It may be easier to define civility by first considering what incivility looks like, since it is these behaviors that are obvious and problematic. Generally, incivility consists of personal attacks, rudeness, disrespectful comments, and aggressive behaviors that disrupt work and lead to unproductive stress and conflict. Humans make mistakes, so a few minor incidents may not be a concern; however, a pattern of incivility is disruptive and unacceptable. A single act of extreme incivility, however, as in cases of verbal abuse, profanity or a threat against another, should warrant severe consequences.
Incivility, no doubt a by-product of increased pressures and stress levels in today’s workplaces, is a real and growing concern. Unchecked, incivility will become a normalized behavior in today’s stressful workplaces – a recipe for disaster. It is also risky to assume that people will adapt to increased levels of incivility. Most people can manage increased work pressures in the short-term; however, relentless stress combined with workplace incivility sets the stage for employee exhaustion, burnout and possible long-term disability. Employers who identify these risks and practice due diligence can substantially decrease the most harmful impacts.
Do it Now
Provide the opportunity to discuss incivility to examine specific situations and to agree on what civility means to different people in different contexts. Further, seek to establish agreement on appropriate responses to all acts of incivility, creating a benchmark for the future. These foundational understandings and agreements become the underpinnings of the desired culture – one that is defined by core values of respect and civility. Further, the remedies or actions agreed to can become the “terms of engagement” for new hires and an ongoing performance measure for all employees.