Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Behavior at Work has Bottom-Line Consequences

My last post about the rudeness of hiring managers garnered a lot of attention, and as you can see from the comments, many people are truly bugged by uncivil behavior in the job interview process.

That is certainly a perfect lead-in for this story that I wrote for Gannett on a new book not just talking about the fact that rudeness appears to be an epidemic across all professions, but that it has real bottom-line consequences for business:

For Andrew Rosen, rudeness at work is embodied by the co- workers who “use their outside voices” to talk about everything from celebrity gossip to their jobs.

“I’m all for collaboration, but these people never stop talking, and they talk about everything – loudly,” Rosen says. “I work in a cube-farm environment, so there’s no getting away from it.”

Adding insult to injury, Rosen says these “overly aggressive” workers “seem to be moving up.”

“If I were a boss, I’d take into account that I may not see the day-to-day impact someone has on other people, and I would check that out” before promoting someone, says Rosen, a website manager for a nonprofit in New York City.

That’s exactly what Christine Pearson, a management professor, hopes will happen. She has written a new
book with Christine Porath called “The Cost of Bad Behavior: How Incivility is Damaging Your Business and What to Do About It,” (Portfolio, $25.95). While there have been other books talking about the jerks at work, Pearson says this one is aimed at what matters most to businesses – the bottom line.

“It’s almost impossible these days to find a company that doesn’t have a statement about how to treat customers – but they don’t have anything written about how to treat one another,” Pearson says. “What we’re saying is that incivility at work has real bottom line consequences.”

Specifically, the authors argue that by looking at issues such as the hours of productivity lost due to incivility – whether it’s from a worker trying to avoid a rude colleague or workers trying to dodge the number of hours they spend at work – bad behavior has consequences for an entire organization.

At the same time, Pearson says she believes that the struggling economy has added to incivility in the workplace because of growing stress on workers to perform more with less. Also, the increased stress on worker’s personally and professionally leads to greater sensitivity – and that leads to at least the perception by employees that incivility is on the rise, she says.

A whopping 95 percent of those in the workplace say they put up with workplace incivility on a routine basis, and one in five report they suffer through it at least once a week. Some 12 percent of employees get fed up with the whole thing and leave their jobs because of uncivil colleagues.

“Leaders need to understand that incivility can run rampant if they don’t do anything,” says
Pearson, a professor at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz.. “But the good news is that there are things organizations can do.”

Specifically, Pearson and Porath suggest a no excuse, “zero tolerance” policy for incivility, with rude instigators weeded out and tossed out. Further, they say leaders must not only teach civility, they must show they walk the talk by not promoting or rewarding those who don’t practice what the company preaches.

“There are routine offenders who make people believe that they’re getting ahead because of their incivility. Some others may start looking up to them, and then they start behaving the same way,” Pearson says. “What we’re saying is that it’s going to cost you millions of dollars if you let that happen.”

While Pearson says about 60 percent of incivility comes from upper ranks abusing those in the lower tiers of an organization, rudeness really has no boundaries and can happen at even the lower ranks – such as loudness and lack of respect for another’s work space.

One of the biggest issues may be that those with the objectionable behavior may not recognize their own rudeness. Pearson says she’s already had inquiries on how to send the book to people anonymously.

“There’s no question that this phenomenon is running rampant and hurting teams and organizations. When we started researching this subject, there was an immediate resonance from people. Everyone seemed to have a story,” she says. “Something needs to be done, and that’s why we knew that in order to get the attention of the people who can make a difference we had to link it to the bottom line.”

How has incivility impacted you at work and does your workplace do anything to stop it?


Frode H said...

Hi Anita.
This is a very interesting topic. I have had employees that bring people down. One big fat problem with this behaviour is that when asked upon s/he is a great person. Even in an anonymous feedback, people fail to be honest.

I am trying to beat this behavior up front by preaching about good work environments and how to take care of each other. I try to teach them if they care about everybody, everybody will care about you. Office politics is like karma, what goes around, comes around.

And yes, bad behavior has bottom line consequences, it makes good people quit, it creates an unheatly work atmosphere and it stops other people from achieving their potential.

Solution: Get rid of the behavior or get lost.

Anita said...

Frode H,
It is critical that civility come from the top and be consistently modeled as the only kind of behavior that will be tolerated. As you said, employees need to be sent the message loud and clear: Be nice or be gone.
Thanks for your comments.

Anita said...

I have put up with some really bad manners at work. From the person who belches after eating at their desk (loud enough to be heard 10 feet away) to the boss who throws stuff on my desk,forcing me to make a grabb for it before it slids onto the floor. some days I want to just scream "grow up!!!" at these people. A little courtesy goes a long way. I know that it has infected my work, because sometimes I'm so disgusted I just get up and walk around for a while and just leave my work.

Anita said...

Thanks, Rita.
And let me apologize for your comment being posted under my name instead of "anonymous" as you selected. For some reason, it would not publish that way, so I copied it and posted it under my name.

I'm sorry about your situation at work. Perhaps managers will begin to realize that incivility -- by themselves and others -- has real bottom line consequences (such as your drop in productivity and morale.)

joyce said...

Hi Anita.
This topic keeps alot of my corporate clients up at night. People don't know how to deal with rude behavior. At times leaders ignore rude comments because they don't know how to address the negative person. All of us need to step up to the plate and and let others know when they step out of line. Being diplomatic helps.

Anita said...

What studies seem to indicate is unless the "no rude" rule comes from the very top -- and is enforced -- the uncivil culture is allowed to flourish. Hopefully, because bottom line consequences have been shown, the leaders will now put their foot down and stop the bad behavior.