Passing sarcastic remarks about an employee’s appearance or performance, the aggressive glares, and gazes, the irking gossips across the workplace, a sudden outburst that disrupts the meetings and the silent treatment are some of the examples of workplace rudeness or incivility.

Workplace incivility is seriously affecting the performance of the employees across the world. It is constantly on the rise and almost 96% of people claim they have experienced it in some form or other.

Workplace incivility is seemingly harmless but it can take a serious toll on your workers’ output and productivity.

Therefore, it is imperative for you to take the necessary steps to eradicate workplace incivility from your office at the earliest.

According to a survey of American Nurses Foundation conducted in 2018, 11 percent of nurses believe bullying and incivility by other nurses is the single biggest reason that they are leaving their profession as indicated by the following figure.

Here is a beautiful TED Talk by Dr. Christine Porath explaining why being respectful to your coworkers is good for your business.


Incivility is plaguing workplaces not only in the United States but in the rest of the world as well.

The situation is getting out of control despite persistent claims by the organizations regarding improving working environments and corporate cultures.

The workplace rudeness is wreaking havoc on workplace morale, employee relationships, overall productivity and the general outcome of the businesses.

The worse thing is that most leaders are totally ignoring the problem as it does not exist.

Christine Porath and Christine Pearson state in their study, the Price of Incivility, that workplace incivility is much more common than people realize.

More importantly, it has devastating effects on any organization or business.

Following are some of the statistics from the study of Porath and Pearson.

  • A whopping 96% of employees have experienced rudeness at work.
  • Almost 50% of employees said they become a target of workplace rudeness at least once a week.
  • 10% of employees claim they witness some sort of incivility every single day.
  • 94% of victims claim they somehow settle their scores with the offenders.

Porath and Pearson define workplace rudeness or incivility as

“the exchange of seemingly inconsequential inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms or workplace conduct.”

They further state whether or not behaviors or words are uncivil actually depends upon how a person perceives them.

Sometimes, the incivility is quite obvious, such as:

  • Hateful or rude behaviors in the workplace.
  • Yelling at someone in the office.
  • Losing one’s temper and shrieking on someone in the workplace.
  • Back-stabbing or badgering the victim in the office.
  • Withholding important instructions or information such as customer/client’s data and requirements.
  • Tarnishing someone’s reputation or sabotaging a project he is overlooking.

On most occasions, workplace incivility is extremely subtle and very difficult to recognize just like workplace bullying.

Some common examples of subtle rudeness are as under.

  • Arriving late to a meeting.
  • Continually disrupting someone in the meeting or not letting him speak at all.
  • Texting or checking emails during a meeting.
  • Not responding to emails or answering to the calls in a timely manner.
  • Interrupting, insulting or ignoring a colleague in the office.
  • Trying to undermine the skills, professionalism, and capabilities of a colleague.
  • Not saying “thank you” or “please” is often considered uncivil as well in some workplaces.

Here is another video of Dr. Christine Porath in which she shares her research about workplace incivility and how it can shut our brains at work.

Contrary to common perception, incivility takes place beyond the workplace as well. For example, it is getting pretty common among customer service agents. They often subject their clients or customers to bad behaviors as well.

In fact, more than 25% of customers believe employees are becoming more and more uncivil. 40% of them claim they experience rudeness at the hands of customer service representatives at least once a month. So much for all the fuss about improving customer experience and providing great services.

According to Harvard Business Review, half of the employees don’t feel respected by their bosses as explained by the following chart.


Workplace incivility looks like a normal or random act of personal conflict or sporadic incidents of unpleasantness on the surface.

However, such incidents become a permanent headache for the higher authorities when they become a norm rather than an exception.

The problems created by incivility at work become deeper and deeper with the passage of time. For example, victims of workplace incivility usually lose their interest in the job and start considering to quit.

They may appear mentally absent or show up late deliberately according to a study.

The following video contains a report by CBS about chief causes of workplace incivility and how it decreases employees’ morale.

People who experience disrespectful or rude behaviors also have feelings of humiliation and stress. They may even consider themselves small and worthless.

To make matters worse, they often start attacking their sense of self-respect.

Such employees also say that they apparently obey the orders when their managers use abusive language or raise their voice but they wish them ill in their hearts.

Workplace incivility can cause serious emotional damage to the victim without any doubt.

It can also mitigate into many associated problems in the likes of the hostile and unhealthy work environment, decreased productivity, poor customer services, litigation expenses, and retention and re-hiring costs.

Moreover, it can seriously tarnish your reputation as an employer or brand.

According to a global study, workplace incivility forces organizations to spend more than $14000 per employee every year.

This is a serious number which every business leader and human resource manager should take notice off.

And, it may even make the culprits rethink their approach and stop acting in a way which is counterproductive to performance.

Workplace incivility cannot only have adverse effects on the performance of your employees but it can totally destroy your company from within.

For example, stress levels among employees increase significantly and the performance declines when the incivility becomes commonplace in your office.

