48% intentionally decreased their work effort. 47% intentionally decreased the time spent at work. 38% intentionally decreased the quality of their work. 80% lost work time worrying about the problem. 63% lost work time avoiding the cause of the problem. 66% said that their performance declined. 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined. 12% said that they left their job. 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.
As a business leader, if you were faced with these dismal numbers within your organization, you would want to know the cause as soon as possible, and you would take immediate steps to counteract the damage done to the morale of the workplace.
Incivility was the cause, according to Christine Porath and Christine Pearson in their oft-cited 2013 article “The Price of Incivility” from the Harvard Business Review. The myth of begrudging respect, thickening skin, and greater focus in response to the “boss from hell” is merely that—a myth. Rarely will employees step up their game when faced with disrespect. Worker productivity diminishes, talent jumps ship, and the bottom line suffers.
Earlier this month, TED Radio Hour on National Public Radio devoted an entire program to the power of kindness in life overall. One of the guests who spoke was Porath, who discussed the impact of her 2013 article. Industries and academics alike responded to the implications of her work. Inspired by the article, Cisco Systems did their own investigation and discovered that workplace incivility was, by a conservative estimate, costing their business $12,000,000 annually.
In an effort to understand the systemic impacts of incivility, Porath went further with her research to try and discover if—like second-hand smoke—incivility affected bystanders as well as victims. Even if you are not the direct target on a team, does your work performance suffer as a result of witnessing this style of treatment?
Yes, as it turned out, and significantly so. Among witnesses to incivility, performance worsened by 25% and the contribution of ideas decreased by 48%. It makes sense: Who would want to brainstorm with or make suggestions to a supervisor who has a history of insulting other colleagues and rudely dismissing their input?
As Porath puts it, “Incivility is a bug. It’s contagious, and we become carriers of it just by being around it.” One of her studies had participants create sentences using a prescribed list of words. Half of the group received lists including words that trigger rudeness: “impolitely,” “interrupt,” “obnoxious,” etc. The mere presence of those negative words affected the focus, comprehension, and efficiency of the participants who received them. For example, they were five times more likely to miss information “right in front of them, on the computer screen.” They took longer to make decisions and their results had far more errors than those without exposure to these words.
Rude, impatient, and disrespectful bosses affect the cognitive abilities of themselves, their direct victims, and, as Porath discovered, everyone else in the organization. It dumbs down the workplace on the whole. Incivility, indeed, is like a virulent influenza within the body of an organization. Ridding yourself of it is not just a concession to certain sensitive minds; it is a vaccination against company-wide failure.
Porath, Christine and Christine Pearson. “The Price of Incivility.” Harvard Business Review. January-February 2013. https://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility Accessed January 23, 2018.