The Cost of Workplace Incivility

By | January 9, 2017

Workplace incivility can create lasting damage — whether employees are intentionally ignored, undermined by colleagues or publicly belittled by an insensitive manager, according to a recent article from McKinsey Quarterly. Hurtful workplace behavior can drain performance, increase employee turnover and even affect customer relationships.

Christine Porath, an associate professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, has spent the past 18 years researching employee treatment. She says workplace incivility is on the rise: While 49 percent of the workers she surveyed in 1998 reported they were treated rudely at least once a month, that figure rose to 55 percent in 2011 and 62 percent in 2016.

That poor treatment has a cost, she says. Whatever the underlying causes, the costs of incivility rise as employee stress levels increase. Among the problem areas are:

Workplace performance. Nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility somehow settles the score — with their offender and the organization. Of the nearly 800 managers and employees across 17 industries polled, those who didn’t feel respected performed worse. Forty-seven percent of those who were treated poorly deliberately decreased the time spent at work, and 38 percent said they intentionally decreased the quality of their work.

´╗┐Nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility somehow settles the score -- with their offender and the organization.

Sixty-six percent admitted their performance declined and 78 percent said their commitment to the organization declined. Part of the performance penalty is related to how employees internalize stress levels. Eighty percent lost work time worrying about the incident, and 63 percent lost work time in their effort to avoid the offender.

Employee turnover. Many losses go undetected when employees leave. Those who quit in response to experiencing bad behavior don’t tell their employers why. Turnover costs add up: estimated twice an employee’s annual salary for high-level employees. Of those treated poorly, 12 percent left their job because of uncivil treatment.

Customer experience. Incivility may take a toll on customer relationships. Porath’s research with Valerie Folkes and Debbie MacInnis at the University of Southern California shows that many consumers are less likely to buy anything from a company they perceive as uncivil, whether the rudeness is directed at them or other employees. Witnessing one negative interaction leads to generalizations about other employees, the organization and even the brand.

Porath provides practical steps for ensuring a civil workplace. See the full McKinsey article: “The hidden toll of workplace incivility.”

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