The Price of Incivility

Isurus applauds the extensive research by Christine Porath and Christine Pearson on the “price” of incivility. They outline their findings in a recent issue of the Harvard Business Review. The long and short of their findings is that a lack of respect and civility in the workplace has real and meaningful consequences for the bottom line. Their research shows that when exposed to a disrespectful working atmosphere employees, at all levels, intentionally decrease the effort they put in, the time they spend at work and their attention to quality. Looking at the issues from a behavioral economics standpoint the research also shows that even when employees do not deliberately change their behavior their creativity and ability to perform suffers. Cisco, a model of a “good place to work” conducted an internal study and estimated that internal incivility was costing the company $12 million dollars a year in lost productivity.

As disturbing as these results are they become worse when one considers the definition of incivility used in the research. It includes the obvious “boss from hell,” belligerent colleagues and the blatantly rude individuals. Unfortunately it also includes employees that are late to meetings, check email or smart phones during meetings, dominate the conversation in group discussions, do not return phone calls or emails, etc. – behaviors the research classifies as “thoughtlessness.” While most of us can safely say that our actions do not fall into the first category of behaviors, we can likely identify times when our actions are in the second category – thoughtless behaviors. Fortunately, the recommendations for cultivating an atmosphere of civility and respect include one of the simplest strategies: Start by evaluating and improving your own behavior and provide a role model of appropriate behaviors and personal interactions for your team and peers.

The findings of the research focus specifically on the internal organization, however the implications and consequences stretch well beyond its boundaries to customers, prospects, partners and vendors, especially in the ever growing world of social media where incidents of incivility can be instantly broadcast to the entire world.

Our only disappointment with the research and its findings is that it implies that many companies must be bribed into cultivating a culture of respect by showing the financial consequences of their behavior rather than a simple desire to treat employees, customers and everyone it comes in contact with courtesy and respect.