An alarming number of studies also show that workplace incivility can give rise to other counterproductive behaviors such as hostility between coworkers, abusive supervision, bullying, and even violence.

Sometimes, victims also take the matters into their own hands which can have dire consequences for everyone including the victim, the instigator, and the organization.

This usually happens when the victim loses all hopes of getting justice from concerned authorities due to any reason. Pearson and Anderson call this behavior as incivility spiral.

Incivility also results in less engaged and highly frustrated employees.

The obvious conclusion would be angry, apathetic and demotivated workers.

They will produce lower quality work and will hardly ever try to put in the effort to enhance their performance. Such workers also have the tendency to burn out.

All these factors combine to cause decreased productivity, increased losses and waning profits.

The following figure depicts the impact of different kinds of abusive behaviors on your employees.

Continuum of Incivility

Image source: Medscape

Cost of Workplace Incivility

Uncivil, disrespectful and derogatory behaviors inflict serious damage to the organization as a whole.

They can lead to lower staff satisfaction and an increasing number of resignations.

Workplace rudeness is known to contribute to the following.

  • Loss of Productivity
  • Staff turnover
  • More members going on sick leave
  • Increasing staff disengagement and low staff satisfaction
  • Medial issues.
  • Technical and clerical errors which cost you a lot of money.

Having such employees is the biggest sign that incivility exists in your organization.

In fact, corporations in the United States alone have to lose $300 billion annually due to the stress caused by bad behaviors.

Therefore, it is important for you to spot workplace incivility when you have time and take necessary remedial actions.

Glenn D. Rolfsen suggests different methods to combat workplace incivility and change an unhealthy office environment in his captivating TED Talk.

Responsibilities of Bosses and Managers

Yes, it is tough for you to spot workplace incivility. It is much more elusive than yelling, workplace bullying or physical violence.

Incivility can manifest in the form of interrupting someone in the meeting, eye-rolling, not paying attention or simply being disrespectful to someone without doing anything which warrants legal action.

However, you have to identify workplace incivility, no matter how subtle it is, to create a stress-free, happy, and highly productive work environment.

Different people take incivility or rudeness differently as well, only to further complicate the matters.

Therefore, it is sometimes very easy for you to totally miss or overlook an incident of incivility. Incivility tends to be very delicate as compared to more blatant acts such as lying, stealing, sexual harassment, and physical assaults.

Workplace incivility is as harmful and disruptive to the employees’ morale and overall productivity as more blatant actions.

As a matter of fact, nonstop or unrestrained incivility in the workplace often leads to more extreme actions in the likes of sexual harassment.

It is also the first step towards the creation of a hostile work environment, making it necessary for you to pay attention to this problem before things get out of control.

First of all, you have to accept that incivility prevails in your organization to have any semblance of control over this rising epidemic.

The second step you need to take is to understand the problem and identify its root causes.

Similarly, don’t postpone the formulation of rules and regulations regarding civility in your workplace.

For instance, you can enforce civility by law in your office and award punishments to all those who try to break the law.

Most of the perpetrators continue to display negative behaviors because they know there is no rule to catch and penalize them.

Sometimes, companies don’t keep a check on their start performers, enabling them to do whatever they want.

You must bring them to justice as well, no matter how profitable they are for your organization.

Most often, bullies turn out to be your best employees who take it as their right to misbehave with others.

It is important for you to check the attitudinal issues of such employees. If you don’t, you are only allowing everyone to be a bully to others as long as he is performing exceptionally well.

After implementing the laws regarding respectful behaviors, ensure that your employees are aware of these norms through sensitivity training, reprimanding perpetrators, and effective conflict resolution activities.

Another thing you can do is to enforce civility and respect in all kinds of official communication from top to bottom and vice versa.

It is not enough to lay down the law. You have to be serious about imposing it.

One way of making your intentions clear is to openly and professionally communicating the message to everyone.

You can pass orders that all staff members will use only office-appropriate language in their emails and official communications, turn off mobile phones during meetings and always pay attention to their peers.

Similarly, no one will cross his or her limit and everyone will maintain healthy professional boundaries. In fact, the bosses and managers should create a culture of civility and respect for other employees, especially the newcomers to follow suit.

In another TED Talk, Wolter Smith uncovers the secrets to building a happy and healthy workplace.


Indecisiveness and inaction on the part of leaders are mostly responsible for the growth of incivility in the workplaces. Most of the leaders would, of course, disagree with this statement.

But, it is truly up to them to establish workplace cultures which either foster or totally reject any kind of incivility.

They are also highly influential in safeguarding the culprits if they are their star performers which further encourage them to be a jerk with anyone they want.

The first step you can take to resolve the problem is to admit that it really exists.

You cannot simply ignore the regular complaints of your employees about how certain individuals are mistreating or harassing them. You have to take their complaints seriously and investigate the matter to find the truth.

Some other strategies, you as a leader, can implement to totally eradicate incivility in your workplace and develop a culture of tolerance, equality, and civility are as below.

