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You don’t have to go very far to directly witness or hear of people being uncivil to one another. Most days, you’re exposed to incivility before you leave home to start your day; simply scroll your morning news thread, review your feeds on social, or listen to a morning news show and you’re likely to find plenty of evidence of insulting, heartless and many times cruel behavior. And sometimes our morning commute can cause incredible stress – the things you might see on public transportation, or the frustration of not being able to merge into traffic can set the day in the wrong direction.

The sad reality is this type of uncivil behavior is also prevalent in the workplace, and it’s on the rise. A poll1 conducted by Porath and Pearson, two renown educators and researchers on the topic of civility, over the past 20 years indicated 95 percent of Americans say they’ve experienced rudeness at work. Considering the toxic revelations we’ve seen unfold recently in the entertainment industry, news media and among some of the most celebrated tech startups, this is not terribly surprising. Rudeness and bad behavior are on the rise in our conference rooms, offices, around the water cooler and in our virtual work environments.

The Cost of Incivility and Your Bottom Line

The Harvard Business Review featured other research conducted by Porath and Pearson. They reported that in 2013 98% of the employees, managers, HR executives, presidents and CEOs at the organizations studied reported experiencing uncivil behavior. Yet 15 years prior only a quarter of respondents reported having experienced uncivil behavior in the workplace.1

This type of behavior in the workplace is incredibly expensive – and it could be costing you in ways you may not consider. According to the American Psychological Association2, workplace stress costs the U.S. economy $500 billion2 a year, and 550 million workdays are lost yearly due to stress on the job. As noted in the HBR article reference above, not only does stress cost us in the form of missed days at work, but those who are on the receiving end also may intentionally decrease their work effort and the quality of their work. Those impacted by uncivil behavior may leave, decrease their commitment to your organization or even take their frustrations out on your customers.

Think that there is no chance that incivility is occurring in your work place? If that is the case, fantastic, that is wonderful for you, your colleagues, customers and stakeholders. But one thing to keep in mind, incivility is not always the most obvious hostile, rude or inappropriate behavior; there can be very subtle forms of incivility within your organization that can have a negative impact on employee engagement. Think of the leader who takes all the glory when things go well, but is quick to lash out at their team when things go wrong. Or a culture where its ok to ‘tease’ in ways that can be cutting to the recipient, yet its ‘all in good fun’. These are very subtle forms of incivility, and while there may not be malice in the intent, reactions to these types of behavior can fester, undermine your culture and eat away at employee morale.

Nurturing, Compassion and Respectfulness at Work

So, what can you do? The fact of the matter is how we treat each other at work really matters. If you’re experiencing behavioral and attitude problems in your organization, you can take concrete steps to build a more respectful work place. You can learn more in our webinar with Brandon Hall “Making the Workplace Feel Safe Again: How to Improve Civility in your Organization.”

In this post, I’ll cover just one, hiring for civility – and really considering who you bring into your organization. As noted in the research conducted by Porath and Pearson, only 11% of organizations consider civility during the hiring process. You can take some straightforward steps to minimize bringing incivility into your workplace:

  • Conduct behavioral interviews. You can better assess emotional intelligence by asking behavioral interview questions which ask candidates to describe how they handled past situations. SHRM provides some excellent resources on conducting behavioral interviews here. With a structured process, where you clearly define job specific behavioral based questions that your hiring managers ask each candidate consistently, you’ll be able to evaluate the responses across candidates to determine who may be a better fit for your organization.
  • Engage team members in interviews. Similar to the 360 review process, it’s extremely valuable to get multiple perspectives during the hiring process. Let your team meet your potential hire. Whether you opt to conduct group interviews, or provide a more informal opportunity for current team members to meet potential new hires, your staff may pick up on behaviors or troublesome nuances that might be suppressed in more formal interviews.
  • Improve reference checking. Most organizations understand the importance but struggle with gathering meaningful information through traditional phone-based approaches. Leverage an online reference checking tool that asks references how candidates performed in the past on specific behavioral competencies related to civility and other soft skills. Online reference checking asks candidates’ references to confidentially rate the candidate’s past performance through a structured process that can quickly obtain detailed feedback on the behavioral competencies that are related to the job, including the soft skills that relate to civility such as treating others with respect and working within teams.

Learn more about how you can prevent bad behavior from becoming commonplace at your company with our 6 Keys to Fostering Civility in the Workplace.

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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