Disrespecting colleagues carries costs

disrespect-argumentI recently came across an article in Harvard Business Review (February 2013) on incivility in the workplace. The authors talk about the costs of incivility to the organisation:

“Many managers would say that incivility is wrong, but not all recognize that it has tangible costs. Targets of incivility often punish their offenders and the organization, although most hide or bury their feelings and don’t necessarily think of their actions as revenge. Through a poll of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries, we learned just how people’s reactions play out. Among workers who’ve been on the receiving end of incivility:

• 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 incident.

• 63% lost work time avoiding the offender.

• 66% said that their performance declined.

• 78% said that their commitment to the organization declined.

• 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.

• 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.”

These are pretty disturbing figures.

The article describes different types of incivility. These range from overt bullying to the less obvious and sometimes inadvertent acts of disrespect, like not showing up for meetings on time or checking emails whilst someone is talking.

We’ve all experienced these acts in some form or other. Some cultures positively promote it as the way to behave. A few commentators challenge the notion of incivility always being a bad thing and suggest we grow up and toughen up. They refer to the likes of Steve Jobs who was known for his rudeness and contempt for people whom he perceived weren’t good at their jobs.

I think we need to separate these genius-type characters from the rest of our organisation leaders. Genius often comes with character flaws. These flaws are tolerated and sometimes revered in folk law by followers who flock to work with their heroes.

Most leaders are not of the genius genre and therefore do not earn the right to be excused the kind of behaviour sometimes exhibited by the giants of organisation life.

Given the costs of incivility and disrespect, and given most of us are mere mortals, I would suggest organisations pay more attention to this issue. Taking a long hard look at cultural norms would be a good starting place. It is often within the habitual rituals and routines of daily organisation life that disrespectful behaviours can be nurtured.

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