My mother always said ‘civility costs you nothing’. The message I think she was trying to convey was to always behave well and treat people with respect. This is a fantastic sentiment and something to always keep in mind.
The truth is we are all only human and when we are frustrated, hurt or angry, our ability to use our emotional intelligence and control our behaviour is often sorely challenged.
The truth is that incivility is costly and far more common than it should be.
Human Resources experts create values statements and Nursing and Midwifery Boards create Code of Ethics documents that both exist in part to guide our behaviour towards each other in the workplace.
The sad truth, according to Porath and Pearson (2013), is that incivility in the workplace remains an ever-present reality – and nursing is no exception.
Workplace incivility is defined by Porath and Pearson as, ‘the exchange of seemingly inconsequential and inconsiderate words and deeds that violate conventional norms of workplace conduct’.
Pearson, Anderson and Wegner (2001) say:
‘Workplace incivility is low-intensity deviant behaviour with ambiguous intent to harm the target, in violation of workplace norms for mutual respect. Uncivil behaviours are characteristically rude and discourteous, displaying a lack of regard for others.’
Forms of Incivility in the Workplace
According to Diane Berenbaum (2010), incivility in the workplace can take the following forms:
- Losing your temper and yelling at someone
- Rude or obnoxious behaviour
- Badgering or back-stabbing
- Withholding information
- Sabotaging a project; and
- Damaging someone’s reputation.
I’d like to add:
- Using a sharp tone
- Making faces behind someone’s back
- Eye rolling
- Making false and unsubstantiated claims about someone’s performance; and
- Using a sarcastic tone.
How Incivility Affects the Workplace
People respond to uncivil behaviour differently. Sometimes they may not even be aware that that their behaviour is designed to punish the offender or the organisation they work for.
A survey conducted by Porath and Pearson (2013) of 800 managers and employees in 17 industries revealed the following ways people who have been on the receiving end of uncivil behaviour have responded:
- 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 organisation declined
- 12% said that they left their job because of the uncivil treatment
- 25% admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.
The truth is when people feel that they have been subjected to uncivil behaviour they respond in a way that is damaging to the organisation and to the customers of the organisation.
Porath and Pearson, through further study, found that people who are subjected to incivility are less creative. How does this translate to healthcare? According to Simon Sinek, when people feel under threat they focus on their own safety. They don’t look for ‘out of the box’ solutions to problems.
Performance and Team Spirit Deteriorate
Developing a great workplace culture relies on everyone in the workplace being accountable for the way they behave towards their colleagues. Bullying and incivility will only stop or be reduced when people choose to behave better and when people stand up and support the person subjected to the incivility by letting the perpetrator know that their behaviour is not acceptable.
How Can We Improve?
The leader of the team has an important role to play in reducing incivility and creating a good workplace culture. Management is not just about managing. Managers have to lead. Leaders set the tone. If their behaviour is uncivil, then many team members will follow their lead. The leader must hold themselves to a higher standard.
All healthcare organisations have a value statement. They should be visible in the workplace and not just in a file on a computer or in a document, or only displayed in the admission area of the hospital. We have to be clear on the standard of behaviour that is expected. We have to discuss in the workplace with the work team, what the values mean and how they will be expressed.
Training and Coaching
Often people are not very aware of their behaviour and the impact that they have in the workplace. Emotional intelligence training will allow people to develop their self- awareness and self-control. Coaching is a process that supports people to create behavioural change and helps them to maintain that change.
Communication and Feedback
Open communication and feedback are important in the workplace. For that to happen people have to feel safe. If managers don’t listen and react with anger and aggression when they feel they are being challenged, then communication and feedback are in danger.
We have to have well developed interpersonal skills. If we want a colleague to change their behaviour, the quality of our communication skills is vital. Communicating with anger and aggression because you are stressed and feel under pressure is unlikely to get you the behavioural change that you are asking for.
We have to learn what it means to be respectful and courteous. That is why workplace values matter. Workplace values need to be visible in the workplace. If we are to reduce incivility in the workplace we all have to hold ourselves to a higher standard.
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- Berenbaum, D 2010, ‘Workplace incivility on the Rise: Four Ways to Stop it’, Human Resource IQ, 2 March 2010, viewed 25 January 2017, http://www.humanresourcesiq.com/hr-talent-management/articles/workplace-incivility-on-the-rise-four-ways-to-stop
- Pearson, CM, Andersson LM & Wegner, JW 2001, ‘When Workers Flout Convention: A Study of Workplace Incivility’, Human Relations, vol. 54, no.11, pp. 1387-419, viewed 25 January 2017, http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/00187267015411001
- Porath, C & Pearson, C 2013, ‘The Price of Incivility’, Harvard Business Review, January – February, viewed 25 January 2017, https://hbr.org/2013/01/the-price-of-incivility
- Sinek, S 2014, Leaders Eat Last, Penguin Random House Australia, Docklands, Victoria.
Janette Cooper is a registered nurse, writer and speaker. She has had articles published in the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Journal on personal development for nurses. In May 2015 she presented at the South Australian Gastroenterology College of Australia annual conference on emotional intelligence in the workplace. She has a Bachelor of Nursing and a Grad. Cert. in Health Service Management from Flinders University and a Certificate in Gastroenterology Nursing from The Queensland University of Technology. In 2012 she began a life coaching course with The Coaching Institute in Melbourne which has allowed her to combine her two passions of nursing and personal development. She divides her time between gastroenterology nursing and promoting personal development and leadership in nursing through her writing and her professional development workshops.