1. Don’t Ignore Employees’ Complaints

You should never ignore any employee’s complaint regarding workplace incivility.

Even if you do not agree with his perception, never ever dismiss his concerns because it can create deeper problems for you in the long run.

If an employee thinks he is being harassed or disrespected, listen to him carefully because it does not matter what you think.

What actually matters is what he thinks and try to redress his grievances.

It is important because he is already too bothered and irritated.

That is the only reason he is putting up the issue with you. It is also a telltale sign that a problem does exist in your workplace which can damage the company’s interests later on.

Similarly, stop making excuses on behalf of the perpetrators. Some of the most common excuses leaders make in this regard are as under.

  • “That’s just the way he talks. He does not mean anything bad by it.”
  • “She has temper problems. You need to ignore her because that’s the way she behaves with everyone.”
  • “We have to put up with Martin because he is our star performer.”
  • “All of us have been a victim of such behaviors. You are no exception.”
  • “Well, I don’t get bothered by such type of behaviors.”

You might not be bothered by such behaviors but some people are. So, it is essential for you to lend ears to their concerns.

Remember that people’s problem will cost your business as much as technical or logistical problems and in some cases, much more.

2. Lead by Example

A lot has been written about how and why leaders should lead by example. You must behave the way you want your employees to behave.

There is no other way to promote civility and positive behaviors. Treat everyone with respect he deserves.

Similarly, speak politely to others and never attack their self-respect.

You should abstain from all kinds of negative behaviors such the door slamming, raising your voice, yelling, talking over people, stopping employees in their tracks with sideways glances and passing teasing remarks.

It is crucial for you to be a perfect role model if you want to establish a culture of respect, politeness, and civility in your organization.

3. Don’t Spare Anyone

You have to address problems of incivility and disrespectfulness in your office as soon as they are brought into your attention or you notice them yourself.

Otherwise, the perpetrator will continue to exhibit negative behaviors as long as he believes no one is going to reprimand him for his crimes.

If you notice Steve is constantly harassing Elizabeth, it is time to take action even if Steve brings in all the big sales.

Talk to him in person and tell him what he is doing and why it is not acceptable at all.

Also, make him realize that his behavior is disrespectful and he ought to be more aware of office conduct.

On some occasions, the troublemaker tends to be rude unintentionally.

There are many things including unconscious bias, stress, thoughtfulness, and unawareness of office or group norms that lead to incivility.

Therefore, you have to assume that a person is not being uncivilized on purpose while taking any corrective measures. Sometimes, you only need a mild reminder to correct someone.

4. Hire and Train for Civility

Hiring people who apparently have all good manners is one way of promoting civility in your office.

Observe the behavior of each candidate when you interview him for the position vacant in your company.

Pay attention to how he behaves and talks to everyone right from the peon at the door to the receptionist, human resource manager, and his potential team members.

Take notice of things like how the candidate answers your questions? Does he start answering even before you complete your question or let you finish before opening his mouth? Does he talk over people and interrupt them? Does he make derogatory or sarcastic remarks about his former company and coworkers?

If the answers to all of these questions are yes, he may not be the right choice for your organization.

If he is too critical of his previous workspace and coworkers, just imagine what his behavior would be to his new teammates and other colleagues if you hire him.

You can also contact the candidate’s former boss or coworkers to find out how they regard him.

Toxic employees normally leave a string of unhappy or badly treated colleagues wherever they work.

However, you have to research hard and go beyond their resume’ to uncover the information you are looking for.

Some organizations also make it necessary for their employees to take civility training classes.

You can also include such classes or training in your employee development program.

It is one of the best methods to ensure your employees continue to exhibit positive behaviors throughout their stay with your company.

5. Define Acceptable Behaviors and Conduct

Another great method of reinforcing civility in your workplace is to define acceptable behaviors and conducts for all of your company’s departments.

For example, members of your legal department are normally accustomed to interrupting others or arguing in their full voice.

Your sales department, on the other hand, may have more refined people who wait for their turn to speak.

It is important for you to set 5-10 general guidelines which all of your departments have to follow, clearly explaining how everyone in your company should behave.

Similarly, ask individual departments to set some rules of their own and strictly abide by them as well to create a rudeness and incivility free workplace.

6. Pay Attention to the Bigger Picture

Events happening in employees’ vicinity as well as around the world also have positive or negative effects on workplace behaviors.

For example, impoliteness becomes a common thing when some of the most influential figures of your society display rudeness at public events and on television, radio and social media.

That incivility will eventually manifest in workplace behaviors in six to twelve months.

The best thing you can do is to constantly observe behaviors of your every employee.

Regularly talk to the ones who seem too distressed or stressed by the news or current events such as crumbling economy, personal issues, and overwork, etc.


It is extremely important to address workplace incivility as soon as you notice it.

If you don’t, you will have to go through the consequences like low turnover and engagement, low employee retention, low morale, and decreasing productivity.

I am sure this is not the price you are willing to pay.

6 ways to combat workplace incivility

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