Coach’s Corner – Be Happier in Your Career by Learning to Spot Incivility Early On
Find employers whose values align with your own
Early in my career, I looked on as our team leader scolded one of my coworkers. There was a misunderstanding the previous evening and the team leader felt that my coworker had rudely brushed him off in front of a client. The next morning, he ambushed her in front of our team expressing his disappointment and admonishing her, “You’re lucky you got a job, missy.” She quit that afternoon.
As sad as I was to see her go, I have always admired her decisiveness and her refusal to be treated so disrespectfully.
I’m a member of the SAP Global Talent, Leadership and Learning Team and an Internal Coach at SAP. The topic of incivility is important to me because I’ve seen the toll it can take on people and teams and I’ve also seen what high-performance teams can accomplish when working from a foundation of trust and respect.
Incivility is defined as disrespect, rudeness or ill treatment. Examples of incivility include behaviors such as mocking, belittling, teasing, insults, sarcasm or telling offensive inappropriate jokes. Other examples may also include bullying, harassment, escalation, infighting, posturing, information hoarding and territoriality. These behaviors are corrosive to an organization’s culture. When they go unchecked, they erode trust and create an unstable environment. And, incivility is contagious. This presents a challenge for leaders, employees and job seekers.
Typically, you won’t discover the more negative side of a company’s culture until you’re already on board; however, there are tools, such as Glassdoor, to help you learn what it’s like to be an employee of a company before you accept an offer from them. LinkedIn can also be a great tool to use to perform background research on a company and to identify contacts who can provide insights about a firm’s culture. It’s critical to research your future employers and managers as best you can because incivility in today’s workplace is unfortunately all too common.
As you navigate your career and choose your workplace, it can be helpful to examine what matters most to you by exploring your values. Consulting a professional coach is a great way to do this, especially early in your career when you are formulating your career goals. For example, your standards for integrity and fair treatment may not become clear to you until they are challenged.
One of my favorite singer-songwriters, David Wilcox, has a laugh line in his song Rule Number One about a couple on a first date: “If he’s rude to the waiter and it makes your heart confused / This is lesson number one…run!” This is also a great guideline to follow when deciding where to work and for whom.
The high cost of incivility
Dr. Christine Porath, an Associate Professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, studies incivility and its impact on companies and employees. She is the author of the award-winning book, Mastering Civility: A Manifesto for the Workplace (2016) and coauthor of The Cost of Bad Behavior (2009). Her TED talk on this topic Why being respectful to your coworkers is good for business has more than 1 million views.
An inhospitable environment affects employees’ mental and physical health. Dr. Porath explains, “It affects our emotions, our motivation, our performance and how we treat others. It even affects our attention and takes some of our brainpower.” She has lots of data to support this. Based on her research, when people experience incivility at work, 66% of them cut back their work contributions; 80% reported that they lost work time worrying about the situation; and 12% left their jobs.
Incivility also impacts those who observe others being treated badly. Dr. Porath’s research showed that witnesses reported 25% worse performance and generated 45% fewer ideas. In another study, 20,000 employees were asked what they wanted from their leaders. Results showed that the most common response was respect. Those who felt respected were 56% healthier, 92% more focused, 1.1x more likely to stay with the organization and 55% more engaged.
Dr. Porath also makes a strong case for the financial benefits companies gain by creating a healthy work environment. She says, “Civility and respect can be used to boost an organization’s performance…When we have more civil environments, we are more creative, productive, helpful, happy and healthy.”
Leaders must set the tone
In Mastering Civility, Dr. Porath cites a recent study in which 95% of respondents believed that we have a civility problem in the workplace. Notably, 70% believed that incivility has reached crisis-level proportions. What does this mean for leaders? It means that leaders have a unique opportunity to help their companies stand out by creating positive, supportive cultures that nurture and encourage mutual respect among all employees.
In The Cost of Bad Behavior, the authors provide a top 10 list of guidelines that organizations should follow to create a civil workplace. For example, they encourage listening through 360 feedback surveys as a temperature check. They recommend training employees and managers on how to recognize and respond to signals of incivility. Here are my 2 favorites: #1 Set zero-tolerance expectations; #7 When incivility occurs, hammer it. I have been fortunate to work for some phenomenal leaders who adhere to these guidelines, and who have shown the courage and confidence to crack down on bad behavior. Sadly, however, it is far more common to have leaders who just let things go.
The head of human resources for a major hospital group recently spoke about a cultural transformation initiative at a networking event I attended. They were addressing the problem of shattered morale in one of their hospitals caused by doctors who frequently and publicly berated nurses. Even though they clearly communicated the new guidelines for proper conduct, one powerful doctor continued his disrespectful behavior. Despite stern warnings, he continued his offensive behavior and was fired. The head of HR highlighted his firing as the pivotal moment when the cultural turnaround gained momentum because it demonstrated to the nurses that the company would support them and safeguard their treatment on the job.
Although cracking down on incivility is critical, leaders must go further. As Dr. Porath points out, “Not holding someone down, isn’t the same thing as lifting them up…How can you lift people up? Saying thank you, sharing credit, listening attentively, acknowledging others, smiling.”
Culture and “human skills” as differentiators
SAP Chief Learning Officer Jenny Dearborn champions the growing importance of “human skills” such as creativity and innovation, empathy, emotional intelligence, cross-cultural awareness, persuasion, active listening, and acceptance of change (Soft Skills will be Essential for Future Careers, September 11, 2017.) These competencies will become critical differentiators for workers in all career fields as automation replaces the repetitive aspects of many jobs.
To practice and cultivate these skills, you must be in a work environment where they are valued. Companies that become known for developing the careers of their employees will become more attractive to job applicants and top performers. These firms will retain the best employees and win the war for talent, enabling them to win in the marketplace.
By defining your values, recognizing and avoiding work environments that tolerate incivility, and by improving your own “human skills,” you will be paving the way to a successful and rewarding career.
Check out more blog posts in the series: Coach’s Corner.