The Price of Incivility is High – Incivility in the Workplace
Published: 26 January 2017
Published: 26 January 2017
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.’
According to Diane Berenbaum (2010), incivility in the workplace can take the following forms:
I’d like to add:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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Janette Cooper is a registered nurse, currently working as a gastroenterology procedure nurse at Noarlunga Hospital. She has a Bachelor of Nursing, a Graduate Certificate 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. It 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 by means of frequently published articles through Ausmed, leadership presentations and workshops and coaching health professionals wanting to develop their leadership potential.