Rude Awakening

When we regularly ask HR executives to list what keeps them up at night, keeping talent engaged is almost always at (or near) the top of the list.  So you’d think it would be in employers’ self-interests to do more about those behaviors that prevent that from happening, right?

Well, at least in the area of civility (or lack of it), it appears many employers aren’t doing nearly enough.

151581805Of course, it’s no surprise incivility exists in today’s workplace. I’m sure you’ve personally crossed paths with it on more than a few occasions. But a just released study by Professors Christine Porath of Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business and Christine Pearson of Thunderbird School of Global Management suggests such behaviors may be a lot more  prevalent than you might think.

Indeed, Porath and Pearson, who authored an article on their findings in the Jan.-Feb. edition of the Harvard Business Review, found that nearly half of the 800 managers and employees polled report they were treated rudely at least once per week, up from a quarter of those polled in 1998.

“We heard of one boss who was so routinely abusive that employees and suppliers had a code for alerting one another to his impending arrival (‘The eagle has landed’),” they write.

But what’s even more disturbing than the rise in rude behavior is the price employers appear to be paying.

Of those surveyed, 48 percent intentionally decreased their work effort as a result of uncivil behavior, 47 percent intentionally decreased the time spent at work, 38 percent intentionally decreased the quality of their work and 12 percent left their jobs.

So what should leaders be doing about it?

Here are a few of the suggestions Porath and Pearson put to paper in their HBR

  • Manage yourself.  “If employees see that those who have climbed the corporate ladder tolerate or embrace uncivil behavior, they’re likely to follow suit,” they write, noting that 25 percent of managers who admitted to having behaved badly said they were uncivil because their leaders—their own role models—were rude.

  • Manage the organization, including the way you hire. “Avoid bringing incivility into the workplace to begin with,” they write, pointing out that companies like Southwest Airlines and Four Seasons put civility at the fore of their interview processes.

  • Teach civility. “One quarter of the offenders we surveyed said that they didn’t recognize their behavior as uncivil,” they say.

  • Reward good behavior and penalize bad behavior.

I have no idea whether these steps—and others offered by Porath and Pearson—are enough to reverse the trend. But the data suggests leaders better try something.