Christine Porath has raised the issue of incivility in the workplace in an opinion piece titled “No Time To Be Nice At Work” which appeared in last week’s The New York Times Sunday Review. Over the past twenty years Porath has been instrumental in raising the issue of the negative effects incivility has on workers, the workplace, and companies.
Unfortunately, despite efforts by her and others, incivility in the workplace has grown rather than declined. Fifteen years ago, the Kenan-Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina surveyed 1700 workers and found that 55% of them indicated they had been treated rudely. Interestingly, the study also found that the instigator of the uncivil behavior was three times more likely to be a manager or boss than to be a colleague or co-worker.
In 2014, The Emily Post Institute conducted a nationwide poll using SurveyMonkey Audience, a proprietary online panel. Respondents for the Emily Post Survey were selected to mirror the age and gender proportions of the current population of adults according to the U.S. Census. The Emily Post Survey found the same trend that Porath reported: Incivility, make that rudeness, in the workplace is on the rise—67% of workers responding to the Emily Post Survey indicated that they had experienced rudeness.
What accounts for the increase? The Emily Post Survey found that the instigator was no longer three times more likely to be a person of higher status. In the Emily Post Survey the instigator was as likely to be a colleague as it was a person in a supervisory position. That larger pool of workers is starting to treat colleagues rudely and that fact helps account for the increase in workers reporting being treated rudely.
Workers will tend to mimic actions of their bosses just as children will learn from and mimic actions of their parents. If a boss exhibits rude behavior, it makes sense that people working for the boss will tend to adopt rude behaviors themselves.
Does a rude workplace environment really matter to a company’s bottom line? The reality is it does. The Emily Post Survey found that 53% of workers who were treated rudely reported losing work time worrying about the incident. In addition, 27% of workers who were treated rudely actually decreased their work effort. That means reduced productivity. Even more troubling for a company is that 15% chose to leave the job because of the rude behavior. No company can afford the cost of having to replace a valued worker simply because he or she is being treated rudely.
The bottom line: Incivility and rudeness have negative effects on profits and productivity. The good news is that by encouraging an atmosphere of consideration and respect, hallmarks of etiquette, the result is a positive, civil, workplace where the focus is on getting the job done.
If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected] You can hear more Emily Post etiquette advice on the Awesome Etiquette podcast featuring Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. Listen and subscribe at infiniteguest.org.
Post’s newest book, The Unwritten Rules of Golf, Morrow, is available at emilypost.com.
Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.