THE PRICE OF INCIVILITY
LACK OF RESPECT HURTS MORALE AND THE BOTTOM LINE. BY CHRISTINE PORATH AND CHRISTINE PEARSON
January–February 2013 Harvard Business Review 115
The Price of inciviliTy
udeness at work is rampant, and it’s on the rise. Over the past 14 years we’ve polled thousands of workers about how they’re treated on the job, and 98% have reported experiencing uncivil behavior. In 2011 half said they were treated rudely at least once a week—up from a quarter in 1998. The costs chip away at the bottom line. Nearly everybody who experiences workplace incivility responds in a negative way, in some cases overtly retaliating. Employees are less creative when ...view middle of the document...
We’ve all heard of (or experienced) the “boss from hell.” The stress of ongoing hostility from a manager takes a toll, sometimes a big one. We spoke with a man we’ll call Matt, who reported to Larry— a volatile bully who insulted his direct reports, belittled their efforts, and blamed them for things over which they had no control. (The names in this article have been changed and the identities disguised.) Larry was rude to customers, too. When he accompanied Matt to one client’s store, he told the owner, “I see you’re carrying on your father’s tradition. This
116 Harvard business review January–february 2013
forms of incivility
store looked like sh-- then. And it looks like sh-- in your hands.” Matt’s stress level skyrocketed. He took a risk and reported Larry to HR. (He wasn’t the first to complain.) Called on the carpet, Larry failed to apologize, saying only that perhaps he “used an atomic bomb” when he “could have used a flyswatter.” Weeks later Larry was named district manager of the year. Three days after that, Matt had a heart attack. The conclusion of Matt’s story is unusual, but unchecked rudeness is surprisingly common. We heard of one boss who was so routinely abusive that employees and suppliers had a code for alerting one another to his impending arrival (“The eagle has landed!”). The only positive aspect was that their shared dislike helped the employees forge close bonds. After the company died, in the late 1990s, its alums formed a network that thrives to this day. In some cases an entire department is infected. Jennifer worked in an industry that attracted large numbers of educated young professionals willing to work for a pittance in order to be in a creative field. It was widely accepted that they had to pay their dues. The atmosphere included door slamming, side conversations, exclusion, and blatant disregard for people’s time. Years later Jennifer still cringes as she remembers her boss screaming, “You made a mistake!” when she’d overlooked a minor typo in an internal memo. There was lots of attrition among low-level employees, but those who did stay seemed to absorb the behaviors they’d been subjected to, and they put newcomers through the same kind of abuse. Fran was a senior executive in a global consumer products company. After several quarters of outstanding growth despite a down economy, she found herself confronted by a newcomer in the C-suite, Joe. For six months Fran had to jump through hoops to defend the business, even though it had defied stagnation. She never got an explanation for why she was picked on, and eventually she left, not for another job but to escape what she called “a soul-destroying experience.” Incivility can take much more subtle forms, and it is often prompted by thoughtlessness rather than actual malice. Think of the manager who sends e-mails during a presentation, or the boss who “teases” direct reports in ways that sting, or the team leader who takes credit for good news but points...