Manner Monday: The Incivility Virus

You work hard to keep employees healthy. You provide hand sanitizer at every door and soap in all of the restrooms. You encourage employees to work out and to stay healthy.

The Incivility Virus

But unfortunately there is another virus that is spreading, and if it goes untreated, it too can hurt your bottom line.

A recent University of Florida study found that mistreated people are also more likely to feel as if others are treating them rudely. They then respond with more rudeness, passing on negative emotions like a virus.

According to Trevor Foulk, the study’s lead author, “Rudeness has an incredibly powerful negative effect on the workplace.” The study was published recently in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Just like secondhand smoke from cigarettes, the study found that disrespect also has harmful side effects. Participants who watched a video of an impolite workplace interaction and then answered an email from a fictitious customer were more likely to be discourteous in their responses than people who watched a video of a polite interaction.

“That tells us that rudeness will flavor the way you interpret ambiguous cues,” Foulk said.

Workplace Incivility can rear its ugly head in many places; there are three basic types:

  • Interpersonal – This might happen when someone doesn’t say thank you after you did something nice for them.
  • Cyber Incivility – sending time sensitive information without giving the recipient a heads up. Not responding to emails. Using abrupt or curt verbiage in emails that leave the receiver questioning the tone of delivery. Without tone of voice, there is unfortunately room for interpretation, and we may end up seeing the sender as being rude.
  • Victimless – this is the ‘leave it for someone else to do’ syndrome. Leaving the coffee pot empty, leaving a paper jam in the copier without trying to fix it or report it, throwing trash ‘close’ the receptacle and not picking it up to put it in the trashcan. Victimless incivility does not have an instant impact on others, but it definitely violates norms and expectations for courtesy.

Civility costs nothing but goes a long way in helping to keep employee moral healthy and boost your bottom line. Here are a few tips to help cultivate civility in your office:

  • Lead by Example. Management has to be onboard and they have to model civility at all times. If employees see their boss being disrespectful, it sets an underlying tone that the behavior is acceptable.
  • Expectations. Have a discussion during staff meeting. Have the staff establish the norms and expectations so that everyone is onboard and understands what is expected.
  • No one gets a hall pass. Put your foot down; stop it in its place, especially any recurring offenders. Everyone plays be the same rules, even your favorite ‘rock star’ on the team. If the other team members see that you gave Betty a hall pass because she’s the top salesman – that will only help to perpetuate the incivility virus.
  • ‘Don’t let crazy in the door.’ I heard that phrase one time from Dave Ramsey and I’ve thought about it many times since. Do your due diligence during the interview process. Take the potential new hire out to eat with their significant other and watch closely how they treat that person. Pay attention to how they interact with the wait staff. It’s much easier to find out before you hire someone if they’re disrespectful than after you’ve brought them ‘in the door’.

Continuing Education is a good thing, and Civility Training will help to keep the incivility virus at bay in your office.

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CareySue Vega

Carey Sue Vega is a business and youth etiquette expert. For ten years, she honed her skills with an international audience as Cruise Director for the Norwegian Cruise Line. Vega has been featured in numerous radio and television shows and magazine articles, sharing her etiquette expertise.  She’s also social savvy with social media. Connect with CareySue.


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