Most companies realize that there is an “opportunity cost for rudeness” when dealing with the customer/company relationship.  A discourteous company representative can cost a firm money, since customers tend to show their displeasure with their wallets.  In a recent report, Civility in America,

  • 69% of customers reported that they will stop doing business with an organization because of rude behavior
  • 58% will advise friends and family members to steer clear of those same organizations
  • 58% reported “tuning out” a company’s advertising because of perceived incivility.

However, civility is a two-way street.  Over 86% of us reported having been on the receiving end of rude behavior, but 59% of us acknowledged that we also have been uncivil to others.

Civility (or the lack thereof) is not simply an issue between companies and their customers.  In the same survey, 43% of Americans claimed to have experienced rudeness with and from co-workers. These respondents blame workplace leadership (65%), other employees (59%)  and workplace competitiveness (44%) as the main reasons for the growing lack of respect.

Incivility in the workplace can lead to definite, quantifiable problems. Incivility at work hurts firms through:

  • lost productivity – executives spend approximately 7 week/year resolving employee conflicts
  • lower morale – 23% of all employees stated they left jobs because of the way they were treated
  • greater legal risk  – if any of those 23% who quit claim that they faced harassment in the workplace.
  • lower revenues – 69% of customers stop any/all business interactions because of  unhappy employees treating them rudely.

In the book, The Cost of Bad Behavior, authors Christine Pearson and Christine Porath present 10 action items that a firm should undertake to create a civil workplace.  Three of my favorite pieces of advice are:

1)        Set Zero-Tolerance Expectations – This is the basic step that company leadership needs to set forth.  Setting and communication expectations from the top of the organizational hierarchy, communicating those expectations and demanding compliance does shape behavior among employees (at all levels).  Incorporate your expectations into your mission, vision and values statements.  Look for other ways to incorporate your expectations around the idea of civility into your corporate culture.

2)       Walk the Talk – You can never demand that people behave in a way if you, yourself, will not.  If you are being uncivil – and remember, it not your perception of your own behavior that matters – you are setting a bad example.  In most cases, your bad example will never be pointed out to you. C-suite executives and upper-level management are viewed as the ones with power, and many (if not most) employees will not communicate uncomfortable information directly to power.  If you have garnered a reputation for being uncivil (and even unkind), the entire feedback loop will come crashing down with employees being too scared to speak up, fearing retribution.

3)       Hire for civility – One of the best ways to create and maintain a civil workplace is to not let rudeness in the front door.   Vet your vendors and (even) your customers for civility.  Include them in the education process and communicate your expectations around civility to them.  For employees and contingent staff, go beyond the résumé/application and basic reference check.  Dig deeper to find out if there are any bad actions and repeat offenses in someone’s past.  As the authors state “Incivility leaves trails”.  People know who the repeat offenders are; you just need to put in the effort to find them.

The book is filled with ideas that every level of management can employ.  Videotaping, employing written feedback, or even bringing in a personal coach or consultant can help.  Leverage your vendors who have subject matter and/or industry expertise, who can help you with reference checks and employee feedback programs.

A short list of relatively small actions can and do lead to big differences.  We all spend far too much time at the workplace and with our workplace colleagues.  It is up to management to make sure that this time is spent productively, effectively, and even joyfully

 NOTE:  A full-color, downloadable PDF is available.