Ride public transit, try to merge into a highway lane, turn on a cable news channel or scroll through Facebook — you’ll find ample evidence of name-calling, insulting remarks and callous behavior. Unfortunately, it’s creeping into the workplace, too. In cubicles, offices, conference rooms and around the water cooler, you might witness the following types of behavior by managers and employees:

  • Bullying and intimidation – such as spreading gossip or rumors or excluding or isolating someone socially
  • Intentionally undermining people – reminding subordinates of their roles and lesser titles in the organization
  • Sexual harassment discrimination through innuendos or inappropriate comments
  • Rude use of technology including answering calls in the middle of a conversation or doing work on a laptop during meetings
  • Taking credit for wins, but pointing the finger at others when difficulties arise

Bad Behavior Impacts Your Bottom Line

Incivility in the workplace isn’t new – but it’s getting worse. Research highlighted in the Harvard Business Review by two prominent educators1 in 2013, found 98% of the employees, managers, HR executives, presidents and CEOs at the organizations studied reported experiencing uncivil behavior. Only two years earlier, 50% said they were treated rudely at least once a week, but only a quarter of respondents said so in 1998.

All that bad behavior is expensive, too. According to the American Psychological Association, workplace stress costs the U.S. economy $500 billion2 a year, and 550 million workdays are lost yearly due to stress on the job. Plus, it’s bad for business: In a separate study, Porath and Pearson polled managers and employees across 17 industries and found that, because of incivility, 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

Fostering Kindness, Respectfulness on the Job

If you’re experiencing behavioral and attitude problems in your organization, the good news is that you can take concrete steps to address and correct it. Equally important, you can adopt strategies to apply during the hiring process to head off importing troublesome

  • Make respect part of your corporate mission statement, e.g. “At our company, we practice vigorous respect and tolerance for each other – regardless of title.”
  • Lay out specifics on what civility means at your company, e.g. no phones at meetings, be supportive when giving feedback to direct reports, never disparage another’s beliefs, etc.
  • Initiate an ongoing civility awareness program, including self-assessments; collecting and reviewing feedback from others to discover shortcomings and set goals for improvement; role-playing; educating employees on generational differences in what it means to be courteous
  • Discover and address hidden biases (encourage employees to take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test online)
  • Reward exceptional acts of kindness (with gift cards or other incentives)
  • Identify and take action on bad behaviors (one-on-one consultations with employees)

Ways to Create the Best Defense

According to Porath and Pearson, only 11% of organizations consider civility during the hiring process. Here are some strategies to use to prevent importing incivility and bad behavior into your company:

  • When interviewing potential hires, use structured behavioral interviews that ask candidates to describe how they handled a past situation. With a structured process, hiring managers can evaluate the responses across candidates more consistently.
  • Let your team meet your potential hire. They may pick up on behavior that would be suppressed in more formal interviews.
  • Employ online reference checking, that asks references how candidates performed in the past on specific behavioral competencies related to civility and other soft skills. The right technology helps you consistently and quickly (no need to wait for references’ phone calls or written responses) assess candidates’ soft skills, including levels of civility.
    For example, do they:

    • “Treat other people, regardless of background or gender with fairness and respect;”
    • “Take responsibility without blaming others or making excuses;”
    • “Exhibit maturity and self-control, even in situations involving conflict or stress”

Learn more about how you can prevent bad behavior from becoming commonplace at your company. View this ondemand webinar here.

1 Christine Porath (an associate professor of management at Georgetown University) and Christine Pearson (a professor of global leadership at Thunderbird School of Global Management), authors of The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility Is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It.
2 STRESS IN AMERICATM: Paying With Our Health, February 2015

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