced in meetings, at events, and with various awards for contributing to the culture.

The cost of incivility at work

A lack of civility in the workplace can cost a company hundreds of thousands of dollars in human resource hours with regards to conflict management, as well as in turnover from employees who choose to leave a toxic workplace. Conflict resolution is a solution, not a preventative measure. It’s important to consider setting standards for your workforce that align to company values for how we treat one another.

There is also a cost for incivility in lost productivity. Stress stemming from a less-than-civil work environment can severely diminish productivity. Research from the National Institutes of Health shows that working in a group where incivility is present affects people’s mental health, even after accounting for general stress and the incivility an individual personally experienced. An employee doesn’t have to be part of the targeted population to be affected. An entire team may get pulled off track thinking about an incident, how they should respond, or whether they’re in the line of fire.

In order to effectively address incivility, training for team leaders and managers should include respect and relationship building. Getting to know employees on a personal level shows respect and helps build trust, and stands out as a rarity in this day and age. When it comes to workplace communication, your company can set the standard for civility beyond conflict avoidance. Making civility as important as team goals and results is key to team-building, as well as building a culture of respect and positive engagement.

Getting to know employees on a personal level shows respect and helps build trust, and stands out as a rarity in this day and age. @jmillermerrell #SmartTalkHR @RiseSmart

Who’s responsible for civility in your workplace?

Companies like Google and Microsoft have civility programs in their workplaces that include training and support to help create a more respectful and engaging workplace. These programs are the result of a very specific type of leader: The CHRO.

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Because of the growing responsibility of human resources and a shift away from HR as an administrative function, the role of the chief human resources officer (CHRO) is now positioned as a company CEO’s most trusted advisor and strongest asset.

In a post on The New Role of the CHRO in Today's Workplace, I broke down an interview with Marylene Delbourg-Delphis, tech entrepreneur and organizational consultant, we discussed what drives organizational change and how to build trust and culture in the workplace. Delbourg-Delphis’s new book, Everybody Wants to Love Their Job: Rebuilding Trust and Culture, includes priorities for organizations and the CHRO, which she calls the “Chief People Officer.”

Says Delbourg-Delphis, “The important thing to remember here is that your Chief People Officer is the go-to person for any employee, for whatever reason, be it a personal problem or a professional one. If an employee feels harassed or slighted, the Chief People Officer must take the bull by the horns immediately. She has to bring about overall well-being in the company, handling anything from the quality of the office physical environment to the management of flexible work hours and the design of work to employee burnout.”

Talent attraction and retention problems or successes are almost entirely dependent upon the company culture and how it sits in our society at large. Delbourg-Delphis says that an effective organizational culture can account for 20 to 30 percent of the differential in performance compared to culturally remarkable competitors. Your CHRO, or Chief People Officer, can be your company’s best asset when it comes to civility in the workplace.

05 February 2019

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