The Hidden Costs Of Incivility In The Workplace by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

Most workplaces take active measures to eliminate discrimination and harassment, and that is a very positive and important change. At the same time, there are still a number of workplaces where this type of behavior is ignored or sometimes even condoned by management.

Between these two ends of the spectrum, there is another type of negative and highly destructive type of behavior. This is often referred to as incivility, and it may be present at any level in the company from the way people are onboarded in entry-level positions through to the manner and method that top CEOs address their teams and employees.

In a study in the Harvard Business Review in 2013, companies in the United States are facing an increase in the number of employees reporting incivility in their workplace. The numbers indicate that in the companies in the study, 98% could recall at least one incidence of uncivil behavior. In the same study completed in 1998, only a quarter of those surveyed reported experiencing incivility.

What is Uncivil Behavior?

Incivility is considered a form of psychological harassment. It can include name calling, yelling, emotional aggression or isolation and the use of withholding social interactions when unhappy or dissatisfied with someone or something. It can include publically correcting an employee, calling someone out for an error or otherwise berating and embarrassing an employee for the purpose of making a statement or making them an example.

In many workplaces, there is “that person” whom everyone walks around on eggshells. These people can have sudden and dramatic outbursts; many can also be seen as demanding and not a team player, or those who seem unaware their sarcasm, rudeness, inappropriate comments or jokes are distressing and disconcerting to those in the workplace.

The Costs

In many workplaces, incivility goes unchecked until there is a formal complaint or legal action. While this is certainly one cost, there are many other hidden costs that a negative and emotionally hostile workplace fosters.

These types of hidden costs are very difficult to measure initially, but they can quickly become easy to track analytical for the business. Some of the common types of hidden costs of incivility include:

  • Loss of top employees – top employees, do not stay in negative work environments. These professionals, at any level in the company, have the ability to move to more positive, appreciate and collegial workplaces.
  • Loss of customers – in a retail or service business, employees that are rude to each other, fighting or bickering in front of customers or engaging in negative behavior to each other or to the customers will drive away business. As many customers do not complain or state their reasons for shopping elsewhere, the damage can be significant before it is detected.
  • Bad company reputation – as both employees and customers experience incivility in the business, the reputation soon becomes public. This is even more pronounced in the era of social media, where recordings of managers berating employees or other issues of incivility can easily go viral.

Decreased productivity, increased sick time off work, lack of commitment to the company and decreased performance add to the list of the hidden costs of incivility