Workplace Incivility Hurts Employees & Businesses
Updated: Jun 21
Workplace incivility is defined as “the exchange of seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms of workplace conduct” (Pearson & Porath, 2009, p. 12).
“Workplace incivility is low-intensity deviant behavior with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviors are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others” (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001, p. 1397). These are rude, insensitive or disrespectful behaviors in the workplace.
Examples include: ignoring or making derogatory remarks about someone, taking credit for the work of others, passing blame for your own mistakes, belittling the efforts of others, failing to return phone calls or respond to emails, setting others up to fail, leaving snippy voice mail messages, withholding information, leaving a mess for others to clean up, shutting someone out of a network or team, avoiding someone, throwing temper tantrums (Pearson & Porath, 2009).
Workplace incivility is so common that we often don’t even notice it. Pearson & Porath (2009) found in their studies that 1 in 5 people in their sample claimed to be targets of incivility from a coworker at least once a week. About 2/3 said they witnessed incivility happening among other employees at least once a month. 10% said they saw incivility among their coworkers every day.
A survey of public sector employees in the United States found that 71% of respondents reported at least some experience of workplace incivility during the previous 5 years, and 6% reported experiencing such behavior many times (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001).
What’s more, it’s not unique to the U.S. The researchers (Pearson & Porath, 2009) discovered that 50% of Canadians in their study also reported suffering from incivility directly from their coworkers at least once a week. 99% said they witnessed incivility at work and 25% reported seeing incivility occurring between coworkers daily.
When civility is disregarded in the workplace, the results are negative effects – not only on the target(s) of the incivility, but also the on effectiveness and efficiency of the teams and the overall organization (Andersson & Pearson, 1999; Pearson & Porath, 2009).
Researchers found that workplace incivility has an insidious effect, first negatively impacting the targets, and later with repercussions rippling like waves to other areas of the organization. The end result is an adverse effect on the health of the employee (Cortina, Magley, Williams, & Langhout, 2001) and the efficiency and productivity of the organization (Pearson, Andersson, & Wegner, 2001). What’s even more troubling for psychology and business is that workplace incivility harms not just the targets and the organizations but also those who are witnesses to these incivilities (e.g., customers).
Written By: Steve Nguyen, Ph.D.
Organizational & Leadership Development Leader
Andersson, L., & Pearson, C. (1999). Tit for tat? The spiraling effect of incivility in the workplace. Academy of Management Review, 24(3), 452-471.
Cortina, L. M., Magley, V. J., Williams, J. H., & Langhout, R. D. (2001). Incivility in the workplace: Incidence and impact. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 6, 64–80.
Pearson, C., Andersson, L., & Wegner, J. (2001). When workers flout convention: A study of workplace incivility. Human Relations, 54(11), 1387-1419.
Pearson, C. & Porath, C. (2009). The cost of bad behavior: How incivility is damaging your business and what to do about it. New York, NY: Portfolio.